PGA needs to think outside the tee box
High time for more match-play-style events on the tour
SAN FRANCISCO — Jordan Spieth is competing in match play for the second time this month. The first occasion was only in his mind.
He was five shots clear of Justin Rose when he made the turn at Augusta National and was trying to keep his mind off the green jacket ceremony. So he told himself he was 1 down to Rose in match play and “let’s play against him and see what we can do to get back.”
“That kept my head off of anything else that was going on.”
Spieth won by four and has a size 42 jacket to show for it.
And while the stakes aren’t nearly as high at Harding Park, the interest figures to be greater. Even with a change in format and a change from the high desert to the city by the bay, everyone looks forward to the Match Play Championship.
It’s the one time of the year golf is like tennis. There will be 96 matches over the next three days to determine the 16 players who advance out of their four-man groups, and then 15 single-elimination matches after that to determine a winner.
It’s a fickle format even by golf standards. Tiger Woods was either No. 1 or No. 2 in the world 10 times in the Match Play. Half those times he didn’t even make it out of the third round. There is some debate whether it really identifies who played the best golf that week.
The greatest appeal of the Match Play Championship is that it’s different. Different is good, as long as it doesn’t compromise the competition.
The Match Play Championship has its place on the PGA Tour schedule — once a year. The tour wisely returned to a modified Stableford competition for the Barracuda Championship in Reno, Nevada. The only trouble with that tournament is that it’s held opposite the World Golf Championship at Firestone, so the top players don’t get a chance to play.
There is also a place for team competition.
Imagine converting one of the PGA Tour events into a 120-man field of 60 teams in which the players could pick their own partners. Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, each sporting a neon swoosh, might be appealing. Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler. Or a pair of 21-year-old friends like Spieth and Justin Thomas.
Because it would be medal play, there still would be an individual winner who would get a spot in the Masters and a two-year exemption (and yes, 500 FedEx Cup points). And the team element would be compelling.
Geoff Ogilvy earlier this year broached the idea of the old Mixed Team event with LPGA Tour players, which is overdue to return. This could easily be part of each tour’s official season with a team winner and individual champions, male and female. The problem would be reduced playing opportunities.