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The Match didn't grow the game; it demeaned it

Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, The Match
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The piffle started early and promised that we “would see Phil and Tiger, up close, as we had never seen them before.” That The Match would be a “vehicle” for growing the game. And, my favorite, that these two megastars “had the personalities” to carry a commercial-free show.

Now I know there is an omnivorous curiosity for all things Tiger, and that Phil has his moments, so to some extent we are all responsible for this ill-conceived event. But honestly, do those who hyped this event think we have surrendered all of our critical faculties? 

For starters, we know more about Tiger and Phil than we need to know, certainly more than they want us to know. Never meet your heroes and all of that. Had this really been about getting to see a side of them that we know nothing about, interviews at their respective homes, living their lives, to fill in the down-time between shots would have been a nice touch. Beyond that, these guys are golfers; they are not Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert with rapier-like wit. There was a sense that we were all united pulling for them to say something, anything interesting between shots, the way a crowd feigns laughter for a struggling comedian at a packed comedy club. But the comedian and the audience alway know best. 



As for being a vehicle for growing the game, there was at least precedent for such a thought. In the mid-'60s, Ben Hogan and Sam Snead, both well past their primes, played a match for "Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf". The immediate and lasting popularity of that proved to be the catalyst for what is now the PGA Tour Champions. That match undoubtedly grew the game. But Hogan and Snead were not billed as raconteurs and they had what could legitimately be called a rivalry. Add to it the mystique that followed Hogan, the fact that Snead had the sweetest swing in history and that the TV audience, seeing very little of them on their screens over the years, was ravenous to watch them play. 

The whole production of "Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf" took the game to exotic locales and presented golf in a way consistent with its traditions of comportment and class. The Hogan and Snead match put the older stars and the game on center stage and those of a like mind decided to stick around. Which was a far cry from the weed-style entertainment of The Match, which made promises it couldn’t keep, shined a light on the greedy – not the charitable side of golf – and put its two biggest stars in a position to fail. The Match may grow the game, just as weeds grow on your lawn. 

Let’s call this affair in Las Vegas what it really was: two stars trying to rehabilitate their images, that had little initial gravity and failed to generate its own energy when neither Tiger nor Phil could find authentic motivation in the carnival atmosphere. Tiger and Phil looked like two guys who needed the money and were only there for it. That’s fine, everyone watching likely has been guilty of the same, but we are not meant, in watching these events, to be reminded of our lives. When an athlete gets lost in their art and performs like they don’t need the money, the audience gets lost with them and forgets their own lives; that’s transcendent. 

The Match was not transcendent, it was transparent, and it demeaned the game. Period.