Nitpicking the return of live golf

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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.

What golf looks like in pandemic America

corona golf map

Source: GCSAA

While the ‘Rona continues to wreak havoc on the entire planet, there are some bright spots (in the golf world, at least). Hope remains for a salvaged 2020 Tour schedule, including the Masters, PGA Championship and Ryder Cup, and more and more states and municipalities are opening courses.

Interestingly enough, golf was one of the few *non-essential industries that never really came to a halt due to the pandemic. Up to 23 states had some kind of restrictions in place on courses — some allowing local municipalities and counties to decide, some forcing shutdowns statewide, and many others remaining open. As of Wednesday the majority of the country is open to play, with most of statewide closures concentrated east of the Mississippi. But the trend is shifting, thankfully.

Speculate all you want about the longterm impact on the game, it’s hard to know what we’re really in for. Right now all we know that it’s going to be different — you can already tell.

On the course, things feel almost the same. Almost. Hanging out with the crew is as good as always, but it’s weird not being able to share a bowl, a bottle, or even a cart together. Honestly it kind of feels like you’re a single that’s been paired with another group, even though they could be some of your best friends. I never considered a golf cart to be such an important social space until they took the keys away from us. You miss out on conversation, camaraderie and all the little stupid shit you take for granted. Really, without the social aspect provided by golf carts, it’ feels like a completely different game.

It’s also weird seeing packed parking lots but not being able to walk through a lively clubhouse to check-in, and depressing to see the starter shack shuttered on a Sunday morning, with no one around to ask about the pin locations — very ghost town-esque. We’re told we can’t show up any more than 10 minutes before our tee time — no range, no pro shop or anything else. The cups are modified so we don’t touch the flagsticks, scorecards are gone, etc, etc.. Basically, once you tee off it’s just you, your clubs, a ball, and the course. Call me cliche, but the simplicity of it all is pretty relaxing — something we all need a little more of right now. There’s also something about walking the course that makes the game feel more intimate. I’d never once walked CGB’s home course, King’s Deer Golf Club, before all of this, but fee like I know the layout even better now. You have A LOT more time to think about your game, course management and the highs and lows of it all between shots. It’s an experience all golfers should have in their lifetime (mandated or not).

All that said, we should be thankful we’re allowed to play at all. It’s a luxury many other hobbyists can’t enjoy. But there are, of course, things to consider before you head to you local club.

Make sure to call or check the course website before you book your time for specific restrictions and rules in place — things are changing daily so you want to make sure you have some idea of what to expect when you get there. If you’re new to walking, I’d highly recommend enlisting a lightweight golf bag with comfortable straps, or your own push cart to make the transition a bit easier. Viruses and bacteria can stick around on the surfaces of a golf cart for quite awhile, and the cost to disinfect each one after each round would be exponential, so it’s hard to bank on cart availability. Next, keep pace. It’ll never not be an issue in the game, but when everyone’s walking it’s all the more important. Play ready golf, we’re not on Tour here. On the flip side, be patient, aka don’t be a dick. That’s an easy one. Lastly, support your local courses and the staff. Frustrating as it may be, they’re trying their best in order for us to be able to keep playing. Take care of the course, order food and drinks to-go, buy gift cards and anything else you can do to support them, and do what they say so they can stay open.

I miss seeing the pro shop and restaurant staff and messing around with the cart barn guys. I miss the bev cart and golf carts — and I even somehow miss post-round handshakes. That will all come back, for now it’s long walks down the fairway, and just being outside with my friends that I look forward to most. I’m just glad to be playing once again and savoring the experience more than ever.

To play, or not to play, that is the question

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Masks are the hottest accessory on the course right now.

Quarantine Day #who knows at this point: It’s been weeks — possibly years — since I’ve set foot on a golf course. I’ve cleaned my clubs and reorganized my golf bag for absolutely no reason, multiple times, and rolled too many 4-foot putts on my tiny indoor putting green to count. Holla if you hear me.

All the social media challenges and endless hours spent on trick shot attempts, at-home workouts and watching replays of the good ol’ days will never fill the void we’re all feeling right now. I never considered a world without golf until now, but I definitely don’t want to live here anymore. At first it seemed courses would continue offering safe sanctuaries as we watched the world come down around us, but as the novel Coronavirus swept across the country it brought unprecedented change with it.

Courses are closed in 14 states, as of now, according to the GCSAA, with limited or restricted access in a number of others. Colorado is on the others list — with some municipalities allowing courses to renew operations under strict health and safety guidelines. With our local muni courses newly reopened we had a chance to jump on the tee sheet, so we took it.

It’s the first time I’ve ever second guessed if I want to golf. I mean, is it selfish to play when others can’t, is it reckless or otherwise controversial? Is it fine within the confines of “safe” play? Is it actually safe to play at all?

Having all the time in the world to overthink the decision it was on to making mental lists. Reasons to play include unrelenting cabin fever, missing the game and my friends, exercise — yeah I’m pulling that card — and the overall need for any sense of normalcy. Reasons not to play include becoming another statistic of the global pandemic, and/or contributing to its spread.

In short, we tee off in about two hours, walking 9-holes. We have to wear masks outside, contactless booking and payment, the clubhouse and driving range are closed, no-touch flags, modified cups, no scorecards, no carts, no nuthin’.

I’m excited to play, really. At most I’ll find a brief reprieve from this thing, at the least least I’ll come away with a golf experience I’ll be telling future generations about. Knowing — or at least believing — that my risk of exposure on the golf course is no greater than when taking my dog for a walk makes me feel a little less reckless. I’m practicing all the recommended social distancing when out in public, and my risk of transmitting it to others is low since I live and work alone at home, and keeping my adventures outside limited to “essential,” barring a round of golf.

It’s a bittersweet feeling — pairing the usual excitement of getting a round in with the anxiety of decision making during a global crisis — or maybe it’s just me.

One scientifically proven way to improve your golf swing

Have you ever wondered what’s going on inside your golf shoes?

The athletic equipment and apparel market is rife with “performance ” and “technology” claims, but what does that even mean? As far as most shoemakers are concerned — including all your major brands — it means diddly. We’ve all been duped.

There is one company’s claim of high performance, however, that’s more than just a marketing scheme. It’s that of Athalonz.

“There’s no denying the laws of physics — they apply to everyone and everything,” says Athalonz founder and CEO Tim Markison. That’s the basis of his shoe design. The company was founded on the idea of scientifically improving the ground-body connection, which affects all athletic movement. More specifically, Markison, a 30-year engineer and patent attorney, honed in on improving what initiates that athletic motion based on the laws of physics.

Sounds complicated, sure, but boil it down a bit and it makes perfect sense. All movement is governed by Newton’s laws of motion. For example, when you push on the ground the ground pushes back, always. This is called ground reaction force, and the starting point of the athletic motion of swinging a golf club. How that force is distributed, meaning the position and angles of your body while in motion, has a direct impact on the power you can generate in your golf swing. More ground force equals more power — it’s a scientific fact.

Given that your shoes are the only thing in between your feet and the ground, and thus have a direct impact on your ground reaction force, the idea of science-based athletic footwear came to Markison during a baseball clinic, when his coach placed a rosin bag under the outside of his foot to mimic a more physically sound base for hitting and throwing. “The problem with the drill was that you could feel the position but couldn’t recreate it without the bag,” he says. He later analyzed the footwork and alignment of top players’ athletic motions and realized their knees are always in a certain line from the inside ankle to the groin. The rosin bag his coach used forced players into this position, but Markison realized he could do the same thing with a specially designed shoe.

Most all standard golf shoes have a U-shaped inner design aligned perpendicular to the ground. When you swing a golf club, that U-shape causes your feet to slide away from you and push the force away from that inside line, dissipating your power and made all the worse depending on what material the shoe is made of. Athalonz’s angled inner design, on the other hand, shifts the ground reaction force from perpendicular to about four-degrees inside, while the sturdy material keeps your foot from pushing the forces outward. All of that leads to an increase in ground reaction force by almost 10%, according to Markison.

The Athalonz EnVe’s angled sole adjusts the ground reaction to the inside.

“We did the math and tested to verify we did the math correctly. With the design being based on physics and our design working according to the math, we didn’t need to perform a study to know people will have an improvement in ground reaction force,” Markison says.

With such a clearly defined relationship between ground reaction force and your golf swing, and the role your golf shoes play, you’d think more footwear companies would be gushing on designs similar to Athalonz. Unfortunately for them, they can’t, because Athalonz holds multiple patents ensuring its proprietary edge. Truth is, Markison says the idea has been around for awhile but failed to catch on after a “wedged” golf shoe debuted and was subsequently banned by the USGA back in the ’90s. Prior to that, the most groundbreaking technological advancement in athletic footwear similar to the idea were cleats and spikes, way back at the turn of the 20th century.

“Now, a lot of shoe companies want comfort over everything,” Markison says. “People just aren’t aware of the physics of what’s actually happening inside the shoe.”

U-shaped soles, found in almost all major brands, cause your feet to slide away from you.

That awareness and understanding of how it works is what’s setting Athalonz apart from all the major brands, not only in the realm of science, but on the course, too.

Fred Funk, Ken Duke and Bernhard Langer have all made the switch to Athalonz, the latter of whom ditched his shoe sponsor of 40-years for Athalonz. “Before he was with us, Langer said he’d go through 3 pairs of shoes in one tournament,” Markison says. “The shoes would compress on the lateral side really quickly, making his foot angle outward, and keeping his feet from getting set.”

Athalonz have become the go-to choice for men and women World Long Drive competitors, too, a trend credited to Ryan Steenberg and carried on by the likes of 2020 WLD Champions Kyle Bershire and Chloe Garner. If anyone knows the importance of harnessing power, it’s these kinds of athletes. Berkshire went viral in 2019 by setting a new world record for recorded ball speed (228 mph) wearing, you guessed it, Athalonz’s EnVe golf shoes.

While the majority of us aren’t banking on our athletic ability to pay the bills, that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t like to improve our ability any way we can on the course. Fortunately for us, science doesn’t play favorites.

“That’s the beauty of physics, it’s fundamental laws and facts. If you prove that there’s physics in play, it works 100% of the time,” Markison says.

All you have to do is make the switch to see the Athalonz difference.

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The new Premier Golf League faces a classic existential crisis

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? That’s essentially what the proposed Premier Golf League (PGL) needs to figure out if it hopes to make good on its lofty goals.

Plans for the PGL have been in the works for years, but after the World Golf Group recently announced it hopes to launch the league in January 2022, it’s back in the headlines. “Rivaling” the PGA and European Tours, the PGL aims to host 48 of the world’s best players at 18 tournaments over eight months around the globe. The purses would be huge — $10 million per event, according to reports — with no cuts. Along with individual scoring the PGL would integrate a team format as well, ending the season with a team playoff event.

Here’s a quick look at the why, according to the WGG statement:

“If you want the world to watch, you have to showcase your best product, week-in-week-out. Golf doesn’t do that currently. … We believe we’ll succeed because the league is what fans, sponsors and broadcasters want — and the best players deserve. It will revitalise [sic] the sport for this and future generations.”

Fair enough. But now for the bigger question: How?

Recruiting “48 of the world’s best players” is a lot easier to say than it will be to do. A $10 million dollar purse per event isn’t a bad start, but then things get a little more complicated. For the PGL to become truly successful in the long term it also has to court broadcasters and major sponsors. Hard to imagine doing that with a yet-to-be filled roster of players the fans will tune in to see, and it’s hard to imagine filling that roster without broadcast and sponsorship backing. It’s the classic chicken and the egg dilemma from your intro to philosophy class.

Considering the year-round broadcasting schedules we already enjoy thanks to the PGA, LPGA, Euro, Korn Ferry and other tours, air time for an additional 18 3-day events seems scarce to begin with. And who knows how much more broadcasters would be willing to shell out for the rights of a brand new tour when the aforementioned are only growing more popular, and expensive. Sponsors may be easier to come by — may be — but that still hinges on what, or rather who, they’re sponsoring. Don’t expect much buy in if those names don’t include the actual best players in the world.

So it seems it’s all about who’s playing in the PGL, and it’s been a priority for the would-be tour to figure it out.

At the Farmers Insurance Open, Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson confirmed talks have been going on for years, though both were far from offering an endorsement.

“I’m still quite a traditionalist, so to have that much of an upheaval in the game I don’t think is the right step forward,” McIlroy said during a press conference at Torrey Pines. “But I think, as I said, it might be a catalyst for some changes on this tour that can help it grow and move forward — you know, reward the top players the way they should be, I guess.”

Mickelson told reporters he doesn’t know enough about the proposed tour to comment publicly, but McIlroy also noted the PGL is “exploiting a couple holes” in top-level golf as we know it, recognizing it’s become just as much about the entertainment as it is the competition. That bodes well for the no-cut and team formats that would give fans more reason to stay tuned in, again if we’re actually the best golfers in the world.

The PGL will have no help from its predecessors in courting top players to its ranks, either, try as it might. The PGA and European Tours won’t even acknowledge its existence let alone allow their players to double dip. That leads to the question of what top-50 ranked player would want to join the un-tested PGL at the sake of losing their other tour status.

The PGA is one looking forward to its largest broadcasting windfall yet, and golf as a whole is in the midst of an upswing in popularity thanks to, you guessed it, extremely talented and young players. Credit where it’s due, they’ve done a lot to reach this point and shouldn’t feel obligated to share it with the new kid on the block. What’s more, like McIlroy said, established tours could simply implement PGL-like changes themselves, thus making a new tour totally irrelevant from the get go (I added that last part).

So what comes first, the league or the players? The WGG told everyone to mark their calendars and the countdown to 2022 is on. We’ll have to wait a see who’s first on the tee, if there even is one.