Brooks Koepka and Rory McIlroy were both in the same field just 15 times during the 2019 season – the four Majors, four World Golf Championships events, three FedEx Cup Play-Offs, the Tournament of Champions, the PLAYERS, the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the RBC Canadian Open.
Jon Rahm wasn’t at either the API or the Canadian Open, so the fields that included the top three players in the world drops to 13.
(I checked and they weren’t all part of the same separate European Tour event.)
13 of 48 official events featuring all three of the world’s top players feels low – and that is without any guarantee that they will be in contention/playing together/seen on screen playing golf.
Add Justin Thomas – who did suffer an injury through the year – and you drop to less than 10. That said, he skip the WGC-HSBC Champions at the start of the season/end of 2018.
Just 10 events featuring the best four golfers on the planet is not going to help grow golf. And it’s not going to push viewing figures up on golf.
It’s for this reason that I feel as though golf should experiment with an elite series of competition. The World Golf Championships have failed to capture the imagination of players and fans – with Phil Mickelson deciding to take a family holiday this year instead of heading to Mexico. Well, diehard golf fans probably do enjoy the WGCs – but it’s the casual fans that are likely to shrug at their mention.
These fans – who only tune into golf four or five times a year, and text their golf adoring friends for a heads up on who might be a good option for The Masters this year (Abraham Ancer and/or Hideki Matsuyama in case you wanted my opinion) – might be tempted in by something bigger and flashier than the current PGA Tour or European Tour events.
They don’t care about Andrew Landry, Lanto Griffin or Brendan Todd. Frankly, I’m not even sure television companies care about players like that.
During the finale of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, such was the interest of CBS in another win for Phil Mickelson (or maybe a resurgence for Jason Day) that it wasn’t until the 70th or 71st hole that they started to delve into the background of eventual winner Nick Taylor. They only had eyes for the big name(s).
An elite series – be it the World Golf Tour, Premier Golf League or something else entirely – might be the something that golf needs to attract outside attention more than four times a season.
I’d like to avoid talking about money – as golf’s fixation with prize funds only causes to amplify unwelcome stereotypes about the game. But it is safe to assume the money will be good and make it worth the while for the best players to be involved.
Build the format around TV. Five/six hours in total of an evening/afternoon. Maybe its a shotgun start with smaller fields. Maybe its a number of 18 holes shoot-outs across a weekend or 1-on-1 matches with a resolution every day of competition. Just make sure you do something that always has the best players in the world locking horns.
If I plan to watch Barcelona play a football match I know Lionel Messi will be involved unless injured or suspended. I know that Mohammed Salah will be on the pitch for Liverpool unless injured, suspended or enjoying a winter break.
When I turn on a regular golf tournament, some time has to be spent figuring out who might or might not be involved. Is this the year that Rory plans to compete the week before Majors? What does Brooks’ schedule look like? Is the weather warm enough for Tiger’s back? Where in the world is Justin Rose talking about Morgan Stanley? Those questions are either answered by seeing them featured on screen or their popping up on the leaderboard.
Perhaps there are too many tournaments – and it’s almost certainly a pitfall of the players putting together their own schedules. But golf needs to pull back from that and get the very best in the same place at the same time, and with a reason to play.
A special set of league events with individual and team competitions. A series of global events with limited fields. A set of matches between the top 10/20/30 in the world. There are lots of things that can be done. As long as it is something that personalities, friendships and rivalries can blossom out of it – it’ll be good by me.