It all started with the emergence of Tiger Woods at the back end of the last century. Never before had the most famous sportsman on the planet been a golfer, a turn of events that brought with it at least one unintended consequence.
Suddenly, golf was perceived as “cool.” Or, at least, that was the widely-held view of the game’s most high-profile practitioner. Tiger was the “new black” in a sport that had previously been the exclusive preserve of middle-class white guys and gals.
Since then, golf has made strenuous efforts to build on its “hip” new image. Appealing to a wider and more diverse demographic was seen as the obvious route to that much over-used phrase, “growing the game.” Not much has worked, of course, if the current decline in worldwide participation is our guide.
But still golf misguidedly tries to make itself more attractive to almost every strand of society. I give you the notorious 16th hole at what used to be called the Phoenix Open but is now saddled with an instantly forgettable corporate title I refuse to look up. What began as a pretty good notion, allowing the previously stoic spectators to play a more active and fun role in the lead-up to tee-shots, has turned into something else entirely. And not in a good way. It is, in fact, a great idea gone mad.
Slow play is a cancer that is severely undermining all of the good work being done elsewhere in the “growing the game” department.
Instead of the paying customers engaging in some good-natured banter with players, the guys with their names on their bags are now routinely subjected to a barrage of
foul-mouthed abuse from what is nothing more than a drunken rabble. Seemingly unaware of what tends to happen when college students – the vast majority of whom have no previous knowledge of golf or golfers – start consuming alcohol around 9am and continue to do so throughout the day, the PGA Tour has created a monster.
What doesn’t help is that this inebriated mess is portrayed as harmless fun by those paid to “commentate” on television. As so often in golf, the truth of any situation is
the first victim when pots of gold are involved. Heaven forbid that someone like Ian Baker-Finch or Nick Faldo should tell the truth and blurt out their horror at what is taking place in front of their eyes. The aforementioned sponsor – still can’t quite remember its name – would not be pleased. Nor would the faceless suits who run the PGA Tour. All that matters to them is the bottom line. To hang with the game.
Speaking of which – and given all of the above – it is perhaps no surprise that the head suit at the PGA Tour, commissioner Jay Monahan, is willing to sanction the 16th at the Phoenix Open while at the same time expressing no outrage at the turgid pace
of play during every event on his highly-lucrative circuit.
Even when JB Holmes notoriously took more than four minutes to lay-up short of a pond on the final hole of what used to be called the Andy Williams San Diego Open, Monahan was completely unconcerned at what damage such nonsense might be doing to the “image” and “brand” he holds so dear. Unbelievably, he defended the almost immobile performance – the round took close to six hours to complete – and post-match comments of Holmes.
“JB was in the heat of the moment,” Monahan said. “It’s really hard to win out here. You’re trying to think through how you can get on the green in two, with that amount of wind. I think he thought it would subside quickly, and it just would subside and pick back up. And I think he said what he needed to say on that front.”
Perhaps even more surprising was the reaction of Justin Thomas.
“It was a great tournament for JB,” the USPGA champion said. “I have a hard time saying I wouldn’t do anything differently than he did.”
Really? No condemnation? No outrage? No promise to punish this point-missing dope?
Not in our lifetimes. That just does not happen. Not on the PGA Tour. Highlighting any sort of shortcoming would be a concession of guilt, an admission that something is actually awry in the apparently perfect tour world presented to the sorts of multi-national sponsors I can never remember, one where corporate double-speak long ago replaced straight talking.
Anyway, it goes without saying that none of the above is “cool.” Nor is it likely to appeal to a generation of young people whose attention spans have never been shorter. Slow play is a cancer that is severely undermining all of the good work being done elsewhere in the “growing the game” department. And not even drinking heavily is going to make that unpalatable fact go away.
Follow John Huggan on Twitter @johnhuggan