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.
The WGC Dell Technologies hybrid Round Robin Match Play thingy provided some real entertainment this past weekend with plenty of matches going to the 18th hole and beyond. It would seem that the worst fears of sponsors and broadcasters that they’d get something similar to the 2002 Accenture Match play final between Kevin Sutherland and Scott McCarron are all in the rear-view mirror. Today’s top ranked players all deliver compelling storylines and exciting play. Where does the Match Play rank in terms of your viewing priorities for the PGA Tour?
Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): For me, it can rank pretty high if there are players I’m interested in watching. But then, I’d say the same for any tournament. Scottie Scheffler isn’t quite there for me yet, despite his arrival as World No.1. Kisner’s okay, but not worth skipping my grandson’s hockey practice. Obviously, though, I’d want to watch N.E. Canadian (in this case, Corey Connors) take on Dustin Johnson. Too bad their match only generated about 20% of broadcast time. But bottom line — good job, Corey! Let’s hope even bigger things are just around the corner for you.
Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Hall of Fame Member, PGA of Canada: From an entertainment point of view, I rate it very high. Currently, anyone of the top 10 players can vault into World #1 with one or two victories in a short span. We are coming off nearly a century when there was always a triumvirate. That ended with Tiger who was his own triumvirate; him against the field. Even when he didn’t win, he was close enough to be in the mix. Matchplay can end with the final group being vanilla, but a decemvirate opens the door to a lot of combinations most of them good.
TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): I’ll be honest, it doesn’t excite me that much. I do like watching match play, but it doesn’t make for great tv, especially on Sunday when there are only two matches at a time. Hard to make the dead time all that interesting, especially with how slowly the guys play these days. It’s fun to watch on Friday when there are tons of matches that have implications, and playoffs in some matches, but the weekend is best viewed on PVR with a quick trigger finger on the fast forward button.
Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: Beyond the Majors, The Players’ Championship, and the Ryder Cup, this is it. The only problem is it requires such a massive investment of time. When it’s as well-played as this time around, it is just too difficult to look away and get on with all the things you should have been doing since Wednesday morning. In these parts, when the rain momentarily pauses, it’s even harder. Thank the golf gawds for the record and fast forward buttons. They save a few marriages.
Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): I’m with Quinn on this one. Majors, Ryder Cup, Players Championship and the Match Play not to be missed. The rest of the season is a blur of sameness, occasionally filled with drama but not nearly as compelling as these unique events.
Earlier versions of the Match Play featured a one-and-done format for the 64-man field, but we’ve now seen several years of round robin play before the Sweet 16 reverts to knock-out play. Are you more comfortable with three days of round robin or would you prefer that it be true match play all the way?
Deeks: I’d kinda prefer match play all the way, but that’s more likely to end up with a Kevin Sutherland/Scott McCarron final, wherein all television viewers decide that cleaning their eavestroughs is a bigger priority. So, I’m comfortable with the current format.
Schurman: I really like this format. Wednesday is a bit lacklustre but once some of the higher seeds get beaten and have to perform on Thursday and Friday, things get my attention. I like Friday for the play-off aspect. I do wish the actual points and $$$$$ were more available for each match. I’d also like to see scoreboards that changed showing the projected results. E.g., If player A beats player B what happens to their yearly standings on the money list and the FedEx points list or how much each match is worth, so you could calculate the importance of each putt etc. A friend of mine uses this exact format for Match Play at his Club. He says the members like meeting more people and they are not eliminated as quickly, as they are guaranteed at least 3 matches. We should mention the excellent job the Rules Committee did on #13 regarding relief from the sprinkler head when they changed the situation immediately, which of course they could do because it was match play.
Rule: I like the new format, as it ensures the top players play at least three rounds, and like I mentioned above, it makes for interesting scenarios on Friday afternoon. I’m sure the top players prefer to have the opportunity to play multiple matches, giving them a possible second chance to stay alive.
Quinn: The traditional match play format just didn’t work. It led to the no-name no-audience weekends and the top players who got a bit unlucky and were one-and-doned deciding against going through the hassle again. This format attracted a tremendous field with bonuses like DeChambeau showing up just to get in three workout rounds. The Austen crowds loved it and guessing that the TV fans did too.
Mumford: When the round robin format was introduced, I was a skeptic. However, it does show us lots more matches, many of them very good, so I’m ok with it now. It seems to bring out a stronger field too, so the worst fears of sponsors and broadcasters should be alleviated. That said, they may have been sweating the thought of a Seamus Power – Corey Conners final at least until Scottie Scheffler dispatched the Irishman.
Augusta National has announced that Phil Mickelson won’t be in the field for this year’s Masters. It’s the first time the 3-time Champion has missed the event is his professional career but comes on the heels of a weird series of outbursts about his involvement with Greg Norman’s LIV Golf Series, trying to leverage better things from the PGA Tour and finally his decision to take some time off and figure things out. Meanwhile rumours abound and two big questions remain unanswered: has Phil been suspended by the PGA Tour and will he defend his PGA Championship at Southern Hills in May? How do you see it?
Deeks: I’d say the answers are yes and yes… yes, he’s probably been suspended (I mean, missing the Masters? Really?) … and yes, he’ll be allowed to play the PGA, because many people (including me) would be outraged if he wasn’t allowed to defend. His comments were ignorant on many levels, but as the old Kim Mitchell saying goes, nobody drowned, nobody died, so I think he should be allowed out of solitary confinement in May.
Schurman: Wishing someone ill will isn’t a nice thing but…………! Phil is self-inflicted collateral damage in the Grand Ride. In the immortal words of Ralph Kramden, “Alice, I’ve got a big mouth! That’s what I’ve got. A big mouth!”
Rule: I get the feeling that he just needs some time away from the game and the Tour to try to make everyone forget about all the crap that came out of his mouth. I can’t see how the PGA Tour could have suspended him, and obviously they don’t have a say if he plays or doesn’t play The Masters anyway. I’m not sure he’ll be back anytime soon, which would be a shame, as it would be nice to see him defend his improbable major win last year. Then again, maybe he signs up for all 8 LIV events and we don’t see him play any more PGA Tour events, what do I know?
Quinn: The rumours are wild, but sadly at the same time they are credible. The green jackets won’t ever reveal why Phil won’t be at Augusta National, but when the full story comes out the reason(s) may be similar to why he may not be at Southern Hills. The full insider trading story may well have a common thread too and will be equally sad reading.
Mumford: I think there’s a lot more to this story than we currently know. Maybe more than we’ll ever know. I do believe Phil has been suspended but I think he’ll be at Southern Hills to defend and all will be forgiven. Fans have a short memory and being a doofus isn’t generally considered a hanging offense.