Okay, maybe I’m just getting older, but two things struck me as I watched the Sentry Tournament of Champions on Sunday evening.
One, I had totally forgotten (i.e., never even occurred to me) that this was not, in fact, the first event of the 2019 PGA Tour “season”. Not that I care in the slightest. And two, watching the golf – despite a final-hole finish and a remarkable final-round score by the winner, Xander Schauffele – was really, REALLY boring.
All my life, I’ve defended golf as a TV and spectator sport, against the infidels who’ve derided the game as the equivalent of watching a turtle cross a country road.
“Appreciate the artistry of the golf swing, you cretins,” I’ve said. “The drama is more subtle, yes, but equally as visceral,” I’ve protested, pretending to know what “visceral” means. “Behold the beauty of the landscape, the tactical imposition of the forestation, the challenge of the angles, the mounds, and contours of the greens,” I’ve suggested. “Empathize with the pressure on the players as they examine and calculate not only the physicality of the playing ground, but the intensity of the competition, and the very real possibility of sabotage at the hand of their own nervous systems,” I’ve insisted.
All of which was, and remains, valid. But it still doesn’t overcome the fact that, with today’s game, it all adds up to: boooorrrrring!
There are several reasons for this, I believe.
First, as mentioned at the outset, I’m getting old and cranky (“getting??!” says my wife, on the sofa), which really means, I guess, that I’ve watched hundreds of golf tournaments, on TV and in person, and they’ve begun to generate a feeling of “bindare, dundat”, for me at least.
Secondly, and I’ve made this point before, but all the golf networks persist in plunking old white men into the booth and onto the course to provide the commentary and colour. And like me, these guys have lost the shuffle in their step, as it were. The hoist in their petard. Is there no one in the land under age 40, and with perhaps a dash of non-Caucasian perspective, who can walk a golf course, or who can say something interesting and even controversial, while seated? I could swear I heard a snort from Frank Nobilo in the anchor booth, while his partner Rich Lerner was foaming at the mouth about something or other; a snort identical to the ones I make when I nod off at my desk in the afternoon, generating a violent head-snap.
The highlight of the broadcast for me was at the very end, when old white “Bones” Mackay (Phil’s retired caddie) stated emphatically in his now-familiar whisper-talk, that Gary Woodland’s crucial tie-inducing final 8-footer would break just a bit to the left at the end. I don’t know if Bones had quietly mentioned this to Woodland just before the guy made the stroke, but the putt veered perceptibly two inches to the right as it neared its target. Game, set, match to Mr. Schauffele!
Third, I think the spectator aspect of the game is really suffering because the professional golfers today are all just too damn good. And that’s good for them, but bad for us. For those like me who used to enjoy seeing the occasional duck, banana, shank, squib, skull and chunk during a broadcast, there’s nothing we can sink our teeth into any more. Yes, I’m happy to witness the occasional 280-yard four-iron nestle up near the pin but watching lawn darts hit the bulls-eye for three or four hours is surprisingly wearing on the alert-button. And the game these guys play now is so foreign to the game I play, and frankly estranged from the game that even Jack and Arnie and Gary and Lee played 50 years ago, that it has very little relevance or resonance to the real world. And THAT was what made golf so enjoyable and watchable all those years.
Besides, no one hitches up their pants like Arnie did, and makes a charge (Schauffele’s round yesterday notwithstanding). They don’t need to. They know that par’s a dead-cert, and birdie is almost a given. No one scowls like Jack did, especially after a chunked wedge. Chunk? What’s that, say today’s robo-chippers. No one stares through your soul like Ray Floyd, boring through your sub-conscious like Darth Vader standing in front of your car at a stoplight. No one hurls a rubber snake at you, before slicing and dicing you in a playoff, like Trevino did.
Everybody on Tour today is just like Gary Player was… fit, obsessive… but better at the game, and without the stalk, and mind-numbing verbosity of which Player was famous. (Schauffele’s articulate description of yesterday’s win: “well, uh, it was kind of a crazy day.” Yeah, crazy as a turtle.)
As good as Tiger was, and certainly good for the TV ratings, the sad part is that Tiger spawned a generation of physical and verbal automatons. I watch today and I’m reminded of the lyrics to the oh-so-memorable theme song of the Patty Duke Show in the 1960s, in which Patty played herself twice over as twins: “they laugh alike, they walk alike, at times they even talk alike… you can lose your mind, when two cousins are two of a kind.” That pretty much sums up today’s players and their games.
No flaws, just blahs.