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Tiger Woods’ golf clubs sell for $5.15 million at auction

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Golden Age Auctions Owner Ryan Carey sits down with Yahoo Finance Live to talk about the record-breaking auction sale of Tiger Woods' golf clubs, the sports memorobilia market, and sports memorabilia NFTs.

Video Transcript

- This year. And switching gears here briefly, as golf fans flocked to see Tiger Woods in competition at the Masters hoping to see glimpses of the precision accuracy Tiger had built his career winnings on, simultaneously an old set of irons that Tiger Woods used. They sold for over $5 million at Golden Age Auctions. Ryan Carey is the Golden Age Auctions owner and he joins us now.

Ryan, Thanks for taking the time here with us today. First and foremost, walk us through the verification process for the clubs. Reportedly, it incorporated image-matching, this process did, and then a lie detector test as well. What other authentication measures are implemented for an auction listing of this price and historical significance?

RYAN CAREY: Yeah, we had to really dig deep on this one. This is not the level they usually have to go through, but we knew how historic these items are. We knew we set for a record price. We didn't know it would go for $5 million, but yes. Back in 2010, the first time these were sold, the owner of them passed a polygraph test, he was Tiger's right hand man, he's the one that worked on Tiger's clubs, he delivered them to Tiger, a new set, and Tiger gave him this set. So we really wanted to button up that chain of custody there.

And then the kicker really was the photo-matching. During this auction, we spent hours and hours and hours on Getty Images, on Google, just trying to find what images we could find that match these with Tiger. And we were successful. We didn't know we would be, but we could match up rust stains from the photos of Tiger playing these events to the actual clubs we were selling. So it was a special moment for golf and that's why we broke the record price.

- An iconic set of clubs that he won his first Majors with, but what do you make of this controversy the Tiger has said, nope, those clubs are in my garage.

RYAN CAREY: Well, the good thing was Tiger said that back in 2010. Photo-matching has come a long way. Imagery and the internet has come a long way. So I understand what Tiger is saying. We have the match photo-wise directly to in Tiger's hands during the 2001 Masters and other events. So if there was any doubt, we were able to solve that. And that's when we saw the bidding just take off when we made that happen.

- OK. And so when we think about how we can, perhaps, avert any confusion in the future, there's been a ton of conversation around where nonfungible tokens, even for sports memorabilia that is one-of-a-kind, where that can in the authentication process and the validation process provide a way forward from here.

RYAN CAREY: Yeah, you're spot on with that. That would be huge where you could track these items for the rest of history. There's very few pieces of memorabilia that you can be relatively certain will still be collected 100 years from now. And I believe these clubs are one of those. As long as the game of golf is being played, someone will want Tiger Wood's irons from 2000, 2001. So if you could have some blockchain technology tied to these so the chain of ownership can be tracked for the next century, that would be amazing.

- Yeah, I imagine some would like to get their hands on the last set that he won the Masters with in 2019. Now, the prior record for golf memorabilia was surprisingly less than $700,000, so this didn't just break the record, it smashed it. What is the golf memorabilia market? Is it growing or is this just kind of a one off, given Tiger Woods and where he is in terms of being an icon globally?

RYAN CAREY: Yeah. So I think we caught this perfect storm where the rest of memorabilia and collecting has just taken off. COVID made, I don't care if it's cars or comic books or baseball cards, they've all skyrocketed. Golf was probably undervalued already. And then when that happened, we've been lagging behind. So everyone has all of a sudden been talking about golf's undervalued, golf's undervalued, golf's undervalued.

And then with Tiger Woods coming back, Tiger Woods also, he's cemented his legacy, his history is complete, and people are realizing they like to collect the GOATs. They like collecting Mantle and Ruth, they like collecting Brady and Michael Jordan. Wait a minute, what about Tiger Woods? So the big collectors don't have an exposure to Tiger Woods memorabilia. And, all of a sudden, we come along with the best set of modern golf memorabilia in existence.

- I imagine there's not a ton of demand for my Steve Stricker's signed flag then, but, perhaps-- no, I'm still a big fan of his. Anyway, thinking as we move forward from here, the fact that you don't have Tiger signing a ton of autographs now. For the future of the game to create even more demand within the golf memorabilia as part of the broader sports memorabilia landscape, what kind of partnership does that require? It's one thing to have clubs of this stature, but it's another thing if you don't necessarily have players that are interested in getting into that sports memorabilia landscape.

RYAN CAREY: Well, see, the other leagues are doing a better job. Major League Baseball does a phenomenal job. The NFL does a very good job. Golf, the PGA TOUR has lagged behind there because there are a lot of kids out there that would love to own an item from Justin Thomas, Morikawa, Scottie Scheffler now bursting onto the scene. And so, there's no great way to do that right now. And that's I think what's next is that the PGA TOUR and the golf collecting industry will really rally behind the players so that kids these days and adults can own a piece of the people they watch on TV every week.

- And it was a remarkable weekend for Tiger Woods. Maybe someday we'll see those clubs hit the market because that 46-year-old just opened a few eyes. It was remarkable. Ryan Cary from Golden Age Auctions, appreciate you, sir. Thank you.