CHUNCHEON, South Korea, April 14 (Reuters) - Embarrassing revelations about Tiger Woods’s personal life and the golfer’s subsequent decline in form have done little to quell Asia’s adulation for the former world number one, Nike’s head of golf has told Reuters.
After finishing tied for third at the U.S. Masters, Woods travelled to China and South Korea to promote the global apparel giant’s products and enjoyed ‘rock star’ receptions at golf clinics and meet-and-greets.
With clamouring crowds following the 14-times major champion at every appearance, Nike Golf President Cindy Davis told Reuters in an interview on Thursday the company’s decision to stick with Woods despite his fall from grace had been vindicated.
“I think our decision was absolutely right and there was not even a hesitation in being with Tiger,” Davis said from the golf course northeast of Seoul via an Internet video call.
“He’s been a part of what we do and making the very best product and to have an athlete of that calibre to give us feedback and perspective and be part of the team ... Tiger does that in spades in developing the innovations we bring to the market.”
Woods’s ability to influence consumers dropped from 96th to 2,586th after a sex scandal at the end of 2009, according to the Davie Brown Index, and he finished the 2010 PGA Tour season without a title for the first time since he turned professional.
While several sponsors deserted him, resulting in lost millions in endorsement incomes, Nike believed his appeal was more than the sum of tournament wins and public image.
Woods hopes to be given a second chance by the public and sponsors and has mounted a charm offensive of sorts by opening up a new Twitter account and boosting his media appearances in a bid to connect to fans.
In China and South Korea at least, few appeared to need convincing about his appeal as Woods was greeted by throngs of fans at a Nike shop opening at Shenzhen’s Mission Hills golf complex and cheered at a packed assembly hall where he addressed Beijing sports students with Chinese Olympic track gold medallist Liu Xiang.
“If the last three days have been any indication -- it has been a mob-scene,” said Davis.
“People really appreciate his athleticism ... I think there’s a lot of good, thrilling Tiger Woods golf ahead and I think crowds are hungry for it.”
At Chuncheon’s Jade Palace Golf Club near Seoul, where Woods held a golf clinic on Thursday, fans were happy just to catch a glimpse of him.
”I like Tiger Woods very much,“ said 51-year-old Song Jae-yeon. ”I really wanted to be here.
“I could not be close to him, but it was also nice to watch him from long distance. I could not sleep properly for three days before coming here,” she added.
One of Nike’s aims in bringing Woods to Asia was to inspire the younger generation to take up the sport and failing that, develop an interest in the apparel, Davis said.
“(Asia) represents about 40 percent of the global golf market and growing,” she added, citing the rapidly expanding middle classes in Asian economies and golf’s entry into the 2016 Rio Olympics as reasons for optimism.
“And you can’t say necessarily that in lots of other parts of the world that golf is growing.”
A return to the winners’ circle would help Woods with his long rehabilitation and the golfer took heart from his strong performance at the Masters.
“You know, I’ve got better each and every week this year,” he told reporters at the Chuncheon golf club.
“I think overall, Augusta was nice. Of course, I didn’t win, but it’s progressing. Things that (swing coach) Sean Foley and I are working on are getting better.” (Writing by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Peter Rutherford; To query or comment on this story email email@example.com) Please double-click on: for more golf stories