Recently I’ve said to a few friends that I sometimes feel that this column is dedicated to covering the same 10 people doing the same job every week. I’m exaggerating, but only slightly.
We golf fans are watching and listening to the work of the same production and announcing teams week after week, and they’re invariably describing the same 72-hole stroke-play format. And that’s fine. Some might say that consistency is part of professional golf’s charm. But personally, I welcome an occasional escape from the weekend tedium.
That brings me to GolfSixes, the unconventional, irreverent, tradition-flouting two-day tournament the European Tour staged for the second consecutive year. I’m not going to go quite as far as Golf Channel’s Jerry Foltz, who tweeted, “… I think I’m looking forward to watching #GolfSixes as much or more than I did The Masters.” But I certainly welcomed the chance to watch something different, and I gather from social media that others did as well.
In GolfSixes, players wear microphones, encourage fans to make noise, go out of their way to engage fans and welcome on-course interviews. Fans take part with each foursome in a closest-to-the-hole contest, then pose for pictures with the players.
Let me pause here for the usual caveats: This format isn’t for everyone, and I wouldn’t want to see it more than once or twice a year. But it’s a worthwhile experiment engineered by European Tour CEO Keith Pelley and his team.
I’ll give you one example of why I say that. For decades, players and coaches in other sports have agreed to wear microphones during games. In golf, players scoff at the notion of wearing microphones for anything other than exhibitions. I suspect that’s at least a small part of the reason why golf lags far behind other sports leagues in consumer awareness.
GolfSixes can be a bit jarring, but in a welcome way. As Georgia Hall was preparing to hit her pitch shot to the par-5 third Saturday, Ladies European Tour player Henni Zuël, who was working as an on-course commentator, came up behind Hall and asked her to describe the shot she envisioned. To her credit, Hall took it all in stride, explaining that there was too much grass in front of the ball to putt it, “so to start it safe, I’m going 58 (degree wedge) – the greens are quite fast – so try and land it on the front and chip it up to the hole.” To which anchor Robert Lee quipped, “She can’t go back and get the putter now.”
Even Catriona Matthew, who always has struck me as one of the most reserved European players, embraced the format, encouraging fans to clap and make noise on her tee shot.
“I thought it would be more off-putting, but it was great fun playing with the crowd,” Matthew said.
The addition of ladies teams this year was a smart move that got a lot of attention. It received even more attention after British provocateur Eddie Pepperell said prior to the tournament: “I’d rather beat the ladies and miss every cut for the rest of the year than lose and play well for the rest of the year.”
Wayne Riley, working as an on-course reporter, usually is the cheekiest member of the crew. But he sounded dead serious when he said that he saw GolfSixes having a potentially greater impact on the sport.
“I’d really like to see one of the ladies teams win this whole event,” Riley said. “It would be great for world golf.”
Maybe, maybe not. In the end, it’s an exhibition, though one with a nice payday for the winning team from Ireland. More importantly, though, it was another worthwhile experiment by Pelley, who seems to have a pleasing willingness to shake up the status quo. Gwk