Give us less golf and more matchplay pleaseJune 22, 2017 The Scoop
In his latest Foghorn column, Tom Irwin vents about golf's wrap-around season and suggests how the PGA Championship could actually become interesting to a wider fanbase.
Is there really another PGA Tour event underway already? Most of us are still catching up on time with the family and society – not to mention sleep, of course – after the weekend’s exertions at the US Open.
The build-up to the Erin Hills showpiece started as soon as the final putt dropped at the Masters, and the event itself spans across four days. The aftermath? All over in the blinking of a Monday because we are straight on to the Travelers Championship where a strong field competes for a purse of almost $7 million and in Europe play is already underway in Germany at the BMW. It is bonkers.
Golf consistently asks an awful lot of its audience, its players and its sponsors. A wrap-around season demands our attention 51 weeks a year and exhausts its best players asking them to peak and perform again and again.
Can we not have a week off this week? Let us draw breath. Let us digest the oddity of Erin Hills and Brooks Koepka’s imperious play on Sunday, and muse on the absence once again of a dominant figure or even figures. I have long since thought that a less-is-more approach would suit golf very well.
Sponsors are harder to come by, people are weary of 72-hole strokeplay week-in, week-out. The move towards a world tour means we have world-class fields at not only the majors, but also the Players, FedEx Cup, WGCs, and now the Rolex Series. I am exhausted just typing it.
Golf’s solution to date has not been to take away but to add and shuffle about. Among the many admirable things Keith Pelley has done was pilot the Golf Sixes format at Centurion Club earlier this year, and we have seen a similar initiative in Australia on the PGA Tour.
New formats are brilliant, but do we really need more events? We see in our own online traffic, and coverage in the mainstream media, enormous spikes in interest around the traditional majors.
The PGA Championship is in desperate need of revival
The Masters attracts genuine sports fan from outside of golf, as does the Open. Would golf’s administrators not be better served to make the absolute most of these blue-ribbon events? They are the titles with the evocative history, the talismanic past champions, and it is those that players aim to peak for year in and year out.
Clearing the decks after the event has passed would allow for that. A return to free-to-air coverage, potentially online, would be massive, as would a strategy of starting the build-up to each as early as possible.
At the US Open this week much was made of the course not being “US Openy” enough. Too much like a PGA Championship said some, trying to ape the Open said others. Whatever the correct point of view, if one thing stood out it was vive la difference.
The Masters has its perfect fairways, select field, and early-season prominence. The Open has its links appeal and history to cobble dogs with. The US Open is brutal, always brutal.
What of the PGA Championship then? Glory’s Last Shot – as it used to be called – is more akin to an upgraded PGA Tour event with little to separate it from the culmination of the FedEx Cup.
There is talk of moving the PGA Championship to a pre-US Open slot – to accommodate NFL viewing of all things – but why not do something more radical? Why not return it to its matchplay routes? As outlined above there is recognition that we need something other than 72-hole strokeplay but to date these have either not worked – see the World Match Play – or have been peripheral, experimental events on the fringes of the real action.
The PGA Championship has matchplay heritage and carries real kudos as one of the game’s big four, so why not kill two birds with one stone and put it back how it was?
That would create a real difference for the major’s ugly duckling and do much to re-engage a weary fan base.