News & Opinion

Eager to see TV’s best reality show again

The PGA Tour, the only unscripted jockudrama with 1 winner and a hundred-plus losers, can’t come back soon enough

Not to be a complete rube or anything, but what did people do with their idle time before television came along and dumped every conceivable sporting event into their living rooms for the mere cost of a cable bill? ESPN actually turned poker into must-see TV back in the early 2000s. This made little sense to those of us who owned a deck of cards and had a few buddies with nothing better to do on a Wednesday night.

Nobody goes to the amusement park just to watch. At least until you grow up and have kids, at which point golf becomes one of the few athletic endeavors that doesn’t conjure fear of dislocating an ankle or realizing you’re not half the stud you once were. Much like Texas Hold ’em, our game is a participatory activity in which varying sums of money often are exchanged.

Weekends just haven’t been the same without Rory McIlroy overpowering golf courses and overcooking 6-footers.

And like everything else that involves socializing in a competitive setting, golf is being threatened from all angles by the coronavirus. Recreationally, hundreds of courses have shut down across the country. Those still open remain so under numerous provisions and restrictions. Given the great unknown and mounting peril paralyzing the planet, such precautions seem to contradict the notion that 18 holes at the local muni is a safe getaway from this deadly pandemic.

Overreaction is en vogue. If you need a getaway, find a better way.

Oh, and by the way, it’s fairly obvious that many weekend duffers have been raking bunkers with their feet for years. If shaking hands with others in your foursome actually has become a health risk, if using the ball washer now amounts to a form of personal sabotage, perhaps we should forsake pulling the pin and simply pull the plug altogether.

Besides, your dirty Pinnacle is of no concern to me, and I’m quite sure the feeling is mutual. The common thread we all share is a keen interest in the professional game, a universal love brought to a screeching halt by COVID-19. Hard though it might be to fathom, the 2019-20 PGA Tour season was about half complete when commissioner Jay Monahan canceled the Players Championship, the 23rd of 49 events on the schedule.

It is with considerable sadness to note that the far better half was just ahead. There’s a distinct possibility that at least one of the year’s four major championships will never happen, magnifying the grim reality in a game in which so many tournaments offer little or no historical significance. What those lesser gatherings lack in relevance, however, hardly diminishes their ability to produce captivating storylines on a Sunday afternoon.

Weekends just aren’t the same without Rory McIlroy around to overpower 7,200-yard venues with his typical nonchalance, then miss every 6-footer that matters. Instead of watching Ryder Cup superhero Tommy Fleetwood blow a three-stroke lead, then forget how to hit a bunker shot, then gather himself before dunking it into the water with somebody yelling in his backswing on the 18th at PGA National, I’m now stuck with a “Forensic Files” episode about a murder that occurred in 1989.

Fleetwood handled it like a champ. And though some of that forensic stuff is pretty interesting, it doesn’t hold my attention to nearly the same degree as last month’s star-studded ensemble in Los Angeles or Englishman Tyrrell Hatton’s grind-it-out triumph at Bay Hill. Has anyone else noticed that six of the last eight Tour winners were foreign players? That just four of the 11 events contested in 2020 have been claimed by Americans?

This is the kind of stuff I would ponder while cleaning up all the branches that fell in my yard this winter, except I’m too lazy to bother with a little tree debris.

When Tiger Woods won in Japan last fall to tie Sam Snead’s all-time victory mark, there was reason to believe he was on the verge of returning to competitive prominence. It was Woods’ first start since his latest knee surgery, and this time, he came back looking like his body had been fully repaired. The swing looked terrific. The short game was impeccable. The putter behaved. The sum of the parts added up to an icon with a lot of outstanding golf left in him.

Five months later, Woods has played twice, factoring in neither tournament, and bailed on at least two others. Pro golf has tried to learn how to live without him once again, but if nothing else, the first three months of 2020 have been woefully short of premium star power. Brooks Koepka, coming off his own knee issues, says he’s healthy. The eye test says he looks like a guy whose carriage turned back into a pumpkin.

McIlroy seems to get there every week, but his inability to finish is befitting of a generational talent who hasn’t won a major in almost six years. Anyone seen Dustin Johnson lately? Jordan Spieth? Rickie Fowler has fallen to 27th in the world. Tony Finau still hasn’t won anything more than an opposite-field event. Where’s the ageless Phil Mickelson when you really, really need him?

Losing to Nick Taylor at Pebble Beach, that’s where.

I miss them all. Not just the biggest names in the game, but the dudes I’ve never heard of. Pro golf is the best reality show on television. The only authentic, unscripted, agonizingly deliberate jockudrama where one player wins and a hundred-plus others don’t. This isn’t some team sport where half the guys walk away happy, where it’s common practice to demand a trade unless you restructure the three-year, $36 million contract signed last July.

At some point, hopefully very soon, the world’s best scientists will start making birdies and slay this lethal scourge, which, for some peculiar reason, was named after a Mexican beer. Society will regain its stride, toilet paper will become plentiful, and of course, Rory McIlroy will start missing 6-footers again. Not a day too soon, and I can’t wait. Those branches surely can.

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