This is as close to feeling like JK Rowling as I’m ever likely to get. It’s a dreich ole day and I’m sitting in a local coffee shop awaiting a steaming latte. The rain is pounding off the glass roof and streaming down the windows as I type away and I am glad to have escaped the baltic conditions of our house. You see, the man came to service the boiler yesterday and well, broke it. Not a cheep out of it and with temperatures plummeting, the desire to walk the streets with my laptop seeking warmth and coffee has surfaced with a vengeance.
What did you think of The Match? The Tiger versus Phil shoot-out in Las Vegas (where else?) for a winner-take-all $9 million dollar purse? Did you rejoice when televisual technical difficulties meant the pay-per-view idea had to be abandoned and live, free, streaming occurred at the eleventh hour? Why, joy of joys, we were even able to watch it here in England on Sky. Are you holding your breath waiting to see if there will be sequel, a Match No 2?Frankly, I thought this attempt to move golf into the entertainments and gambling industry, with only a small, select VIP audience present at Shadow Creek Golf course, was ill conceived and a new low in the coverage of our sport. Two sportsmen at least a decade removed from their primes is not the stuff of the box-office and, with woeful performances from the pair on golf’s greatest stage, the Ryder Cup, still fresh in our minds, (a combined zero points contributed to the US cause at Le Golf National), is it any wonder many of you probably weren’t even aware The Match was taking place? Believe me, you missed nothing.
Of course, various charities and the foundations of the two protagonists will benefit and golf is prodigious in its support of good causes, but don’t let that cloud the issue. It is difficult to see this contrived spectacle as anything other than a crass lining of the pockets of two individuals, already fabulously wealthy beyond the imaginings of most of us. They both still crave the limelight their golf no longer merits. This is a match best forgotten.
By contrast, I well remember the early TV matches between The Big Three – Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player – and the excitement with which we followed every shot. This was promoting golf at its best – players at the peak of their skills, fire in their bellies seeking victory and grace and good sportsmanship in defeat. The banter between them was uncontrived and we had the feeling we were simply eavesdropping on a match between three giants of the game. And, as well as tussling for bragging rights and a financial pot, all three were invested in bringing the game to more and more people and showcasing the sport in the best possible way.There is much talk at the moment about the declining interest in golf compared to other sports. We live in an izzy-whizzy, fast-paced, low-attention-span, instant-gratification world and golf is deemed to be too slow, too ponderous and too boring to engage the masses. This is partly responsible for the simplification and streamlining of the rules from next January onwards; the introduction of new formats such as Golf Sixes on the professional stage; and the emphasis that nine holes is fine and we all have time for that, if not for a full round. These are laudable schemes and will, hopefully, help to attract new players and new fans. After all, every sport must be prepared to adapt or die, but, please, please do not underestimate the masses.
We do not need to dumb golf down to the lowest common denominator thus losing so many of its nuances and challenges. There has never been anything much wrong with the game itself and it will continue to beguile and enthrall future generations but only if those of us who play it are more welcoming, accommodating and modern in our approach. We need to eradicate intimidating golf clubs, pompous attitudes and ridiculous dress rules – some of the real reasons the sport isn’t growing as it should. The game is fine….it’s some of the people who play it who are not. As with most things, balance is the key.
So please, no more Tiger-Phil match-ups outside of regular tournament play. As he so often does, Rory McIlroy summed it up succinctly, “If they had done it fifteen years ago, it would have been great, but nowadays it’s missed the mark a little bit.” Quite.
Now, time for another latte.