Compared to Other Sports Golf is Keeping It Real

By Adam BarrJune 27, 2003, 4:00 pm
Game of the Week isnt what is used to be.
 
A story in the June 23 New York Times described a television show featuring violent surfers as the Next Big Thing for the fickle 18-to-34 male viewer market. Seems that influential demographic would rather watch surfers punching out people in bars than the traditional male-attracting sports, which are baseball, football, basketball and hockey.
 
Well, at least we know less of them want to watch the traditional sports. The National Basketball Association, for example, not so long ago the beneficiary of the I Love This Game ads and Michaelmania, has been losing viewership share of its finals for five years, the Times reported. Thirty percent of TV households watched in 1998; just 11 percent did in 2003. The other major sports have been going through the same non-growing pains.
 
Yet ratings for PGA Tour telecasts in general are up 4 percent through the first week of June compared to the same week in 2002, the Tour says. Not bad in a tough TV economy. (The U.S. Open wasnt so good, though. Weekend ratings for it were down 36.7 percent compared to last year, making growth for telecasts featuring PGA Tour players nearly flat year-to-year through that week. Still, that beats the marked decreases in other sports.)
 
How is it, you rightly ask, that relatively sedate golf competes with knuckle-launching surf dudes?
 
I think its authenticity. With corked bats, steroids, mailed-in performances, posses, sneaker deals and high-school-skipping draft non-dodgers popping up all over the sports pages, its easy to see why the traditional sports seem more rad than trad. Look at Sammy Sosa during his White Sox years. Look at him now. Whats all that; extra Ovaltine? Things just dont seem real.
 
But reality shows about surfers living, drinking and competing together, perhaps by playing on the 18-to-34 crowds inner desires, do seem real. And golf, at which it is hard (and counterproductive) to cheat or drug-up your performances, easily maintains a deep vein of authenticity. You compete or you die. No no-cut contracts, no DLs, no guarantees ' youll even lose the lucrative club endorsement deal eventually if you dont perform. Its the last real meritocracy in sports.
 
So it is that current events in golf must pass through a kind of authenticity filter. Is a proposed change in golf worthy of the game? Is a players behavior consistent with golfs prized authenticity?
 
Of course, reasonable minds can differ, and unreasonable minds are still connected to mouths, so not all answers are clear. But the same kind of filter that should have saved us from the XFL allowed golf to deal intelligently, for the most part, with the Annika Sorenstam appearance at Colonial. People behaved well, on the whole. Some outrageous things were done and said, but they were recognized for what they were. On the other hand, XFL officials said in the leagues brief developmental phase, with a straight face, that they were encouraging players to date cheerleaders, so as to generate fan-enticing storylines.
 
Golf is free of thatjunk. When John Daly, who for such a nice guy has more ill-advised moments than anyone I know, suggested that some Tour players were using performance-enhancing drugs, the immediate indignant response left no doubt about where the games values stand. (One colleague invited Daly to crawl back under the rock he came out from.) Suggest steroid use in an NFL locker room and youre likely to get the same look youd get if you observed its hard to get a cab in New York in the rain.
 
What other developments wait to pass through golfs authenticity filter? Michelle Wie looks like shell get through without a supplemental scan. Her clubs do the talking most of the time, and when she talks, she does it well, and not too much. So what if she needs a ride everywhere? Golf is about getting the ball into the hole, not about being a certain age when you do it.
 
The only potential problem: A wave of such phenoms (phena?) in golf would give the sport the artificial patina of gymnastics, where it seems youre washed up if youre over 16. How real can a sport be when you have to be a child to be at the elite level? Golf will probably avoid that, though; Wie seems like a diamond in the rough.
 
How about driver testing? Tiger has suggested there are some illegally hot driver faces on the PGA Tour, and the Tour plans to endorse the idea of having a portable test available to players every week. (Look for that availability to start next season, after the U.S. Golf Associations Implement & Ball Committee signs off on the test in October.)
 
But some manufacturers are uncomfortable with the portable test, which relies on a pendulum mechanism, saying its not yet reliable enough to be on tour. Others say the presence of a test could erode golfs reputation as a sport of honor. But using the pendulum (when its ready) as a self-policing tool, rather than an enforcement tool, could obviate that concern.
 
Was Olympia Fields authentic? Only four guys finished under par.
 
Tom Watson led the first rounds of both the U.S. Open and U.S. Senior Open. Authentic.
 
Vijay Singh mouthed off about Annika. Not so authentic.
 
Vijay Singh practices so much he could get his mail on the range. Authentic.
 
Insert your golf inquiry here: ________. Authentic?
 
If you play golf, or youre a fan, you know.
Getty Images

Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

Getty Images

Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"


CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos


The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

Getty Images

DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

Getty Images

LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.