Other than watching Georgia football, it is hard to beat the period of time starting with the Final Four and ending with Masters Sunday. I went to bed early during the basketball championship game, after all it was only Virginia and Texas Tech. Boy, was I wrong. From what I have read I missed a heck of a game.
The Masters is not just Thursday through Sunday like many other golf tournaments. There is the Monday through Wednesday build up. It is hard not to get caught up in the conversations of golf experts. There was one thing for sure from all this analysis, very few people expected Tiger Woods to put on a fifth Green Jacket.
It was an amazing Day 4 at the Masters. I heard commentators talk about Tiger’s personal life, his back problems and surgeries, coaching changes, caddy issues and on and on. In the end, his victory was simply amazing — one for the ages no doubt.
From an economic perspective, Tiger’s victory was not just amazing, it was super amazing. In fact, you may never see another victory like Tiger’s 2019 Masters win ever again. This is what I want to write about today.
Competition means different things to different people. To many it means rivalry. In this view, the result of competition is a winner and a loser. Some view this as a good thing and fun to watch — see attendance figures for UGA’s Sanford Stadium on Saturdays in the fall. Those who dislike this view of competition think that everyone should get a trophy.
To a market economist like myself I see competition quite differently. To me, it is an impersonal process. In perfect competition, a seller is simply trying to sell his or her product at the market price. While there are others in the market attempting to do the same thing, they are not really like rivals. I don’t fight them. I don’t stomp on them. I don’t list who I have beaten on my website.
What I try to do, however, is offer my product at a lower price or offer the same product at the same price but with higher quality. The real ‘winners’ from this view of competition are customers. This is the nature of Adam Smith’s (father of market economics) invisible hand — as I pursue my own self-interest, I am guided by an invisible hand to promote the interests of others which was not part of my original intention. In the end, competition regulates behavior and makes people better off.
So, how does golf and Tiger Woods fit into all of this? Excellence in a sport sets the standard that others in that sport must achieve if they are to excel. Over time, we compete against the excellence of others. As we do, the definition of excellence rises. The definition of quality also rises. For example, the quality of football across the entire Southeastern Conference rises because, in the short-run, Alabama is so consistently good. Some fellow Georgia fans tell me that all ‘we need to do is be better than Alabama.’ Ultimately, the quality of UGA football rises (while many pray for Kirby Smart, the head coach).
Now to Tiger Woods. First consider the golfers who occupied second to twelfth place at the end of the tournament. When Tiger won his first Green Jacket in 1997, the average age of these players was 9.5 years. When he won his fourth jacket in 2005, their average age was 17.5 years. So, Tiger was the standard setter during the formative years of their golfing abilities. All they had to do was, one day, be better than Tiger if they wanted to win and achieve his level of success and receive similar accolades. Tiger set the standard.
Then, as young men, from 2005 to right before Masters Sunday, the Tiger standard was simply in history having been past by others. The standard then had been set by others, as they competed to be the best by having the lowest scores.
Competition in golf is special. The goal is to have the lowest score and that is not achieved by harming, or even playing against, other players (excluding match play). It is totally impersonal. You compete against a number. It is probably the best example in the world of the market competition economists fully embrace.
Tiger had set the standard that needed to be surpassed and then from 2005 to 2019 the standard was raised by others with Tiger in the background. However, in hindsight, it is hard to name who the standard setter was during the 2005 to 2019 period. It certainly wasn’t someone like Tiger.
So, what was amazing — super amazing — about Tiger’s victory? He not only came in first, he beat the players who he had created and whose excellence he established which they tried to surpass. This is super amazing. We will never see that again unless someone with Tiger’s dominance comes along. In addition, some changes to the layout of the Augusta National course over the years were made to adjust for the level of play Tiger Woods set. Recall making courses Tiger-proof?
With this victory Tiger set the standard again. This is the true Tiger effect and we are all better off for it.