To a jaundiced observer, golf debates must have all the obvious relevance of a couple of tweedy academics bickering over the best translation of Beowulf between draws on their pipes. No debate is more fractious than that surrounding distance, which has for years rumbled along like a freight train in the night. During that time friendships have been sundered, garments rended, pearls clutched and block buttons exhausted. To casual fans it must seem like golf esoterica; to those who care, it’s golf in extremis, an existential argument on the very future of the sport.
Ours is a game of byzantine conventions, so it’s unsurprising that many drive-by spectators believe it hasn’t evolved in years, that it remains the domain of those who prefer the way things used to be, regardless of what those things are. The reality is that golf, like an aging Hollywood actress, shows marked change if you know where to look. Only now have we reached a moment when its wheezy statutes begin to catch up.
There was an outbreak of the Corona-virus on Saturday at TPC Scottsdale, though no experts from the Centers for Disease Control were needed to determine its origin. This is an annual epidemic — fueled by barley, hops and yeast — that transforms normally prudent citizens into drooling cretins and the normally staid PGA Tour into a rollicking party.
The festivities begin at 7 a.m. when the gates open to a stampede that rivals any Walmart on Black Friday. But instead of dashing for discounted flat screen televisions, this excited crowd sprints to grab a coveted spot at the 16th hole, and it’s the most thrilling competitive charge you’ll see on a golf course this side of a Sunday afternoon in Augusta, Georgia.
Each year, Saturdays at the Waste Management Phoenix Open dawn with buoyant spirits. And each year it ends in a sorry mess of tipsy antics and failed bladder control.
Triangulation is an indispensable strategy in politics and commerce, deftly positioning oneself as an alternative both above and between the stale, established options. Just such an approach is evident in Premier Golf League, which aspires to be a new global tour for golf’s superstars.
Every promise of what this hypothetical tour will deliver — elite fields, colossal prize money, fresh formats, elevated viewing options, even tax revenue — carries a none-too-subtle subtext that both players and fans are ill-served in these areas by existing Tours and their broadcast partners. There’s an element of truth in this, but a different triangulated analysis lays bare a troublesome reality for any new tour: without players, there is no money; without money, there are no players; without both, there is no broadcast deal. And six years after the idea for this new tour first emerged, all it has produced is more name changes than Zsa Zsa Gabor’s wedding registry.
This ought to have been an outstanding week for Miller Brady. The PGA Tour Champions, of which Brady is president, began its season in Hawaii with more fanfare than usual thanks to the debut of Hall of Famer Ernie Els. Nor is Els the only major winner who will slather on the Bengay and saddle up for the senior circuit in 2020. Jim Furyk and Mike Weir both turn 50 on May 12, with Rich Beem following in August.
Yet for all the promise this year holds for Brady, it presents a problem too: Phil Mickelson.
By now, PGA Tour executives must feel a gloomy kinship with those anonymous White House officials who regularly insist the President is taking a mature approach on an issue, only to wake to another inflammatory tweet storm from the toilet. For no matter how meticulously the Tour has sought to douse the Patrick Reed conflagration, Reed himself only provides more kindling.
A number of truths became apparent when Golfweek revealed that Reed has engaged a lawyer in an effort to silence Brandel Chamblee, the most prominent critic of his alleged cheating at the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas last month.
Patriotism is the intrinsic creed of American sport. You don’t become known as Captain America unless you have exhibited the holy trinity of traits: a fiery will to win, a bulletproof confidence, and an eagerness to wrap yourself in the flag. You need to back it up with results, obviously, but our stubborn veneration of these attributes also helps annul any less admirable character quirks a winner might possess.
For example, an unscrupulous reputation earned as a sallow young man is forgotten if a major victory brings global prestige. It’s simply assumed you’ll rise to the responsibilities expected, like honor, integrity, professionalism, diplomacy. You’re representing America, after all.
And if you’re congenitally incapable of living up to the ideals Captain America embodies? If you are the sickly man and not the superhero? Just keep winning. It’s the serum that transforms feeble into fearsome. You can even stray out of bounds — hey, we’re all human! — and you’ll be forgiven, as long as the ledger shows positive numbers. Rewrite the rulebook in pursuit of victory. Push beyond arcane conventions. Be confident, brazen even. If you nudge beyond accepted norms and you’re famous, they just let you keep doing it.
It’s difficult to imagine two more discordant places than Sea Island and Ridgeland, which are separated by so much more than the two-hour drive on I-95. The Georgia barrier island is home to the PGA Tour’s RSM Classic, to one of golf’s most upscale resorts, and to many of its finest players. Ridgeland is … well, not.
While Sea Island did its part for charity at this week’s Tour stop, which has raised more than $13 million since 2010, Ridgeland — seat of South Carolina’s Jasper County, one of the poorest in the nation — is where you’ll find a new kind of golf philanthropy.
Located behind a wooden gate along a two-lane road in the woods, Congaree isn’t a golf club in the conventional sense. There is a course — actually, one of the best that Tom Fazio ever signed his name to — but that is almost incidental. At Congaree, golf is the route, not the destination.