Did the Woods-Mickelson Match live up to its hype?

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Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.

All the talk in golf right now is about the Match, that Tiger Woods-Phil Mickelson tilt that was supposed to be broadcast to a PPV audience but ended up being streamed free to much of the world due to technical glitches in the pay part of pay-per-view. Opinions are mixed on the success of the Match but virtually everybody has an opinion on it, whether they watched it or not. What’s yours?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): As I mention in my column this week (HERE), I thought the whole thing was a cynical money-grab, adding no value whatsoever to the world of golf.  Phil and Tiger could have quietly agreed beforehand to give the winner’s cheque to charity (e.g., California fire victims), but no, they didn’t.  As if they need the money.  But here’s another thing… how did the promoter not take a giant bath if millions of viewers weren’t paying $19.95 to watch the event?  Did advertising alone cover the costs?  Did anybody but Phil make any money out of this sad exercise?

Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): I watched it, well most of it. Golf was less than average, but that’s what can happen in this type of event. Not every player shoots 65 or less every time they tee it up. They were on a course they’ve played a handful of times before, greens somewhat unfamiliar, so I’m not sure what everyone was expecting … maybe birdies every hole. I don’t think so. Go back to all the old footage of Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf. Not all those matches had spectacular golf displayed. I think this is why Skins Games started to become popular, more players plus more gambling (or winning), and with more players it means more birdies too. I think the hype of The Match far outweighed the entertainment of it.

Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Life Member, PGA of Canada: I did watch The Match. Four things that were exceptional to me began with the golf course. I couldn’t believe that gorgeous, rolling land with all those fabulous, mature trees was a blank piece of desert. Second, I was shocked when the first side bet was for $200,000 and the second was for $100,000. That money came out of the players’ own pockets. Next was the fact that the playoff hole wasn’t ready to play and had to be set-up while everyone waited and then it was a ‘farce in the dark’. Last, is the concession! Phil conceded a very difficult 7 or 8-foot putt to Tiger on the 18th green that was to determine the continuation of the match.

Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): It was horrible. I only started watching it when Bleacher Report started offering it for free, and I still regret tuning in! It took five hours to play that match, which is incredible because no one else was playing on the golf course! – and there were practically no highlights. It was an obvious cash grab and I hope we’re never subjected to another one.

TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): Well, I’ll admit that up until a couple of days before the event, I had no intentions of watching it, but they did a great job of promoting it and it worked on this guy!  So, I trudged down to a local public beer-pouring establishment and watched for a couple of hours.  OK, so it wasn’t mind blowing TV, but I enjoyed watching it in that atmosphere, because heck, we were betting on shots while drinking beer.  Not a terrible Friday afternoon.  I think despite all the negative publicity that the event got, it was a success, and will lead to future “Matches”, which I may also be interested in watching!

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: The only good thing about it was that no suckers had to pay to watch it. Never crossed my mind to tune in, even after I heard the stream was free. Seems Charles Barkley (what the hell was he doing anywhere near a golf course?) had it right when he said: “America, this is crappy golf.” Who could be surprised? Turns out of the four holes Phil won, Eldrick bogeyed three of them. Scintillating. But it is just the thin edge of the wedge, so to speak, of off-season PPVs to come.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): Charles Barkley said it best, “Crappy golf!” On top of that, this thing failed on just about every count from the technical PPV glitch to the large cast of analysts to the embarrassingly garish display of $9 million in cash piled on the practice green. Phil and Tiger just aren’t cut out to be reality show participants. Maybe the promoters can find a silver lining in this but I’m not saving any dates for a re-match.

One of the purposes of the Match was to introduce live, on-screen betting to viewers, under the assumption that this could expand the PGA Tour’s audience beyond core golfers. Is that a realistic view or just another guise by the Tour to mask the fact that they’d make a boatload of money from betting?

Deeks: I don’t know the answer to that one, but as an old fuddy-duddy and traditionalist, I get very queasy when I hear about the PGA Tour getting closer to legalized gambling and wanting to “expand the audience beyond core golfers”.  Golf has always been pretty classy and pretty pure (notwithstanding the individual gamblers like Phil), so why can’t we just leave well-enough alone?

Loughry: The betting wasn’t handled very well in The Match, but I can certainly see the potential for the PGA Tour. And make no mistake about it, this is about the boatload of money disguised as growing viewing audience and experiential fan engagement, which I’m OK with, even though I won’t participate in it. All I know is that it better not annoy me and my consumption of watching golf on TV or I’ll tune out!

Schurman: I believe this entire match was a ‘test balloon’. I have cautioned before about the demise of the PGA TOUR unless they drastically change their marketing strategy. If you watch their events on TV, you will quickly realize that with some obvious exceptions the number of fans in attendance is dwindling. Top level tournament golf is ‘off the charts’ with mega purses available around the world. In fact, the world tour envisioned by Greg Norman and shunned by the PGA TOUR is almost a thing of the past since there is a monster event somewhere in the world at least once a month. Sooner or later the market will become saturated if it isn’t already! Evidence of this is the choices made by the highest ranked players who are increasingly skipping certain events regardless of the $$$$$ simply to manage and balance their lives. North American viewers are so into their own little show they are unaware of the financial growth of the European Tour, the Asian Tour and the huge amounts of ‘appearance’ money paid. Not only that, they’re now getting newfound competition from the LPGA. The PGA TOUR is on the threshold of requiring major changes or they will succumb to monumental success.

Kaplan: The side betting was arguably the only interesting aspect of the event, but with only four side bets over the course of five hours—roughly one every 75 minutes—it just wasn’t enough to make the event watchable. Also, wasn’t professional golf trying to root betting out of the sport earlier this year with the PGA Tour’s “Integrity Program”? I remember writing about that at the time? What happened to that!?

Rule: Yeah, it could be a guise, but I think there’s some truth to the fact that it would attract non-golfing fans to the game.  But if it makes money for the Tour…  Hey, let’s face it, the reason that the NFL became the monster it turned out to be is because of betting, so it can’t hurt.

Quinn: The Debacle in the Desert certainly greased the slippery slope. Looks like the fix, so to speak, is in with the Tour making a deal with IMG Arena for official Tour data for the sole purpose of setting up wagering props. As we learned a couple of years ago, but the Tour and the NHL’s and NFL’s bag men Bettman and Goodell have forgotten, one of the biggest wagering soccer games ever was a men’s beer league game in north Toronto. The Russian mob was all over it. All they needed was an email address for a ref or goalie and bingo. A scenario for a fringe player on the Euro or dot.com or Asian Tour missing a two-footer Thursday morning that sends Renminbis and Euros and Sawbucks cascading around the internet is now a real possibility. This is why pro sports — back in the days of honour and principles — fought any association with the Mob (Joe Namath had to sell his share of Bachelors Three in NYC) because passes are dropped, free throws clang, goalies fan on slap shots, and two footers are missed. Go ahead and try to prove if any were just part of the game or on purpose. Now the NHL has set up shop in Vegas, the Raiders are on their way, the Tour is in bed with a major bookie operation. The stomach turns.

Mumford: This thing was clearly a test run for something. Whether that’s a new reality show series or some vehicle for betting, I’m not sure. Like Mr. Deeks says, when it comes to betting on golf, I too get a little queasy at the thought of a lot of money resting on a single putt or a missed fairway. I think gambling works OK on team sports but not so much for professional golf. The Tour brass may have big bags of money dancing in their heads but the pitfalls for losing their squeaky-clean image are huge.

If you had to come up with a plan for “the Match 2”, “the re-Match” or some version of another head to head tilt, what would you like to see and who would play in it?

Deeks: To be honest, I’d rather watch Peppa Pig with my grandchildren.

Loughry: I’d need an undercard for The Match 2.0. Sure, let Phil and TW “halve” at it in their own match, but I’d also let Phil and Tiger each pick one player to represent them in that undercard (only stipulation is that the players must be under 30, and be top 20 in the world). And then, they would be forced to place various bets on those players with their own money. Now, that I’d tune in for.

Schurman: There are so many off-shoots right now it’s difficult to say. DJ vs Rory, JT vs Jordan, Justin Rose vs Ricky, Cameron Champ vs Brooks, Pine Valley, Augusta National, Shinnecock Hills. And, all the B$$$$$$$$$ of side bets. “Hey, Phil, closest for 1”, “OK, closest for 3”, “Longest for 1, OK but I need odds say 8:1” and remember these numbers are at $100,000 increments.

Kaplan: One-on-one matches do not work in golf, especially in pay-per-view formats, for two reasons: there is too much filler time between shots/holes and there is no guarantee that either player will rise to the occasion. I truly hope to see no more televised one-on-one 18-hole golf matches ever again but since I have no say in the matter, I propose a Donald Trump vs. Robert Mueller match. Russia probes aside, the two actually have an existing golf beef that dates back to 2011 when Mueller resigned his golf membership at Trump National in D.C. following an alleged membership dues dispute.

Rule: The one thing that was missing from the Match was authentic trash talking and charisma from the players. They tried to play it up by introducing some betting, but let’s be honest, these two aren’t the most charismatic of players on tour.  It would be nice to have Lee Trevino play Peter Jacobson, although the golf product may suffer! But you see where I’m going, this product needs a balance between great golf and personalities.  And why didn’t they have Charles Barkley playing the first hole to see if he could win his bet with Justin Verlander, in between shots of the real Match?  I’d rather see Charles trying to chip in for double bogey and $200K than Phil and/or Tiger walking up the fairway, again.  They needed more action between shots, perhaps they play two matches at the same time? Anyway, I’m sure we’ll find out sometime soon!

Quinn: There is justifiable concern in some quarters that the geezer match and all its glitches was just an expensive test run for jazzed up big betting streaming formats between the young studs, and top LPGA Tour players. What was the Silly Season may well become the Vegas Season. I think it’s bound to happen, so I’ll take a variation on the theme that Mr. Deeks posited in his fine take on The Match itsownself. When it all comes down an audited chunk of the betting revenue, the ‘vig’ in the old Mafioso parlance, must go to victims of the disaster of the year (or month, the way things are going).

Mumford: First, you need some real personalities. As Mr. Rule said, this would have been great with two guys like Peter Jacobsen and Lee Trevino in their prime, constantly chatting and needling. Or someone like John Daly who would have had side-bets on everything. “OK Tiger, if you miss this fairway, you have to guzzle a beer.” It would be better as a team match to eliminate some of the downtime and future versions could certainly borrow all sorts of stunts from other successful reality shows too, as long as they stay away from Naked and Afraid. Nobody wants to see that!

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