Channel-hoping, waiting for the closing stages of the back nine, where is Tiger? Why do so many of us no longer engage in golf coverage the way we once used to? By Paul Gallagher
What will it take to make us watch coverage of tournament golf for any meaningful length of time? TV executives could list a whole host of reasons and jargon for tuning in but there are a whole host of compelling arguments for switching off. Perhaps there is no single basis for this demise in golf viewing, rather a collection of factors which has golf on the back foot as it competes for space in an already saturated sporting landscape.
I know it’s entirely subjective, but I found the recent US Open hard to watch. There is a fine line to testing the game’s finest to deliberately setting the field up for carnage. Shinnecock Hills divided opinion. The USGA almost had a repeat of 2004 when they lost the greens. In terms of viewing I’m not convinced this type of test is a good way of attracting new blood into the game. These Blue Riband events should be the game’s shop windows rather than voyeuristic gratification at the expense of the pugilists.
The US Open aside, there are other obvious turn offs, like the time it takes to play golf. Tournament golf is spread over four days compared to definitive match times of 70 80 or 90 minutes, depending on what shape and size of ball you prefer. That often means the first three-and-a-half days of tournament golf is little more than the preamble, jockeying for position before the final run-in. The closing nine holes is more akin to a match situation, it’s the amphitheatre for the drama to unfold, the time when nerves and mistakes come into play or stand up and be counted and that makes for exciting viewing.
Strip away the macro and the micro inspection tells us the action is just too damn slow. Too much deliberation, a lack of emotion and robotic progress around manicured fairways is not the sort of stimulation armchair fans are looking for. We’re not seeking half ton collisions inside the 22 or the full impact of camán on leather in Croker. No, we’re happy to see the expertise on show, the skill, the power and the finesse but it needs to come laced with emotion.
Golf definitely lacks the characters from yesteryear. No one in the modern game possesses the same swash-buckling style and charisma Seve had. No-one dared pull off the stunts he conjured with wedge in hand. In defence of the modern player, technology has surely played a part in the dilution of skill. Such advances in equipment have levelled a playing field, there is no longer the need or capacity to manufacture and shape shots like Trevino did. It’s a bombers’ market these days and that only holds our attention for so many yards.
One of the few characters to come close is Seve’s compatriot Miguel Angel Jimenez. ‘The Mechanic’ may not possess the brilliance of his countryman but is equally colourful and that makes him different and more interesting.
It’s a sorry fact that watching Jimenez remonstrate like a conductor of an orchestra with European Tour referee John Paramour at the recent Shot Clock Masters was of more interest than the golf that was unfolding.
And if it’s agreed the format of tournament golf is too long or 72-hole strokeplay needs to change then the powers that be at the European Tour deserve praise for at least considering options outside the box. The likes of the Shot Clock Masters or Golf Sixes might well crash and burn over time but recognition for the need to change is a positive step. I still believe reduced tournament days should be considered (except for the Majors) if the financial shortfall can be minimised.
Gone are the halcyon days of wall to wall coverage of The Open Championship on terrestrial TV when burnt fairways and the dulcet tones of Peter Alliss behind the mic gave opportunity for non-golfers to get sucked into the drama alongside existing golf nuts. Those Open Championships represented a sporting occasion, a date on the calendar like Wimbledon fortnight, the Six Nations or All-Ireland weekend. Too many non-descript tournaments in faraway parts of the world these days holds little meaning to even golf’s diehards.
Traditional broadcasting is also forced to compete on so many different levels now. We are happy to consume 60/90 second snippets of round-ups and highlights through social media and on our smartphones. We don’t have time for an afternoon of viewing anymore. Life is consumed on the hop.
And yet, there is still one pied piper doing the rounds. One single player who might well be long past his best but is still capable of drawing in the crowds and throwing TV ratings off the charts once more.
The merest whiff of Tiger Woods is enough to get TV and marketing execs drooling. TW has no peers in this domain. Not even a Rory McIlroy in full stride can capture the imagination in the same way Woods does. We all thought Woods was dead and buried, conspired to the scrapheap and never to return to those dizzy heights. Right now, he’s proving doubters wrong, and so long as he stays fit he is the single factor bucking the trend in the demise of golf’s viewing figures.