TV column: Dull match play stuck in Tour tedium

AUSTIN, TX - MARCH 25: Bubba Watson of the United States celebrates with actor Matthew McConaughey after defeating Kevin Kisner of the United States 7&6 to win during the final round of the World Golf Championships-Dell Match Play at Austin Country Club on March 25, 2018 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

TV column: Dull match play stuck in Tour tedium

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TV column: Dull match play stuck in Tour tedium

Some thoughts on the weekend’s televised golf coverage:

The WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play should be one of the most entertaining weeks of the season, given that it’s a break from the PGA Tour’s weekly, 72-hole tedium. Yet I tend to empathize with those, including several players, who expressed frustration with the format.

There was some griping about the round-robin format; meanwhile, Henrik Stenson intimated that he skipped the tournament because he preferred the old single-elimination format.

For this viewer, the match play has become difficult to sit through. The old single-elimination format wasn’t perfect; it inevitably became less interesting as the week progressed. But at least the first two days of knockout matches were among the most exciting of the season.

The tweaks the PGA Tour made to the format in recent years make perfect sense from a business standpoint. The players are guaranteed at least three matches, and the fans and sponsors are assured that the stars will be around for a few days. But if the players think it’s a long, hard slog to get to the weekend, they should try having to sit on the couch and watch it.

The venue doesn’t help the cause. Austin Country Club’s most memorable hole is probably one of the weakest in the routing. The drivable, all-carry par-4 13th is easily reachable, sometimes without driver. And with the bleachers serving as a backstop, there’s little risk in blowing it over the green.

The Tour has made well-intentioned efforts to fine-tune the match-play format to benefit players and business partners, but it forgot how to create something compelling for TV viewers.
By Sunday afternoon, I found myself flipping back and forth between those final two dismal matches and the opposite-field event being played in the Dominican Republic. Trust me, the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship made for more interesting viewing.

3 signs from Corales

Speaking of which, three things jumped out at me while watching the coverage from Corales.

One was the steady analysis of Curt Byrum, who was in the 18th tower. I’ve been lauding his work for more than a decade, dating back to when he was covering the old Nationwide Tour. He still tends to get assigned to second-tier events but continues to be a good listen.

Second, it’s not uncommon that I find myself getting more enjoyment out of lower-profile events such as Corales than the tournaments with the bigger stars. Fewer production resources are committed to tournaments such as Corales, but counterintuitively, that sometimes creates opportunities for better viewing. For example, the announcers tend to be less verbose than their network counterparts and more cognizant of opportunities to capture on-course audio between players and caddies. Sometimes you really can do more with less.

Finally, we had another egregious backstopping incident on the 17th hole at Corales on Sunday. Denny McCarthy chipped to within a foot of the hole, then didn’t mark before Tom Lovelady hit his chip.

“My question is, why didn’t Denny McCarthy go mark that ball?” Golf Channel’s Matt Gogel asked, the irritation evident in his voice. Gogel explained that if Lovelady had banked his ball off of McCarthy’s ball and into the hole, it would have counted as a birdie. “It’s almost like backstopping. I don’t know, I don’t like it. Mark it.”

“It’s the buddy system,” anchor Whit Watson quipped.

I suspect the Tour might benefit from a little less camaraderie and a little more competition.

Miller finds pressure point – again

Midway through the final at the match play, anchor Dan Hicks was talking about Kevin Kisner’s dreadful start, which left him 6 down after seven holes.

“You do see it a lot in these long, grueling match-play situations. . .” Hicks said. “They’re playing all week long. They’ve got it, they’ve got it, they’ve got it, and then it’s almost like suddenly they fall off a cliff. The body kind of breaks down. There’s the mental battle as well.”

“It’s p-r-e-s-s-u-r-e,” Johnny Miller responded. “No doubt.”

Peter Jacobsen took exception to that: “I disagree. It’s mental fatigue right now. I don’t think these guys are nervous.”

A little later, Miller hedged his argument: “There probably is fatigue (from the) long week, but obviously there (are) some nerves that are making him play like he hasn’t played in a long time.”

I bring this up because Miller too often defaults to the “pressure” argument. This is just a more subtle variation on his old tendency to say players were choking.

No doubt there are times when pressure takes a toll on a player, but sometimes it seems like Miller’s catch-all explanation for every poor shot. Crazy thought: Maybe a player who is struggling is simply burned out, fatigued, having a bad day. Maybe he’s just human.

My point is: Rather than speculating that a player is choking, announcers probably are better off focusing on what they know to be true. Gwk

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