I hear it almost anytime someone discusses television ratings within earshot of me, comparing the huge popularity of the NFL (more than 100 million people watched in Week 1) to everything else, especially golf, and saying that you can’t compete with football.
I always think, no, golf cannot compete with football, at least not in the traditional sense of measuring TV ratings. But the FedEx Cup playoffs have been a success if you compare the ratings of the current events to those of the season-ending events in 2006, the last year before the playoffs were implemented. The PGA Tour is to be congratulated for this success because there is no doubt that bringing the best players together for four weeks to end the year makes for compelling golf. But if I were commissioner for one week I would change the playoffs and make them, well, playoffs.
The day after the Wyndham Championship, I would have a televised draft. Each of 16 cities would draft nine players from a pool of the top 144 in the FedEx Cup standings. Those 16 cities would play each other over the course of four weeks, beginning with eight matches the first week, then four, then two and ending with the FedEx Cup season-ending match between two cities.
Interest would be generated by the televising of the draft and the possibility of betting on the matches. Pride, rivalries and betting make people stop what they’re doing to watch football. It is certainly not that most of us can really relate to what they’re doing, because football, except for a few thousand young men, is a game the rest of us stop playing in adolescence.
Conversely, tens of millions play golf in this country. That only adds to the potential for a bigger piece of the TV pie. I doubt seriously if any version of this would bring about lower ratings than the FedEx Cup gets now; it very likely would bring about a considerable gain in viewers.
The details of such a plan - which cities, the purse distribution, how many days, where the matches would be played - would be complicated and critics would be many, but an unconventional approach is always complicated and always has a sea of critics. The end result would be golf presented to the masses in a more interesting way, in a way they could relate to. And it just might bring more people into the game.
Now, if I were commissioner of the LPGA for even one hour, I would extend Lexi Thompson membership and welcome her with open arms. I would remind those who are critical of her young age (16) and assumed immaturity that she is just playing golf and that genius doesn’t follow timelines. Joan of Arc was leading an army at 16. Mozart wrote his first opera at 12. Louis Braille invented his system that allowed the blind to read when he was 15. Imagine if these children’s genius had been stifled because of their age.
Lexi is just playing golf. Athletics is about jaw-dropping exceptionalism and that is why Dara Torres swimming at 41 in the Olympics holds us in awe and Tom Watson almost winning the British Open at 59 brings nostalgic tears to many eyes. To limit the ability of one to compete because of age is the LPGA playing parent and saying that a number, not talent, determines one’s readiness to compete and in the process robs the world of a rare chance to watch what it has never seen before.