Skip to main content

Match Play is nice, but can PGA Tour shake things up more?

Getty Images

AUSTIN, Texas – By the time the final putt drops at East Lake in late August, the PGA Tour will have held 50 tournaments, both official and unofficial, this season. All but six of those events are 72 holes of traditional stroke play, and just three in that smaller group – Ryder Cup, this week’s WGC-Dell Match Play and Barracuda Championship – stray from stroke play as the main determination for a winner.

Naturally, with 64 of the world’s best here at Austin Country Club, it begs the question: Is there an opportunity for more creativity on the Tour calendar?

“It would be fun to have more different options out there,” Jon Rahm said. “I don't know what it may be, but I think it would be fun to have a couple different ones just to change it up, not only for us, but for the spectators, as well.”

Rahm then tossed out the idea of a mixed event, something that has been done on other tours, including in Europe. It’s clear that there is an appetite to potentially see Rahm tee it up alongside fellow world No. 1 Jin Young Ko in a team format, perhaps even alternate shot. But you would need the buy-in from the top players, and such a competition would likely need to be slotted in around the holidays to avoid schedule conflicts.

“I think that would be very cool,” Rahm added.

Matches and scoring from the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play Championship

But why stop there? In addition to adding a mixed event and possibly tweaking the current Match Play by moving it to Thursday-Monday to ensure sponsors a full field for Saturday, it’s time for the Tour to think outside the box.

“I'm sure we could find a week or two in there where we could create some money games like we have at home that are fun for the viewing and the spectators,” said Billy Horschel, who sits on the Tour’s player advisory council.

Bingo, Billy. There has been effort made in the sport with several iterations of The Match. But one could argue that the idea, which basically involves two-versus-two match play, has lost some momentum since the early matches involving Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.

Instead, how cool would it be to watch Tour pros compete in a game of Wolf? Or a one-club tournament? Or with half a bag? Or a college-golf style team competition? Or even just a skins game?

“I love the game of Wolf,” Horschel said. “I love that very much. I think that that game goes to show you who has the belief in themselves to go out on their own, and then also who has the talent to back up that belief in themselves to handle going against four other Tour players and trying to win the hole and hopefully not lose it.”

But Rahm argues, “You can't really play it out here.”

Well, why not?

“You can't be playing a Wolf tournament out here,” Rahm answered. “I really have no idea how you'd do the prize and things like that. And I think it would be a little bit too hectic if we're playing Wolf and Hammer and different games out there.”

It’s been done. Golf’s new-media types such as No Laying Up and Barstool Sports’ Foreplay Podcast have succeeded in creating interesting content involving these alternate formats. Whether it was NLU playing Wolf Hammer against pros Curtis Luck and Hank Lebioda or Foreplay taking on Rory McIlroy with McIlroy using just a 6-iron, these ideas worked well.

Now – and no offense to Soly and Riggs – imagine if you had four top-10 players in the world competing in an 18-hole match using just seven clubs?

“That’s certainly interesting…,” Jordan Spieth said before continuing, “but I don't know who it benefits, to be honest.”

Spieth argued that, in his eyes, fans want to see low scores, and that a limited-club event, for example, wouldn’t provide that while also annoying the members. He added that such games wouldn’t fall under the Tour’s gambling policy, and that even Match Play could go away in favor of Stableford because of sponsors.

“Unless you're talking about the fall, bringing in some fun charitable aspect to it,” Spieth said. “I think going back to the Shell's Wonderful World of Golf type stuff back in the day, I think we might be seeing a lot of that coming in the future.”

That’s exactly what we’re talking about. Fans like low scores, sure, but they also like variety. The Tour has embraced gambling in recent years, and players openly speak of money games during practice rounds, so why would that be an issue?

By adding new competitions such as a Wolf match or skins event – the Skins Game was one of the best things on television before it was scrapped in 2008 – the Tour wouldn’t need to adjust the meat of its season. It could simply sprinkle these events into the fall. Many big names don’t play much during that time, and while the other members are teeing it up in Vegas or Houston, Spieth, Rahm, Justin Thomas and Patrick Cantlay could face off in a one-day, made-for-TV money game on a great golf course.

Better yet: There has already been some complaining about the Player Impact Program. Why not take the top 10 – or more – in the PIP and have them play for the $50 million in a variety of competitions? Think about it: a $5 million one-club event, a $10 million Wolf match, a $20 million skins game.

There is very little commitment from the stars, and it would create more excitement than just handing out cash to players at the end of the year based on Meltwater mentions. It's a learning opportunity, too, as viewers would be exposed to new – and often more fun – ways of playing the game. I mean, how much fun is it for a beginner to count up 115 shots (with mulligans) every Saturday with his buddies? The answer is it's not fun at all.

Like the ideas or not, it’s all worth discussing. Though it seems like the membership may not be all onboard.

“I think these [alternate-format] events are fun, but as a player, you want to try to test your game in a stroke-play event 72 holes. It's just kind of the purest form,” Viktor Hovland said. “I like playing in those – obviously it's nice to mix it up and play match play and do some team events – but I don't know if we should incorporate more of them or a completely different format. … We play some Wolf when I'm back in Oklahoma playing against the guys or something, but I'm not a big fan of the game because I remember in school, you shoot maybe 1 or 2 under, shoot bogey-free, but you're only making one or two birdies versus the guy that hits one or two in the crap and you're out of the hole, but then you make three birdies and you're sitting there with all the money. It was a little unfair that way.”

Added Xander Schauffele: “I don't know if that's ever going to get a grip in terms of with world-ranking points and something like that. I've played Wolf at home with my friends and shot 66 and I've lost money. If that happened to a bunch of Tour pros out here, I don't think they'd be very happy.”

Ah, but the fans would be. 

So, forget about all the reasons you can’t do something and start thinking about all the reasons you should do something.

It’s time to shake things up.