It Works for NCAA Hoops Why Not Golf


More recently than you might imagine--about a month ago--PGA Tour officials met in a room with the people from ABC and decided they would shake up the nomenclature of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.
Flush with the early success of the name switch from the 'Senior' Tour to the 'Champions' Tour, the officials figured a little 'sizzle' wouldn't be the worst thing for an event that had plenty of 'steak' but not enough cachet when it came to competing for other traditional sports entertainment dollars.
What emerged from the meeting were four 16-team brackets: The Snead, The Hogan, The Jones and The Player. Just like that, the WGC-Accenture had golf's version of the March Madness. In February. And it had an office pool waiting to happen. Similar to the NCAA basketball tournament, the No. 1 seed in a bracket would play the No. 16 seed. The No. 15 seed would play the No. 2 seed. And so on. Tiger Woods would be Duke and Carl Petterson would be Coastal Carolina.
Except the difference between No. 1 and No. 64 in college basketball is far greater than the difference between No. 1 and No. 64 in professional golf. And when you factor in the vagaries of just 18 holes, it was a prescription for upsets. Just last year Duke (Woods) lost to College of Charleston (Peter O'Malley) in the first round. Eighteen holes of match play determining the winner in golf at this level is a bit like one 20-minute half determining the winner in college basketball.
This, of course, is the simultaneous charm and curse of this event. If Duke loses in the first round of the NCAA hoops tournament, the enthusiasm doesn't wane until a winner emerges. If a Woods loses to a Petterson, television ratings suffer.
World GolfNevertheless, this new format invites comparisons. Like which bracket is tougher; which top seed has the easiest draw; what country or continent will fare the best. The Big East could be the Asians. The Big Ten could be the top 10 players in the world rankings. The Southeast Conference could include all the players with homes in Florida.
PGA TourOne of the beauties of match play is you only have to beat one player each day. And whether or not the reason you are shorter off the tee has to do with size, strength or inferior equipment, if you make every putt you look at over a four hour stretch, you probably will win. The best example of this in golf history is Paul Runyan's 8 and 7 victory over Sam Snead in the finals of the 1938 PGA Championship. Runyan was much shorter off that tee than Snead. But he got the ball in the hole better that day.
The PGA Tour officials knew the people at ABC sports liked the idea of breaking the field into four 16-team brackets. And that factored prominently into their decision. Whether or not this switch proves to be the ultimate salvation of an event that still hurts when too many stars lose too early remains to be seen. But it is that sporting rarity, a smart marketing decision that didn't compromise the integrity of the tournament.
I can only quibble with the names. Ben Hogan, Bobby Jones, Sam Snead and Gary Player. Great talents. Great records. No argument. But what about Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gene Sarazen and Byron Nelson? How many more years will we have to wait before somebody lobbies that Woods' should have a bracket named for him?
This is the kind of water cooler talk this event needs. Naming the brackets was a first step and a move in the right direction.
Related Links:
  • Accenture Match Play Brackets
  • Full Coverage of the Accenture Match Play Championship