Ladies European Tour star Meghan MacLaren asks: ‘Are professional golfers really there to entertain us?’
Are you someone who watches golf on television? Chances are, if you are reading this, you probably are. Do you watch any golf tournament – no matter what event it is, what course it’s being played on, which players are involved? However much you love golf, I’d be surprised if you sit down to watch every single week, Thursday-Sunday. (For one thing, I hope you’ve got a bit more going on in your life).
If you haven’t noticed already, I’m a bit of a golf addict. Despite spending most of my waking hours practising or playing golf, I still love watching it. I rarely get sick of it. So the weeks I don’t have much interest in whatever events are being televised around the world occasionally make me question why that is.
I’ve heard the term ‘entertainment product’ thrown around a lot when it comes to professional sport. People pay to watch sport on television because they want to be entertained. I understand that, but I’m not sure I wholeheartedly agree – at the very minimum, our definitions of what constitutes entertainment vary wildly. What draws you to a golf tournament? What makes you sit down and put the relevant channel on? Perhaps more importantly, what makes you keep it on?
I’d imagine, if every reader of this magazine was asked which tournament they most look forward to watching every year, their answers will skew towards the Majors – rather than whichever one provides the most ‘entertainment’. The history and prestige of the Open Championship, and how the players handle those factors, fascinate me much more than an end-of-year playoff event on a soft golf course where even the player who finishes last takes home more money than I care to think about.
Speaking of playoff events – one of the most recent, the BMW Championship, had one of the most entertaining finishes I’ve ever witnessed in golf. Two of the game’s best players – Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Cantlay – played six extra holes after failing to be separated in one of the lowest scoring events ever on the PGA Tour.
Ironically, I watched almost none of the tournament before that playoff. Yet I was glued to every shot for those extra six holes. The intensity felt almost unparalleled. I saw many people on social media using that as rationale for allowing professional men’s golf to continue in the vein it’s currently in – increased distance; heavy reliance on power as a primary skill; soft, target golf dominating proceedings. Yet I think narrowing golf into that box is to do it – and its fans – a huge injustice.
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Yes, that playoff was enthralling, but was the rest of the tournament? Not for me. I struggle to take an interest in golf, both as a fan and as a player, when it becomes a case of relentless driver/wedge/birdie repetition, with little thought involved. That isn’t to say that style of golf doesn’t take remarkable skill – it takes extreme ability, and a certain mental capacity to not be afraid or back off once you start going low. But it just doesn’t captivate me in the same way as other tournaments do.
However, that Bryson/Cantlay playoff was engaging for me for lots of reasons. Bryson is possibly the most talked about person in golf (and even outside of it), bar Tiger, and while I don’t have much time for a lot of the things he has said in recent months, I have huge admiration for his work ethic and refusal to set limits on himself. He’s a fascinating – and polarising – character, which was very evident in that playoff.
Cantlay also fascinates me, albeit in a much quieter, subtler way. Listening to and reading his interviews, it’s apparent he’s extremely intelligent and thoughtful, and clearly puts an incredible amount of time into his mental skills. His level of intensity and awareness is second to none – as was his putting that week, too. Watching to see which one of them was going to break first was gripping viewing.
Other fans may have been gripped to that particular action purely because of Bryson – be it his personality or his ability to hit the ball harder than any other professional golfer on the planet. Others may not have watched for that very same reason. They want more than that.
The remarkable thing about golf is that it has so many dimensions to offer. Trying to squeeze (or expand) it into just one box – even if it is a noisy and powerful one – wouldn’t grow the game. It may very well shrink it instead.
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