The winners gather in Hawaii to jump start the golf season. TV viewers can’t call in rules violations anymore, oh – and some guy named Tiger.
Intrigue is not something you usually associate with golf, but this is no normal year. We have more real major contenders than in quite some time, if ever. Even to the casual golf fan, guys like Jordan Spieth and Rory McElroy epitomize the top level of a very difficult game. But within golf itself, there are more backstories than you could possibly imagine. Sure, there are the relatively minor stories like is this the year Ricky Fowler moves from pretender to contender; can Jordan complete the career Grand Slam and join the very small group of immortals; can Dustin Johnson get back to the world number one form he exhibited before he fell down the staircase at the Masters and had to withdraw. Then what about McElroy? Has his flame burned out early or will he get his act back together? And what of Justin Thomas – is he the real deal who could dominate golf for a decade?
These and many, many more questions lurk as last year’s tournament winners gather in Hawaii this week for the Tournament of Champions. It used to be the season-opening event, but with the revised Fall schedule now, it is actually an early-mid-season event. It is always fun to watch, if nothing else for the beautiful scenery and the whales captured by the blimp cameras. But I am a dyed-in-the-wool fan, so I watch for the golf as much as anything else.
But while we’re all enjoying the return of top-level golf to the airways, the elephant in the room is getting bigger. Yes – its Tiger! Mr. Woods has played all of one event so far, but the back and the game look pretty solid for the first time in years, so I personally don’t count him out of anything. In reality, a return to top form by Tiger Woods is the best thing that could happen to golf – he is the button you push to get viewers flocking to the tube and the course. He single-handedly caused the huge surge in popularity of the game, and his return can only help.
If he can contend in a major or two – or even win one – the ratings will go through the roof. And there is not a player out on tour that doesn’t hope that will happen – they know what side of the bread the butter is on!
Hey – put down the phone! That’s right – just enjoy the telecast and quit trying to see if someone’s ball moved a tenth of an inch. The USGA and the R & A have discontinued the practice of allowing viewers to phone in perceived rules violations. This was a crazy practice to begin with, not only because golf is an honorable game, but frankly, players need to know what the score is. This came to a head last summer when Lexi Thompson was assessed a major 4-shot penalty in a major because she inadvertently replaced her ball about a tenth of an inch off of the exact spot. Definitely not intentional, but a viewer had noted the apparent mistake and called it in. Cost Lexi a major, cost the LPGA some credibility, had the network going crazy and the rules officials confused. That was a heck of a tenth of an inch! So this year no phone calls. The tours are going to assign a staffer to monitor the TV feeds and keep an eye out for mistakes, and that is a good thing. Sometimes golf officialdom moves at a glacial pace, but here they realized that this could get out of hand, so they acted proactively. Good for them. And, good for golf. Now, if I could just keep my head down . . .
By Paul Kavanaugh