Column: Golf can’t expect to be this entertaining always


Now we know what Phil Mickelson is thinking over the most difficult of pitch shots.
Because he was talking.
It was one of the highlights from “The Match: Champions for Charity,” at least for the golf geeks. Listen in as Mickelson describes his shot to Justin Thomas, who was making his television debut.
“I’ve got a bit of a tight lie because the grain is in, which means … it’s hard to slide the club under. So I want to go low. But the greens have been taking off — they’re slick because of the water, the ball skidding instead of stopping. Because I want to go low, I’m going to land it short of the green.”
Hang on. He’s just getting started.
“You can see here the color is light, and right here the color is dark,” he said, pointing to a patch of grass near the green. “That means the grain is in. Normally, I would not want to land it into the grain because it would kill it. But with the water, it’s skidding, and it will take some of the heat off it. And I’m going to take a 60-degree wedge, put it back just a little bit. I’m going to hit it into that grain and let the water kind of skid … and it should run out by the hole.”
The explanation alone took 58 seconds.
The response from Thomas was much more succinct.
“Sounded pretty simple the way you said that,” Thomas said. “Let’s see it, Phil.”
So Mickelson showed him, along with nearly 6 million viewers who made this Sunday exhibition in the rain the most-watched golf telecast in cable television history. The result was a par that halved the second hole.
Next up: Real golf, from Colonial in Fort Worth, Texas, where the PGA Tour is set to resume.
It won’t be nearly as much fun.
For starters, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady won’t be playing.
There won’t be any cart cameras, because there won’t be any carts. Mickelson, who is in the field at Colonial, won’t be wearing a microphone. Tiger Woods hasn’t said if he’ll be at the Charles Schwab Challenge, but recent history suggests he won’t be playing very much when the tour returns.
Sunday was a hit-and-giggle event that raised some serious money for COVID-19 relief funds. It was more about entertainment than competition, and everything about it worked.
The Colonial and the tournaments that follow — three of them majors — attempt to entertain through competition.
To suggest that a template from the Sunday exhibition and telecast can apply to official events is silly. The idea of microphones has been raised before and rejected by the players. Ditto for interviews during the round.
Can anyone imagine Mickelson asking another player to put a mark on his ball from 100 yards away?
OK, bad example.
Can anyone imagine Woods replying for all to hear, “Want me to mark it with a U.S. Open medal?”
Sunday was the exception — exceptional, actually — and it should be celebrated as such.
The PGA Tour would be wise to take notice because an event like this can only broaden the appeal. The mistake would be too many of these exhibitions. If you find honey, eat just enough, as the proverb says. Too much of it and you’ll vomit.
Golf used to have a “silly season” with the Skins Game as the centerpiece and even the PGA Grand Slam of Golf for the major champions providing early week entertainment on cable TV. They got tired and couldn’t keep pace with soaring prize money on the PGA Tour.
It’s no longer about money.
Mickelson beat Woods for $9 million in a winner-take-all match over Thanksgiving weekend in 2018 and it was a dud. The final charity tally Sunday was $20 million, and while that’s worth touting, it’s not what raised the bar.
Mickelson is appealing because he’s a natural talker and shot-maker. Woods is appealing because he’s Tiger Woods.
But they needed help, and they got just that from Manning and Brady. And it helped that Brady holed out from 100 yards for birdie, a shot that saved the match (otherwise, Woods and Manning are 4 up through seven).
Would this have been as successful in the middle of a normal PGA Tour season? As good as Thomas was as a walking reporter, does his personality come through in an official event?
It was the right event at the right time with the right mix of players. There is no shortage of personalities from the world of sports and entertainment, whether that means Steph Curry or Justin Timberlake. There is room for more of these exhibitions to reach a wider audience.
Just not too much of it.