Relax, the PGA Tour season has been good
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Used to be that we judged our sports fun on the mere entertainment value in front of us and not what it scored with TV ratings. Did it keep us interested? Was it a good competition between the best of players? Was there drama or a great storyline? Most of all, was there passion?
That, of course, was before we became immersed in a superficial world that seems to please us so much, surrounded by so many plastic settings – the regular seasons in so many team sports, for instance. Do they mean much? Not really, what with almost every team making the playoffs, at which time the only stuff worth watching takes place.
Golf remains fundamentally different, although it, too, now has playoffs. (Relax, you have 21 weeks or so before FedEx Cup fever hits you.) Each week brings a tournament with its own flavors of pressure – the chance for an unheralded player to finally win, the opportunity for a 40-year-old to prove he still can prevail, the bid just to get into the mix and finally achieve job security.
Given the landscape of the PGA Tour, what with all its qualifying criteria, money lists, points standings, and exemption clauses, there is always something to play for – even if guys like John Daly prefer everything handed to them. What remains at the heart of golf’s appeal is the competitive intrigue at various parts of a stage that is hundreds of acres in size – even if we all too often lose sight of that beneath an avalanche of stories built around a player who isn’t even playing.
It’s a shame, of course, but we are all free to choose our own sense of direction. For me, in 2010 it’s a route thus far dominated by terrific tournaments and a cast of winners that have been easy to embrace, for different reasons.
We could all belabor the excessive coverage of a particular storyline and how it has overshadowed this season’s on-course action, but why not instead point the spotlight on the golf?
After all, it’s been pretty stout stuff, these first 11 weeks, and to set the table, consider this: Of the 11 winners (for the record, we’re not including the two opposite-field events), eight of them are currently ranked within the top 30 in the world order, including seven of the top 21.
That’s another way of saying that the cream has been floating at the top of the PGA Tour’s FedEx cup since Jan. 7, when things got under way in Maui. Geoff Ogilvy, No. 14 in your world rankings, won that week, and the parade of marquee names and world-class talent marching into the winner’s circle ever since hasn’t stopped. To whit: Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk, Ian Poulter, Ernie Els, Camilo Villegas, Hunter Mahan, and Dustin Johnson.
Minus Poulter, who had been merely pounding on the door to victory for at least a year now, that group came into the season with a combined 47 victories. No slouches, any of them, and they’ve given a brilliant shine to the season thus far.
What has also enhanced 2010 far are the close finishes. In seven of the 10 stroke-play events, the winner has won by just one and in three of those – Ryan Palmer at Sony, Bill Haas at the Bob Hope Classic, and Johnson – it took a final-hole birdie.
Along the way, critics consistently have offered viewpoints that are jaded at best, downright insufferable at worst. You know the type; they only watch when a certain phenomenon is playing and maybe they only watch when he’s in the hunt, which translates into them not watching nearly two-thirds of the tournaments. That begs me to suggest that there’s not much you can do, since no player this side of a younger Dana Quigley plays every week and contends every time.
Still, people will moan and toss out stale points of reference like TV ratings, as if with 1,472 channels there aren’t thousands of shows getting much smaller audiences than they would if there were fewer options.
Golf is like most other sports in that the money is outrageous and perhaps does more harm than good. But it hasn’t spoiled the product nearly as much as some suggest and there’s no better example than the first 11 tournaments of the 2010 season. The game’s best players have been at the top on a weekly basis, the finishes have been terrific, and the storylines flavorful.
If some folks haven’t noticed because one name has been absent, there’s not much we can do.
Except to appreciate even more what they’re missing.