News & Opinion

Give the customers what they want

It’s a move that former Celtics star Bill Russell might not understand, but the Presidents Cup leans on personalities and promotions in a bid for relevance

Bill Russell recently accepted his Basketball Hall of Fame ring in a private ceremony, 44 years after he was selected. In doing so, Russell explained why he refused the recognition for so many years.

That is, he refused "being the first black player to go into the Hall of Fame.” An 11-time NBA champion, Russell, the foundation of the great Boston Celtics teams of the late 1950s and 1960s, said that “others before me should have that honor.”

A few days later, U.S. Presidents Cup captain Tiger Woods announced good ol’ Rickie Fowler had been tapped to fill the roster spot surrendered by injured Brooks Koepka.

Makes you wonder ...

Valero Texas Open 2019
Fan favorite Rickie Fowler will take his gallery appeal Down Under next month for the Presidents Cup.

Now, before you get all sabermetric-silly and points-list paralyzed, take a deep breath. No one is accusing Woods of playing favorites or scratching backs. By the power invested in the Presidents Cup standings, Fowler was next man up, ranked (11th) on the hit parade, higher than el capitan himself (13th). All that is good and holy in the convoluted world of official world rankings, and various points parameters covered the bet.

Moreover, Fowler has PC pedigree. He has played in two previous PCs, has a 4-3-1 record overall. Proponents will be quick to say that in the 2017 event at Liberty National, he went 3-0-1. Of course, that means he went 1-3-0 in his previous appearance, the 2015 PC in South Korea. Didn’t matter, because the Yanks won both times.

They also won eight other times, when Fowler did not even participate. They have lost only once in 12 of these match-play “battles.” And it's a funny thing about experience: You can't have any if you don't get any. But, technically-speaking, experience-wise, Fowler’s a lock.

His presence makes sense from a marketing standpoint, as well. If you’re concerned about audience shares, advertisers and perception-inducing reality, the name Rickie Fowler carries more weight than names such as Brendon Todd, Kevin Na or Adam Long. One might argue the name Phil Mickelson carries considerably more girth in that regard, but Fowler does have some household value.

All of that said, please stop hyping this Ryder Cup knock-off as some type of epic competition. Please, stop with the patriotic poppycock, the rubbish about these boys representing the Red, White and Blue in some momentous manner. No one will sleep easier at night knowing that Rickie Fowler, or anyone else on the team, supposedly has his back on a golf course in Melbourne, Australia.

The Presidents Cup is an all-star game, a beauty pageant, a reality show. They might as well name Blake Shelton the U.S. captain and Boy George the International skipper. This is mostly about entertainment, mostly not about competition.

It won’t help you to have the hottest hand in golf, or win two events in a row, as Todd did this month, if you also have one of the most anonymous names in golf. Sorry, bud. We don’t do introductions. You’re not in the club.

What you have done lately – he slid to a fourth-place finish Sunday at the RSM Classic in a bid for three in a row – is not nearly as important as what you have done over the life of the PC points calendar, the previous cups in which you have played, or how popular you are with the other cup-playing aristocrats.

And that’s OK, maybe as it should be. There's no business like show business. But let’s just stop the promotional pretense and see this for what it Fowler-picking is. After all, Todd McLellan keeps getting NHL coaching jobs. Stevie Nicks is in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist. Keanu Reeves still finds work, and sports talk-radio personalities never die, they just change stations.

Makes you wonder … whether Bill Russell wouldn't recognize the superficial, transparent nature of it all and suggest someone more deserving should go first.