The final round of the PGA Tour’s 2017 U.S. Open was the second least-watched conclusion to the U.S. Open in 30 years. Only Martin Kaymer’s runaway victory at Pinehurst in 2014 was more sparsely watched.
Brooks Koepka certainly represents a compelling, if not widely known, champion. There was plenty of final-round intrigue. Heck, Rickie Fowler, one of the most marketable and widely recognized players in the game began the final round only two strokes off the lead.
In light of this fact, plenty are asking the hard questions: Why aren’t people tuning in for golf? How could things have gone differently at Erin Hills to make more people tune in?
If Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson, and Rory McIlroy were all in the hunt, how would viewership have been different. We’ll never know, but there’s a curious opinion floating around, which the BBC’s Ian Carter gave voice to what needs to be addressed.
“Koepka continues the trend, and now pundits such as the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee are advocating courses that break the 8,000-yard barrier. It is an ill-affordable nightmare scenario. Layouts would need more land, more resources for maintenance and more time to play.
“The emphasis is all on power and the subtlety of shot-making and shaping is being lost. Amazingly, the authorities insist the golf ball is not travelling any further. They claim to have put the brakes on technology, but the evidence of last week – and most other professional tournaments – tells a different story. Something needs to be done to rein back the ball to ensure courses remain relevant and the sport becomes more nuanced.”
But why? Carter voices a common argument. But really, why does the game need to be more nuanced? Why is it important that a player, say, shapes a 7-iron left to right to a pin on the right of the green rather than smashing a towering nine iron straight at it? So that the purists can applaud? Because that’s the way the game is “meant to be played?”
Here’s the only question that matters: Is the game less entertaining for the majority of golf fans because players hit the ball farther and are less inclined to shape shots? Purists in basketball hate the slam dunk and the three-point shot, as they weren’t components of how the game was “meant to be played” but the average fan finds the game more entertaining because of these innovations.
Let’s break this argument down further: The only “problem” here is player scores in relation to par and the feeling that there is some need to protect the sanctity of golf’s holy concept.
Here’s a bold thought: Who cares about par? Most fans find big drives and a buffet of birdies entertaining. Most fans would prefer to see a tournament where the winner is 20 under, rather than a brilliantly managed, say, two over par, as could be expected at the U.S. Open. At the end of the day, the field plays the same course.
Player scores must be stacked up against one another, and the player who used the fewest number of strokes win. Who cares if that number is one under par or 20 under? This is the question underlying the distance debate.
Golf’s Longest Hitters:
That, and the fact that it’s apparently embarrassing and unacceptable for the game when the field eats up a classic course that was built in the age of hickory clubs. But again, does the average golf fan lament the fact that the winner shoots 30 under par at a tournament where winning scores used to be much higher? Probably not.
Lack of viewership is a problem, and indeed, a big one. But the idea that more pronounced draws and fades and fewer birdies would translate to more interest is absurd.