I must admit that I miss not seeing Jon Rahm. The 2024 season is off to the usual boring start in Hawaii with scores as low as the current state of the California snow pack. The Tour season doesn’t really start for me until the professionals reach Torrey Pines in San Diego on a challenging golf course. The LIV mercenaries, changes in the broadcast booth and the exciting finales of the current NFL season are making professional golf hard to watch. What’s potentially even worse is that the Tour moves to venerable Pebble Beach in what might end up being a washout as major winter storms are in the eye of the schedule of the event. Perhaps the gods of golf are exerting their displeasure as the AT&T has abandoned the venerable Pro-AM and doubled the purse to get the best players on Tour to compete here. In 2023, only 3 of the top 20 players on Tour competed at AT&T and now the event is a “designated” event requiring the best players to show and compete for what is now a $20M purse up from $9M in 2023. Bing Crosby’s legacy fun clambake event is now relegated to the wonderful memories that have accumulated over the past years. I personally believe the event could use a new title sponsor that bring some energy to an event rather than an underperforming corporation that can’t even provide good cell phone coverage for the residents in 17 Mile Drive.
There is no publicized resolution to the PGA Tour/DP Tour and LIV merger purported to be long resolved by now. Perhaps the Saudis didn’t gain admittance to the pearly gates of Augusta National that was rumored to be a “chip” in the negotiations. The poaching of PGA Tour players by LIV continues with the move of Terrell Hatton to LIV and the intense recruiting of Victor Hovland. Hovland extinguished this idea with a two word statement “NO Way”, but Jon Rahm said something similar a year ago. I believe all of these discussions are boring and diluting interest in professional golf. There will be some bright spots such as Nick Dunlap’s victory of the PGA West event, where the University of Alabama student and reigning US Amateur champion became the first amateur to win on tour since Phil Mickelsen.
The game of golf survives and thrives as play and interest at the amateur level continues to thrive beyond the pandemic. Golf was one of the few, if any, beneficiaries of the pandemic as millennials tired of their couch potato existence of video games and embraced a sport that is physically and mentally challenging. A number of courses slated for closure, sale or abandonment became cash generating machines as the number of rounds grew significantly and it seems the momentum has been maintained. As for the PGA Tour, I will be surprised if TV ratings don’t begin to tank except for the Major events. We are already seeing ads for the Masters telecasts now. While professional golf management and organization seems to be in flux and rudderless, the pipeline of outstanding players at the collegiate level continues to prosper and will be there to populate the future of the game. It also seems that the LPGA season is off to a good start as it faces no dilution from the likes of LIV and I feel it is likely that the women’s game will gain further popularity with the professional golf fan. As for LIV, their schedule marches on with the music, the shorts, the teams and the inane formats that the professional golf fan has no clue as their events are unwatchable. I’ve never seen a professional sport where the spectator has no idea of what is going on and the visuals look like semiconductor chip design tools.
Time will sort all of this out, but for now, it’s best to go work on your handicap and play the game.