Pools, Moscow Mules, and The Number One Ball in Golf.
As the longest day of the year makes its annual appearance, we as sports fans, as summer revelers, fixate our attention to major golf tournaments. The Golden State Warriors consummated their predestined 2017 race to the Larry O’Brien with copious amounts of champagne, the last drops of which are just now drying up off the carefully-placed locker room tarp.
Golf is, and always will be, a name game. To hear ones like Palmer, Nicklaus, and Faldo, is to in a sense, know golf. That claim can be made in most sports, but it rings especially true here.
The name Tiger Woods became a mainstay in households quicker than a SnapChat text in 1996, when he turned pro. His star was solidified in 1997, when he won his first Green Jacket at The Masters. Twenty years, and 500 video games later, he is the golfer by which every other up and coming star of golf is compared.
Stars like Jordan Spieth, who in 2015, rocked the golf world to its core, when the then 21-year old won the Masters, US Open, and placed in the top 5 of both The Open Championship and PGA Championship. At that time, despite his dominance, and despite an ever-growing field of rising stars like Rickie Fowler and Rory McIlroy, fans still cared more about what Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson were doing.
Let’s talk a little more about that Spieth guy — the winner of a thrilling playoff with Daniel Berger at Travelers Championship in Cromwell, Connecticut. How’d he do it? By sticking a clutch bunker shot to within a whisper of the cup, once again augmenting his trophy case. So too, did he augment the list of reasons why he could at any moment, make a run worthy of multiple “30 For 30” documentaries.
Spieth has all the tools, and the fashion, to be a legend of golf. But the only reason why exists as the “second coming”, is because of the groundbreaking careers Tiger and Phil enjoyed before him.
The rivalry between Phil Mickelson and Tiger is underrated. And, as it turns out, incredibly brief. Mickelson is the winner 5 major tournaments, and for years was notable to be the best player to have never won a major.
By the time he had won his first Masters, Tiger was already the face of golf. Winning tournament after tournament in pursuit of claiming every chapter of the record book. That’s probably why any rivalry he had with other competitors, faded into the background. And, why last week’s US Open didn’t suffer from the absence of these two gentlemen. While Tiger’s nagging back problems persist, Mickelson backed out of Erin Hills to attend his daughter’s high school graduation.
For whatever reason, including mounting apathy, fans are starting to move on. In a matter of speaking, golf is not riveting or enthralling, it’s good enough, and that’s okay. Even when considering Joe Buck’s borderline contemptuous announcing of US Open. The purist fans will always tune in, hell, I’ll watch putt putt challenges on a Monday, but, with the current stable of competitors, there is just enough there to keep casual fans interested. Not just for FanDuel gambling interests, either.
Sure, drama in sports is one of its most enticing attributes. Like watching Tom Brady connect with Gronk for a game-winning, two-minute drill touchdown. But, leisure watching sports, the kind where you pour yourself a glass of boxed wine, is fun too. That’s what golf is, and it doesn’t need to be much more. It doesn’t need to be much more because it has carved out its niche space in a niche market, and always has some supremely intriguing storylines each season.
Viewers enjoy watching golf for the same reasons they enjoy playing golf, you can get a little action going on an otherwise lazy day. For me specifically, golf has inspired one unique tradition in which I wake up with the Scottish hens each year for the opening round of The Open Championship. I prepare my version of a proper English breakfast, drink Guinness at 8 AM, and watch the best golfers in the world. It’s awesome.
My enjoyment of said tradition is not predicated on the appearance of individuals like Brooks Koepka, it’s just fun to do. Moments like that are worth reprising over and over. No matter who shows up. No Tiger? No Phil? No problem.