In the realm of golf, things have recently become quite hot. In fact, you could definitely burn a piece of bread on a toasting fork by holding it near to Greg Norman’s vehement letter to the PGA Tour.
Some of you, if not all of you, are probably weary of hearing about Norman, the projected Saudi Super League, Phil Mickelson, and the overall hullabaloo surrounding the Royal & Ancient game these days.
Indeed, the mere mention of a “multi-million-dollar breakaway circuit” is likely to elicit the same uncomfortable grimace as a baby forced to eat a tablespoon of cod liver oil.
What about the golf journalists? As we thrash away at the laptop keys like Little Richard in the throes of a piano-pounding frenzy, it keeps the cogs of our industry clanking along.
Norman’s confrontational, rabble-rousing letter to PGA Tour supremo Jay Monahan the other day, in which he accused the top brass of “bullying and threatening” those players who were enticed by the suggestive Saudi eyelash fluttering while declaring “this is not the end,” was another interesting twist in the ongoing saga.
It came soon after Mickelson’s explosive and well-documented Saudi comments and subsequent mea culpa, which sparked so much seismic activity that the plaster on the National Earthquake Information Center’s walls nearly cracked.
Meanwhile, that shattering noise in the background is the sound of Phil’s lucrative endorsement deals physically sliding off his cap and polo shirt and thudding to the ground as his big sponsors reject him. It’s been an eventful week.
With so much going on at the top, one of the most common views is that golf at the high end of the professional circus “has to change.” According to some critics, the existing tours are antiquated economic models that fail to showcase the most thrilling version of the professional game. As a spectacle, it needs to be faster and more entertaining. Despite moral concerns regarding the source of the money, the idea of a Super League with team characteristics thrown into the mix is an appealing concept for many.
Currently, golf effectively transports the same product throughout the world week in and week out. There can be a distinct lack of importance and feeling of occasion outside of major tournaments or Ryder Cups, for example.
Lee Westwood, one of a number of golfers who signed a non-disclosure agreement about the Super League and is clearly enticed by the prospect of unbridled riches, suggested a few weeks ago that golf “has to move with the times and become more heat-of-the-moment, volatile, and impactful from the word go, and a team aspect gives you that,” according to Westwood. He despised the traditional 72-hole stroke play format and favored match play’s cut-and-thrust format.
These are, of course, long-standing points of contention, and it got me thinking – not profoundly, but nonetheless – about contemporary golfing invention. The European Tour, now known as the DP World Tour, experienced a brief burst of innovation with events like the GolfSixes, a rapid-fire team shoot-out over half-a-dozen holes, and the Shot Clock Masters, in which players were given a set amount of time to hit their ball and were followed around the course by a countdown-style tick-tocking device on a buggy.
You may say they were admirable attempts to “keep up with the times” and try something different, but they have sadly died on the vine. People in golf have a habit of groaning and grousing that the game is too set in its ways, then sneeringly groaning and grousing when a tournament with some forward thinking and a desire to try comes along.
The reality is that the success of tournaments like GolfSixes or the Shot Clock Masters is determined by the players who compete in them. Oh, and there’s the issue of money. Without big stars on the box office – and huge checks – outside-the-box ideas tends to get placed back in the box. Such contests are considered as gimmicks, not goers, in the end.
Let’s face it, Westwood would never have considered partnering with a fellow Englishman in a game like GolfSixes, which was “impactful from the get go” due to its short format.
But what about a Super League? Golfing innovation is fine… as long as there’s a golden carrot dangling from a pole.