Tait: Golf needs to get back to its roots with more match play

Hunter Mahan watches his tee shot on the 12th hole during the championship match of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.

Hunter Mahan watches his tee shot on the 12th hole during the championship match of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.

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7:20:01 PM ET. 04/19/2014




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I have a confession to make: I have a hard time watching the first 54 holes of most stroke-play tournaments. Actually, I struggle with the first 63 holes.

That’s why I am looking forward to this week’s WGC–Accenture Match Play Championship. It’s a rare chance to watch the oldest – and best – form of golf at the highest level.

The scarcity of match play in the professional game is an indication of how commercialization has taken over the game we love. To think this week is the only form of match play on this year’s PGA Tour affirms the influence of the TV networks.

Europe isn’t much better on the match-play front, but at least we have two more match-play tournaments this year: the Volvo World Match Play Championship and the Vivendi Seve Trophy.

And that’s it. This is how far we’ve come. The oldest form of golf is relegated to three tournaments on the two biggest tours in the world.

This situation exists because match play is not a good fit for television. A match ending on the 13th hole is not good for their precious schedules. Nor is an unlikely Joe Bloggs winner good for ratings. And so the most exciting form of golf is lost to the pro game.

While it’s true 72 stroke-play events are more likely to produce the best winner, having to watch the first three rounds to get to that point can be painful. It was interesting hearing Jack Nicklaus a few years ago in Morocco. Someone asked him how much golf he watched on TV. Nicklaus replied: “I don’t watch golf on TV. I’d rather watch paint dry.”

I know how Jack feels.

Given the excitement of the Ryder, Solheim, Curtis and Walker Cups, you’d have thought sponsors would be dictating a return to match play. These tournaments, especially the Ryder Cup, are the tournaments that produce excitement and interest on a continual basis. Unlike 72 stroke-play tournaments that morph into each other week after endless week.

Let’s be honest: the real excitement in any stroke-play tournament happens over the last nine holes when you have a few players going hard at it for the title. The first 63 holes are just shadow boxing, no matter how hard TV commentators try to convince us otherwise.

I’ve often wondered why many sponsors even bother with the first 3 1/2 days of the tournament. Why hasn’t anyone thought to eliminate the first 63 holes, and most of the field? Let’s have a nine-hole shootout with, say, the world’s 20 or 30 best players? Give them easy pins, reachable par-5s and turn it into a quick shootout that’s done and dusted in a couple of hours.

I’m obviously not talking every week, but every once in a while a quicker form of golf would be most welcome, especially in these days of the five-hour plus rounds.

As for match play, we need more of it. It’s the original form of the game. It’s the form played at most clubs in the United Kingdom amongst ordinary golfers. And I’m not talking singles match play. Why no foursomes, four-ball or even greensome tournaments?

I’m lucky that I get to cover amateur golf. One of the highlights of my year is covering the British Amateur Championship, which I first started covering in 1994. I also look forward to the Walker and Curtis Cups, the British Boys, Ladies British Open. In fact, give me an amateur match-play tournament over a European Tour event and I know which one I want to cover. Match play wins out every time.

Save 72-hole golf for the majors and other key tournaments, but give us more match-play golf. There’s an endless fascination in watching golfers go head-to-head. The psychology of stroke play pales in comparison to match play.

So roll on Wednesday and the first round of the WGC–Accenture. I’ll be glued to my television screen from Wednesday all the way to Sunday for one of the very few times this year.

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