PLAYERS Halftime – Potential Storylines

Been a solid few days out there for viewers. Multiple aces, birdies everywhere, and some big names at the top of the leaderboard. Pundits are giving the TOUR some flack for the course setup and scoring conditions. I think the criticism is fair from a purist’s perspective – the wind hasn’t been as advertised and the result is a course with no great defense. I think what’s lost in the shuffle with that take is the audience for this weekend. More people are tuning in, people who may watch golf a few times a year, or never at all – those people want to see birdies.

On to the important stuff – Rory, Tommy, CAPTAIN. Let’s take some guesses at what the headlines will be Sunday night.

  1. Begins and ends with Rory. 67 – 65. One bogey in 36 holes. Striking the ball like a maniac. Rory has made 5 starts this season and hasn’t finished outside the top 6. He’s 1st SG off the tee, 1st SG tee to green, and 1st SG overall (FOR THE SEASON). No he doesn’t have a win – and that’s all that people seem to want to talk about lately – but that’s a lazy take. Consistency vs. wins is a common debate in golf, but Rory’s stats don’t lie. 1st SG overall means he’s played the best golf – and he’s been doing that since the turn of the year. If Rory wins this week a lot of people are going to jump back on the bandwagon, and green jacket hype will be at an all time high. This and Tiger talk would dominate the golf news circuit.
  2. Tommy Fairways. Tommy has yet to win on US Soil – but he’s been one of the best golfers on the planet for two seasons now. His 63 at Shinnecock last year was probably the best round of golf played in 2018. Follow that with a dominating Ryder Cup performance and a great start to the 2019 circuit and here we have it. This would be the biggest win of Tommy’s career and launch him into the conversation for best in the world. Might seem like a bit of a stretch – but he’s in the JT, DJ, Rory, Rose, Brooks category with a W.
  3. Poulter. Would the crowd at 17 turn on him on Sunday? I doubt it. Americans love to hate on Poults, I think that hate fuels him. Would be a feather in the cap of great villain.
  4. CAPTAIN JIM. This would be an unreal redemption story. After an embarrassing Ryder Cup performance and a captaincy that endured plenty of scrutiny, winning the PLAYERS would be an incredible accomplishment. Reed tossed him under the bus, crazy fallout stories ensued – the team really just came out looking like a mess. What’s happened since? Jim has sneaky been playing good golf! 32nd in SG total and 2 Top 10’s this season. He’s 48 and been put through the ringer – the media would eat this story up and rightfully so.
  5. Day’s back is back.
  6. Keith Mitchell continues a hot streak for the ages – becomes the king of the Florida Swing.
  7. None of the above – Lot of talent lurking in the 5-7 range. Those guys are going to have to go crazy low over the weekend to make a move but its definitely plausible. Of that group -DJ, Rahm, and Scott stick out. Stud City – all capable of 65 or below on a given day and going completely ballistic.

The past few years Sawgrass has had runaway winners. You have to go back to the Kis, Sergio, Rickie battle of 2015 to find a second place finisher within 3 shots. Let’s hope this field condenses or we get a Tommy/Rory duel for the ages.

Check back in with you all Sunday.

 

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PLAYERS Preamble

Welcome to PLAYERS week – a celebration of the TOUR as a whole and a melting pot of golf media controversy. There’s plenty of places to find sleeper picks or players in good form, we’ll be focusing on some deeper thoughts on golf’s “Gold Standard”.

The TOUR’s marketing machine has obviously been at full force for this tournament for months now. While some may say a massive rebrand is on the cusp of coming to fruition, I think the TOUR’s vision is just getting started. Let’s delve into why I believe that to be the case.

What they had:

  • Fantastic field with incredible depth (more on that later)
  • Course with a recognizable/challenging home stretch, including arguably the most famous hole in golf
  • Consistent venue that viewership will get to know better with each rendition – that also happens to provide spectator friendly views
  • Massive purse (2.25 mill to the champ – think about that)

What they’ve changed:

  • The course itself
    • 12 was completely redone and is now the token short par 4
    • The 4th and 7th greens were overhauled
    • Strategic front nine redesigns
  • New practice facility
    • There are few things more awe inspiring than watching top pros mash golf balls at the range. It is wildly impressive to hear the contact they make with the ball, but also wildly depressing to see just how inadequate your own game is. The dichotomy of those emotions is the crux of why a PGA TOUR range is so awesome, and overall great for fans. The other top range on tour? TPC River Highlands. And think about just how strong their niche has become.
  • Venue changes for better “on grounds experience”
    • Check out the TOUR’s twitter – they’ll tell you everything you need to know
  • Over-seeded with rye
    • This new look will present well on TV. It will intrigue the larger “non golf enthusiast” audience that this tournament is supposed to gather. The fact that green = good for those folks is a massive issue in and of itself, the impetus for the name of this blog, and an ongoing dialogue that we will continue to push. I digress……

These updates and the entire rebrand are going to need some soak time. We’re now past the up front investments – the infrastructure is in place, the media blitz has done its job. These are all good things, just hoping that the TOUR exerts some patience. It’s going to take multiple iterations of this new presentation for them to achieve their ultimate goal. Good things take time – and that is perfectly okay.

That being said – the thing that will best expedite this process is a solid broadcast. That means show the best golf, but more importantly show more golf. Give this wider audience a view into the shots that’ll stick with them. Now that there is this incredible background/perfect setting, impress the hell out of viewership with how players navigate the track. With limited corporate sponsorships akin to The Masters, and an incredibly deep field, there’s simply no excuse to not be captivating this weekend.

Zinger has been good thus far and NBC does the best job presenting golf on a consistent basis – but I’d be interested to see how The TOUR approaches their main event behind closed doors. Do they make special requests, do they push for any changes at all?

Side note***  this is prime time for LIVE as a service – I hope they bring their A game and impress the true junkies out there.

STATE OF THE UNION:

I like Jay – he seems knowledgeable and obviously has the business acumen to elevate the TOUR’s status. I think the schedule changes (albeit years in the making) have been very solid all around.

It was a breadth of fresh air when he defended the governing bodies against the vendetta players pushed against the rules. Think of this in terms of Roger Goodell – Roger serves the owners, clear as day. Well the PGA TOUR is run by the players, Jay represents those guys. Him sending a clear message, and reaffirming it in his presser today was comparable to Goodell publicly railroading ownership complaints. Little perspective never hurt – Good for Jay.

The presser leads me to another thought: it really stood out to me that Augusta was involved in the 2 hour discussion this morning on rules changes. Subtle inclusion in Jay’s response to a question, but damn if that doesn’t show you Augusta’s power. Wild to think a single club, hosting a single tournament (2 now I know) has become the invisible hand pulling all the strings of the game.  I have no issues with that, but with great power comes great responsibility. Augusta has done good things in recent years to “grow the game”, the mantra they peddle. The Women’s Am + Drive, chip, & putt finals are fantastic steps, but there is plenty more that can be done. Sponsor global golf academy’s, develop youth amateur circuits, or subsidize youth rounds in golf deprived communities. If they have earned the right to influence rules and have a seat at the table with the USGA, R&A, and TOUR – then let’s keep raising our expectations. Those other bodies need to step up their game no doubt, but none of those organizations have the capital or short term agility compared to ANGC.

“DEEPEST FIELD IN GOLF”:

Yes it is true that from a player quality perspective this is the best field all season. I 100% understand why the TOUR touts this, it is a great selling point and an easy mass market pitch. I just want give folks some perspective on exactly why that is.

  1. The Masters – The masters is an invitational tournament that annually provides the smallest major field. A relatively tiny number of exemptions exist – the best being past champions and the amateur qualifiers. These special exemptions dilute the quality of the field a touch – and with only the top 50 OWGR being invited automatically, pro depth is top heavy. At the end of the day this is simply a small field with small subset of unique exemptions.
  2. The US Open/Open Championship – OPEN CHAMPIONSHIPS. Any player in the world is invited to qualify for these events. If you work hard enough as a pro or an am you have a shot, one of the most beautiful things in all of golf. Again these spots dilute the field.
  3. The PGA Championship – A portion of the field is dedicated to PGA Professionals. The pro down the street that teaches young players the game, gets a 25 handicap down to a 15, and represents their clubs with great pride has a shot at this tournament. They’re a driving force in the game, and they deserve a chance at the spotlight once a year.

Each of these tournaments has unique traditions – all of which I think should be respected, honored, and revered. Yes these traditions provide fields that aren’t as “deep” as THE PLAYERS, but in all honesty they’re amongst the reasons these tournaments are more special. Again this is not an indictment against Sawgrass or the TOUR – I would be hyping the same thing if I were in their shoes. Just wanted to add some context to it. (Side note – deepest field does not equate to most difficult to win – shoutout to the guys at DataGolf. Follow them @DataGolf on twitter).

5th Major:

Rhetoric around the 5th major is a common talking point. Golf media is pushing the narrative, and golf twitter is fighting back. I’m not here to sway the conversation one way or another – but I find it interesting to think that the majors have adjusted over time, and that people are so against them being adjusted now. Let me be clear in saying I don’t think THE PLAYERS is a major, I just don’t think either side of the argument should be so quickly dismissed. 4 seems like a magical number – but is really only compared to tennis from a slam perspective (please forgive me if I’m missing other individual sports with quad set ups). 

My personal opinion? The real meat of this discussion that nobody seems to bring up is that subconsciously this boils down to Tiger & Jack and how to historically view PLAYER’s champions. If there weren’t two generations of thought consistently at each other’s throats about the major chase/GOAT, the public would be more willing to accept this discussion as valid. But we live in a world of comparison/ultimatums – and most people want all things equal when making those judgements. So what we end up with is not a debate on golfer’s merits, but rather the definition of golf merits themselves. We want simple answers to complex questions in regards to who is better than who (take Tiger and Jack out of it, apply this to anyone). Even ostensibly obvious arguments across different sports get dragged through the media cycle endlessly – I actually think that’s a good thing because debate drives discussion. Regardless, we need to come to terms with the fact that there is no right or wrong. I don’t think adding a fifth major changes a whole lot of the story surrounding Jack and Tiger’s career arcs, but nonetheless the indecision surrounding what to make of this event is fascinating.

I’ll say this – kudos to the TOUR’s PR team, the players for pumping both sides, and the media for not letting it die – it is driving clicks and hopefully it ups viewership.

My advice? Take a deep breath, don’t read too much into what this tournament is or isn’t. Enjoy what will be a great weekend of golf. For those of you in the Northeast – the season is close, consider this your kickoff.

Stay tuned – Friday night we’ll release some potential storylines after a few days of play.