THEY CALL THIS GROW­ING THE GAME

Golf Australia - - HUGGAN’S ALLEY - 14 | BY JOHN HUGGAN | GOLF AUS­TRALIA C OLUMNIST AT L ARGE

IT ALL started with the emer­gence of Tiger Woods at the back end of the last cen­tury. Never be­fore had the most fa­mous sports­man on the planet been a golfer, a turn of events that brought with it at least one un­in­tended con­se­quence.

Sud­denly, golf was per­ceived as “cool.” Or, at least, that was the widely-held view of the game’s most high-pro­file prac­ti­tioner. Tiger was the “new black” in a sport that had pre­vi­ously been the ex­clu­sive pre­serve of mid­dle-class white guys and gals.

Since then, golf has made stren­u­ous ef­forts to build on its “hip” new im­age. Ap­peal­ing to a wider and more di­verse de­mo­graphic was seen as the ob­vi­ous route to that much overused phrase, “grow­ing the game.” Not much has worked, of course, if the cur­rent de­cline in world­wide par­tic­i­pa­tion is our guide.

But still golf mis­guid­edly tries to make it­self more at­trac­tive to al­most ev­ery strand of so­ci­ety. I give you the no­to­ri­ous 16th hole at what used to be called the Phoenix Open but is now sad­dled with an in­stantly for­get­table cor­po­rate ti­tle I refuse to look up. What be­gan as a pretty good no­tion, al­low­ing the pre­vi­ously stoic spec­ta­tors to play a more ac­tive and fun role in the lead-up to tee-shots, has turned into some­thing else en­tirely. And not in a good way. It is, in fact, a great idea gone mad.

In­stead of the pay­ing cus­tomers en­gag­ing in some good-na­tured ban­ter with play­ers, the guys with their names on their bags are now rou­tinely sub­jected to a bar­rage of foul-mouthed abuse from what is noth­ing more than a drunken rab­ble. Seem­ingly un­aware of what tends to hap­pen when col­lege stu­dents – the vast ma­jor­ity of whom have no pre­vi­ous knowl­edge of golf or golfers – start con­sum­ing al­co­hol around 9am and con­tinue to do so through­out the day, the PGA Tour has cre­ated a mon­ster.

What doesn’t help is that this ine­bri­ated mess is por­trayed as harm­less fun by those paid to “com­men­tate” on tele­vi­sion. As so of­ten in golf, the truth of any sit­u­a­tion is the first vic­tim when pots of gold are in­volved. Heaven for­bid that some­one like Ian Baker-Finch or Nick Faldo should tell the truth and blurt out their hor­ror at what is tak­ing place in front of their eyes. The afore­men­tioned spon­sor – still can’t quite re­mem­ber its name – would not be pleased. Nor would the face­less suits who run the PGA Tour. All that mat­ters to them is the bot­tom line. To hang with the game.

Speak­ing of which – and given all of the above – it is per­haps no sur­prise that the head suit at the PGA Tour, com­mis­sioner Jay Mon­a­han, is will­ing to sanc­tion the 16th at the Phoenix Open while at the same time ex­press­ing no out­rage at the turgid pace of play dur­ing ev­ery event on his highly-lu­cra­tive cir­cuit. Even when JB Holmes no­to­ri­ously took more than four min­utes to lay-up short of a pond on the fi­nal hole of what used to be called the Andy Wil­liams San Diego Open, Mon­a­han was com­pletely un­con­cerned at what dam­age such non­sense might be do­ing to the “im­age” and “brand” he holds so dear. Un­be­liev­ably, he de­fended the al­most im­mo­bile per­for­mance – the round took close to six hours to com­plete – and post-match com­ments of Holmes. “JB was in the heat of the mo­ment,” Mon­a­han said. “It’s re­ally hard to win out here. You’re try­ing to think through how you can get on the green in two, with that amount of wind. I think he thought it would sub­side quickly, and it just would sub­side and pick back up. And I think he said what he needed to say on that front.” Per­haps even more sur­pris­ing was the re­ac­tion of Justin Thomas.

“It was a great tour­na­ment for JB,” the USPGA cham­pion said. “I have a hard time say­ing I wouldn’t do any­thing dif­fer­ently than he did.” Re­ally? No con­dem­na­tion? No out­rage? No prom­ise to pun­ish this point-miss­ing dope?

Not in our life­times. That just does not hap­pen. Not on the PGA Tour. High­light­ing any sort of short­com­ing would be a con­ces­sion of guilt, an ad­mis­sion that some­thing is ac­tu­ally awry in the ap­par­ently per­fect tour world pre­sented to the sorts of multi-na­tional spon­sors I can never re­mem­ber, one where cor­po­rate dou­ble­s­peak long ago re­placed straight talk­ing.

Any­way, it goes with­out say­ing that none of the above is “cool.” Nor is it likely to ap­peal to a gen­er­a­tion of young peo­ple whose at­ten­tion spans have never been shorter. Slow play is a can­cer that is se­verely un­der­min­ing all of the good work be­ing done else­where in the “grow­ing the game” depart­ment. And not even drink­ing heav­ily is go­ing to make that un­palat­able fact go away.

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