You think golf has some stupid rules? My brief dalliance with World Cup soccer has ended because of a lack of sufficient street cred. Why do teams dress 23 players and only 14 can play? Why do they call it a “hand ball” if it hits your shoulder? Why does every referee look like he just failed a lie-detector test and still lives in a guesthouse once owned by Ma Barker?
As each match begins, the participants emerge from the stadium tunnel while holding hands with the children. Very touching, and once the country’s national anthems have been sung, you’d swear the Righteous Brothers will be showing up any minute.
Then the clock starts. And never stops.
In soccer, sportsmanship is obviously a four-letter word, much like “dive” and “fake.” I’ve seen better acting over the last few weeks than in any Kevin Costner movie, but it’s the offsides thing that really itches my britches. In a game where two goals amounts to a big day at the office, why are there restrictions on where players can go?
Hey, I tried my best to catch the World Cup fever. All I got was the sniffles and a yellow card for failing to leap over high buildings in search of the drama.
DIFFERENT YEAR, SAME story. When the PGA Tour returned to Washington, D.C. in 2007, there were two big reasons to believe the tournament would quickly become one of the biggest non-majors on the schedule. Tiger Woods + Congressional seemed like a can’t miss in the early-summer slot previously held by the Western Open, which morphed into a FedEx Cup playoff event and continues to thrive.
That hasn’t been the case in the nation’s capital. Fields have gotten progressively weaker, which makes no sense, given the quality of the venue. Players say they want to compete on the best courses and will tell you it influences where they decide to play, leaving us to wonder if resentment of Woods has something to do with the poor attendance.
“Puzzling to me but true, players haven’t made it a priority to support a guy who bought all our primary and secondary homes, like they have with Arnie and Jack,” one veteran Tour pro told me.
As sure as I was that the product at Congressional has gotten weaker, I was still surprised by the results. The world ranking tabulates strength of field at every tournament to determine value for player performance. The U.S. Open, for instance, was worth 789 total points (Martin Kaymer received 100 for winning), about twice as many as were dispersed at Colonial.
The Quicken Loans National had just 305 – nine fewer than the week before in Hartford, which was an unhealthy event just a few years ago before Travelers stepped up as the title sponsor to salvage the its existence. Just five of the top 20 players in the world were at Congressional. The two highest ranked players in the field (Woods and Jason Day) missed the cut.
Here’s a look at how the D.C. Tour stop has fared in terms of point distribution during the tournament’s eight years:
And while we’re at it, let’s take a quick look at how a few other events have done in 2014:
|Arnold Palmer Invitational||406|
|Shell Houston Open||461|
|RBC Heritage (Hilton Head)||332|
So the Tiger tourney started with a very strong cast – deeper than Bay Hill, comparable to Memorial – but immediately dropped off to a standard of a mid-level tournament. Very strange. How does that happen? I talked to several Tour pros and got a variety of answers.
“It’s a combination of run-up to the British Open and Tiger and Tim [commissioner Finchem’s] reluctance to make a phone call to the guys to support the event,” says one. “The D.C. market is a very critical one to us. Everybody should know that.”
Jim Furyk was a regular at the tournament until passing on it this year. “I’ve always played,” he said. “It’s a great course. I skipped to be with my family for the month – I needed to cut a couple of events this year and it fit best in my schedule not to play. It probably fits bad for a lot of guys between majors and summer vacations with families.”
When you look back at the old Western Opens, however, the fields were always outstanding, and it was almost always played over Fourth of July weekend. I think D.C. hasn’t lived up to its potential for a deeper reason: the game’s top-tier players can be choosier about where they compete because they’re not playing to pay the bills.
The FedEx Cup format, which also started in ’07, made the season much more back-weighted – there aren’t many weeks off for the big boys between mid-July and the end of September. You need to go into that stretch mentally refreshed and physically ready.
Tiger might have made them all rich, but he didn’t make them stupid.
POOR PATRICK REED. The guy gets ambushed for calling himself one of the top five players in the world, and then he starts playing like No. 105. Reed was on fire until telling everybody how good he was after winning at Doral, which I found kind of cool, although most golf fans didn’t.
Reed absolutely vanished after the victory in Miami, missing the cut in five of his next eight starts and managing no better than a T-35 in the three events where he did make it to the weekend. He also became a father for the first time.
Then came this past weekend, when his two-stroke lead after 54 holes turned into a tie for 11th.
It takes a lot of work to fall that far over the course of 18 holes, even on a Sunday, further proof that Reed obviously annoyed the golf gods with his strong sense of self-belief. Pragmatically speaking, however, there is a more adequate explanation for Reed’s slump – and the Congressional thump.
You can go back and look at the career trajectories of many ultra-talented young players. They light it up early and think they’ve got this game by the scruff of the neck, then falter. Woods certainly dealt with that scenario after his four-victory season in 1997, although he would blame his poor ’98 on swing changes. After the fact, of course.
Another factor to consider: Reed’s first two wins came against weak fields at the Wyndham Championship and Humana Challenge. I can’t state it often enough – it’s so much easier to win a Tour event when 80 percent of the game’s top players are home watching football.
His triumph at Doral was obviously a big deal, but that was a weird week that included numerous ill-advised pins during the second round, when the wind destroyed scorecards without any discretion. It was also the first trip to a venue that had undergone a substantial redesign. The veterans and top-tier guys lost a valuable advantage. Experience and local knowledge basically became worthless.
As for the backlash to his boastfulness, Reed played it very smart when asked about it last Saturday evening. He said there hasn’t been any. “I haven’t heard anything negative from the guys out here,” was his response. “They all believe in themselves, believe they’re one of the top players. You have to. You can’t play this game with a lack of confidence.”
Boy, if that’s not a commercial answer, I don’t know what is. Give the young man some credit. At least he finally made it back to the media center and and fielded the question.