August 30th Mailbag: Canada, Twitter and Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf
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There’s pretty much nothing I love more than watching old footage from Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf. It’s a throwback to a seemingly lost time in the sport, and everything from the players, to the courses and the way that it was shot and framed for television, exudes cool. The reboot that happened in the mid-90’s wasn’t bad, but the original episodes from the 60’s and 70’s are just stunning to watch.
Back in 2015, when Golf Channel did a huge marathon of them over the Christmas holidays, I was glued to the TV and I actually did write something about my favourite hypothetical matches if a reboot was in the cards. Some of my suggestions feel a little dated at this point, but for the most part, they still work and there’s no doubt in my mind that hardcore fan interest would be through the roof. The tough thing is that in 2017, it’s simply not as feasible as it was the mid-60’s.
Back then, people knew who Ben Hogan and Sam Snead were, but the access to them was extremely limited and it felt like a big deal that they were going to be involved in a made for TV event like this. Now, everyone has so much access to players like Rickie and Rory, that I’m not sure that you’d get a ton of interest outside of the super loyal golf audience that watches everything already. The players already play a ton and make a lot of money, so the need for them to do this just isn’t there like it was 40-50 years ago.
There’s also a massive cost associated with getting this on TV, and it might not be worth it for a network like Golf Channel or CBS to dedicate the resources required to do it properly and without TV, I’m not sure that you draw the big names that you need for it to be a big success. In theory, streaming/online coverage makes it easier to accomplish this, but it’s harder to monetize and again, you’re likely minimizing your audience to a great degree.
BUT, if someone wants to do it, I really do want to see all of these matches, so get on it!
I mean, I’d personally love it because match play is the most exciting form of televised golf that there is, but the same argument against converting the PGA Championship back to match play exists for the playoffs: it’s too risky for television. Match play scares the hell out of the networks because you have absolutely no idea who could make it through to the final few matches, and while that’s also technically true of stroke play, that format tends to feel a little more safe.
Think about the top 64 players in the world right now, who would qualify for the WGC-Match Play if it were to be played this week. Dustin Johnson would be matched against James Hahn, and while DJ would be a pretty big favourite, Hahn taking him out really wouldn’t be that much of a surprise, as the difference between the two of them over 18 holes of match play is probably close to non-existent. The theory would be that in stroke play, DJ is far more likely to be in one of the final groups than Hahn, and while we all know that’s not a guarantee either, it can feel that way.
Some kind of hybrid format, a la the U.S. Amateur probably makes more sense. Either way, I’m all for more match play, but I’m not sure that we’re any closer to seeing it, unfortunately.
Question via email from Joey:
Hi Adam –
Well, you’ve already listed the guy that I think makes the most sense because much like Phil, DJ has had several moments where a super entertaining explanation of why something went right or wrong would be tremendous. Think about not only that drive on 18, but the way he separated himself at Oakmont, or the way he blew up at the 2010 U.S. Open with an 82 on the final day at Pebble. It’d be tremendous.
The other guy that comes to mind is Matt Kuchar because for everything that we know of him publicly, the stories are out there about how sharp and quick he is in private, and I’d love to see that come out just once.
I think it’s hard to argue against them as the greatest siblings in golf history, unless I’m just completely spacing on who else is in the running. Jessica and Nelly Korda have a chance to take over for them, and I suppose the Bryan Brothers are also in play, but we’re pretty far off from either of those I think. I’m not sure that makes this snippet underrated just because I’m not sure how many siblings have ever made it to the pro level, but it’s definitely super cool that they’re both at this ridiculous level.
Also: I stand by what I said in a recent post that Francesco Molinari is the most underrated player in golf. He’s such a good ball striker, and I actually think that being a Molinari brother has hurt his rep, at least a little bit in certain circles. That seems to be what he’s known for, when in reality, he’s just a really good player and has been for a pretty long time.
You’re preaching to the choir on this one, but I just don’t see it happening, at least in the sense that the caddies and players end up becoming such a focus of the audio that the broadcasters aren’t required. Hardcore golf fans would go crazy over it, but for the rest of the audience, the general thought would be that the announcers are required, which I totally understand. The best use of natural sound that I’ve seen to date is PGA Tour Live, as their broadcasters tend to get out of the way on a more frequent basis and let the on-course audio speak for itself. To me, that’s the more logical play here in that we just need the broadcast crews to stay quiet on a more regular basis. The European Tour tends to do a good job of this as well. Sometimes less is more.
It’s pretty great, in all honesty. People ask me all the time about why it’s so good to live here, especially considering that in theory, it really shouldn’t be that different from living in the United States. Here are the major pros and cons about living in Canada:
- The people are super nice and for the most part, very laid back.
- Our money is a Picasso level work of art.
- Gun violence isn’t as much of a thing as it is in the US.
- Health care.
- We’re an extremely diverse nation.
- Coffee Crisp.
- Politics have tended to fade into the background and not be ever present, though this has changed recently and will probably continue to be more visible in the coming years.
- It gets really cold here in the winter, and if you’re in certain parts of the country, it’ll actually get so cold that leaving your house feels like the absolute worst thing you could ever do. That can last for a few months.
- Our money typically has the value of a bad Picasso knock off.
- It’s really expensive to live in the big cities. In this respect, Toronto is like a mini version of New York.
- Very little in the way of corporate competition. Big companies tend to own everything, and squash the little guy whenever they can, leading to less choice for the consumer.
These things aren’t all 100% true, as of course you’re going to run into violence and sometimes it isn’t super frigid in the winter, but for the most part, I feel like this is accurate.
So, for the most part, I feel like FOX has basically created the blueprint for how to broadcast a tournament from a technology standpoint. Copious amounts of Pro Tracer, interesting camera work and putting grids have been used at the U.S. Open in recent years, plus their audio and graphics packages are top notch. NBC and CBS, to me, are so far behind in this area that it’s almost impossible to see how they catch up and I hate that we only get to see USGA coverage from FOX because it’s obvious that they’re the ones that are doing it the best at this moment.
One thing that I’d love to see more of is a live implementation of strokes gained statistics. The issues with that are pretty obvious in that it requires live calculations of this data, which I’m not 100% sure is available and can change on the fly, and it requires buy in from traditional broadcasters, most of whom have been players in the past and may prefer to look at standard stats in their analysis. I thought about this while watching some of the Northern Trust on Sunday when a talking point early on was that Jordan Spieth had missed three of the first four greens in regulation. The problem with that analysis was that he was basically on the green in those instances, and the better judge of how he was doing in that moment would have been strokes gained, or at least something around proximity to hole.
I should point out that this isn’t a problem that is golf specific, as other sports run into this in every single broadcast and what sucks is that it’s so obvious to a lot of people that there are better ways to analyze the game now, and the television viewer doesn’t always get to hear them because antiquated stats are used to a far greater degree than they should be in 2017. To me, that knowledge transfer would be the greatest enhancement that you could possibly give a broadcast.
So, the first thing to point out is that, obviously, Barry has given a lot of thought to this, and learning from other sports and leagues is something that golf should absolutely be doing as they carry the game forward. Here’s the thing though: there are two massive barriers to entry that the #GrowTheGame people have yet to solve with any initiative that they have put forward.
- It’s way too expensive to play, and has a reputation of being a sport that is only for the rich.
- It takes too long.
Now, TopGolf has the chance to be the exception to this, as you don’t need your own clubs, there’s no real dress code and it’s gamified for shorter sessions. I’m not sure how many people you’re going to be able to convert to the actual course off of TopGolf, but I feel like this is the best idea to date to do just that. From a professional standpoint, I agree that the tours and the people in charge haven’t really done a ton to push the game aside from their rhetoric, but I’m also not sure how much they can actually do with the constraints of the two above points. I love what the European Tour is doing with trying crazy formats and making the professional game more varied, but ultimately, I don’t think that it ends up moving the needle very much and that for the most part, like you said, golf is still very much entrenched in the 72 hole stroke play format at the highest level. Even if that changes though, I’m not sure that you see anything super tangible in terms of results at the lower levels.
The thing is that when Tiger came along, I think a lot of people kind of expected him to bring golf out of the niche sport fringe and into the mainstream, but that never happened and to be honest, it was unfair to expect him to do that. It’s always been a niche sport, and probably will be, especially if we can’t solve for the idea that it’s just too expensive to play. That’s a barrier to entry that is simply too big for many people to overcome.
I’d love to see someone much smarter than me do a proper analysis on what a reduced ball would do to the players, but the obvious answer would be that it would still look pretty similar in terms of the players at the top and bottom of the driving distance stats. Guys like DJ, Bubba and Rory would still be at the top and Jim Furyk and Luke Donald would still be at the bottom, but obviously the yardages would be severely dialled back. I’d imagine that someone like Charles Howell III, who averages 297 now, would have averaged about 270 or so in the early 80’s and that’s something that the #FixTheBall enthusiasts would love to get back to at some point.
The bigger benefit to rolling back the ball though comes in the courses. So many of them are obsolete now because of the lines players are able to take off of tees, and the way that places like Augusta have had to alter the course to stay relevant in this era is really disappointing because this isn’t the way that the courses were meant to be played. More than anything, that’s what matters the most to me, and even though I love watching guys like DJ smash the ball all over the course, I’d much prefer that it was taken back a touch and we could hit up some more venues instead of the seeming eventuality of 9,000 yard courses and 300 yard par-3’s.
So, let’s take a look at the top 12 players for each roster based on points as of this writing. Note that only the top 10 qualify, with Steve Stricker and Nick Price getting to select two guys to fill out the roster.
|Team USA||Team International|
|Dustin Johnson||Hideki Matsuyama|
|Jordan Spieth||Jason Day|
|Justin Thomas||Adam Scott|
|Daniel Berger||Louis Oosthuizen|
|Rickie Fowler||Charl Schwartzel|
|Brooks Koepka||Marc Leishman|
|Kevin Kisner||Branden Grace|
|Matt Kuchar||Jhonattan Vegas|
|Patrick Reed||Si Woo Kim|
|Charley Hoffman||Adam Hadwin|
|Kevin Chappell||Hideto Tanihara|
|Brian Harman||Emiliano Grillo|
So, yeah: I see what you’re saying that on paper, the American team looks quite a bit better than the International side, but there are very easy arguments to make against the American team. First, you have six players listed there who have never represented the United States in a team competition at the professional level, and while I don’t think that matters a ton, it is something to look at when you’re talking about reasons why the Americans might not play to the level that you’d expect.
Secondly, I get that the International side doesn’t appear to be super deep, but I think any serious golf fan would look at the top five on the International team and probably take their chances with them against the Americans, or at the very least, wouldn’t be shocked if they came out on the winning end. Think about it: would you really be surprised if Jason Day and Adam Scott beat Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas in a team format? If the top guys can hold their own, all they need is for some of the guys at the other end to play solidly, and this should be close. Remember that the same thing could be said about the rosters back in 2015, and it came down to the very end.
Lastly, as I mentioned above, match play is tricky and you never know how things are going to turn out over a tiny 18 hole sample. You can’t convince me that there’s a tangible difference between Brooks Koepka and Si Woo Kim over 18 holes. Over a full season, or a four week stretch of events? Sure, but 18 holes? I’m not seeing it.
Ultimately, you should expect that the Americans will win in a few weeks at Liberty National, but you also shouldn’t be surprised if it goes the other way, either.
Question via email from Travis:
It feels like you’re not on Twitter as much as you used to be, and you’re definitely not sending out GIFs like you did a couple of years ago. What’s the deal? Were you told to stop?
Is it that noticeable? First off, I haven’t been told to stop doing anything, but there are a lot of different factors as to why it seems like I’m not as visible as I was a couple of years ago. The first is that when I started making GIFs and getting a following, it was because no one else was doing it, but then, the official channels started upping their games and we’re all better off because of it. If I’m watching the coverage, I can still get a GIF up of something as fast as anyone, but the difference is now negligible whereas before, it was massive. From a video standpoint, the official channels are doing a great job of getting their #content out to people, and they should be applauded for it.
Secondly, I’ve been given more responsibility at work, and as much as I love watching and talking about golf, sometimes I just want to relax as opposed to sifting through hours of coverage to find one or two random GIFs that I would embed in a post four days later. Also, download the app that I’ve been working so hard on over the last few months! Lastly, I have a giant amount of Twitter fatigue. I still love checking it and I think it’s super important for news gathering, but the fact is that I don’t feel the need to have an instant take on every single item that comes across, so I’ve cut back significantly. I’d rather take my time and formulate thoughts or do something creative than just fire something out of the cannon, and frankly, there are better accounts out there than mine for that sort of thing if you’re so inclined. There’s no big conspiracy, and there’s nothing that is stopping me from doing anything, but I just feel like a break was, and still is, needed.
In short: I love it, but Twitter stinks.