Different but the same — that pretty much sums up the return of live golf broadcasts. Driving Relief, which pitted Rickie Fowler and Matt Wolff against Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy in 2-man skins game benefitting the American Nurses and CDC Foundations, was a welcome sight for all fans yearning for competitive golf. Marquee names playing for *high stakes on a Sunday is what we’ve been waiting for ever since the mid-tournament cancellation of the Players Championship in March. But as great as it was to see the return of some of the world’s best players, one can’t help but think it was a missed opportunity.
After the Players was cancelled nothing but bad news followed for another month-plus, and the pain became all too real with postponement of the 2020 Masters. Dark, dark times. But then, far off in the distance, a faint light began to flicker. The Philly Mick v Big Cat rematch was confirmed — with the added star-power of Peyton Manning and Tom Brady — just enough to whet our appetites. Then came our first course, one of the first live professional sports broadcasts in the Covid-era, Driving Relief.
Everyone knew things would be different, for obvious reasons, but it was hard not to get a little excited. I honestly didn’t care who was playing, the format, the course or anything else. Knowing I’d be watching golf on a Sunday afternoon was enough for me, or so I thought.
Sunday cocktail in-hand, I turned on the broadcast. I thought I had kept my expectations in check, but after the initial high from seeing my favorite player (big Rickie guy here) and Co. live on tv wore off, I was left wanting a whole lot more from the event. It wasn’t the players or the the nonexistent crowd at Seminole Golf Club that let me down. It wasn’t the format, camera angles, or shitty audio, either. The biggest let down, really, was being force fed everything not happening on the course, and that there was too damn much of it, like always.
With the scant broadcast experience I do have, I understand there’s A LOT of down time to fill in between the action, even more so when there’s only four players in the field. The best broadcasters are those who make us forget there’s nothing happening for a moment and can keep us engaged until play starts again. The problem with the Driving Relief broadcast was how blatantly obvious they made it. It’s hard to stomach off-camera voices rehashing the same storylines and phone interviews that go on for way too long and interfere with the action we tuned in to see in the first place. (I don’t care if you’re a fan of President Trump or not, that phoner was fucking agonizing.)
It truly was an “unprecedented” event, in line with 2020’s new catchphrase. Not a minute went by when we weren’t reminded of these “unprecedented times’ during commercials and the broadcast, as if everyone watching had an infant’s grasp on the the state of the world. The only respite came when we actually got to hear the the players talking to each other on the course, though we didn’t get nearly enough of that. I wouldn’t even be typing this had there been more focus on the players in between shots, really.
In hindsight, the whole thing was pretty much a new look to the same ol’ golf broadcast — leaving viewers with too much filler and not enough action. Sure, we got to see the guys rocking shorts and casual shirts carrying their own bags down the fairway. We got to see every shot and some banter here and there, too, but every golfer I know will tell you some of the most memorable moments happen in between shots. That’s what I want to see — the self depreciation after a bad shot, the smack-talk, the jokes and everything else, all of it. I want to see and hangout with the characters behind the stats — guys with ‘staches like that are people I want to know. I don’t want listen to the same voices stretching for a new angle on the same story to talk at me about hour after hour when I know the players are having a different conversation.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for the event and ready to watch more. But golf had a chance to give the fans, and the world, a completely new perspective of the game. I believe DJ, Wolff, Rickie and Rory were all prepared to play their part in that — look no further than Rickie’s outfit and Wolff’s handlebar mustache. The cameras were there and the mics were hot, but the networks whiffed. At a time when golf is one of the few sports allowed to be played you’d think the powers that be would take advantage of the opportunity and focus on drawing more people in to grow the game, not pandering to the Covid storylines and delivering a quarantine version of the same ol’ broadcast.
Golf gets a second chance on Sunday with The Match, and the opportunity to deliver something truly special is enormous. You have Woods and Mickelson, two modern day icons in the golf world in squaring off with two more iconic sports figures. This is a chance for the sport to produce something they haven’t been able to before, to reach a market it’s never had access to before, a chance to show a side of the game many haven’t seen before — the fun, everyman’s game. Give us more than the scores and analysis, give us more on-course banter and less broadcast filler. Stop giving us hope for a better tomorrow “in these unprecedented times” and make us feel like those days are already here.
For many, golf was already an escape from the cruelties of reality, and even more so today — now’s the time to offer it to a larger audience.