Live Golf is Back - And It's Nothing Like We've Seen Before
SO WHAT did we make of PGA Tour golf’s return at the Charles Schwab Challenge? It has to be said that Sky Sports certainly made the most of it, draining every last inch from their extensive coverage of what was the first live event since the lockdown began.
We will get to the live golf shortly. But what were they thinking with the Watchalong on Thursday where the admirable Nick Dougherty was forced to speak to the likes of former cricketer Kevin Pietersen who, by the way, is “desperate, desperate just desperate” to play golf in America, Damon Hill, hockey star Sam Quek and, bizarrely, actor Jamie Dornan about what they imagined the players were going through as they returned to competitive action.
With all due respect, what on earth would Dornan, who is best known for starring in the Fifty Shades film franchise, know about the feelings being experienced by the likes of Rory McIlroy? And then it emerged that both he and Rory come from Holywood in Northern Ireland. Ah, so he could give us some unique insight into what makes the world number one tick then? Well no, actually. It transpired that although they both grew up in the same town and played golf at the same club, they had never actually met until quite recently. Dornan is an 11-handicap golfer and happily admitted that the game he played bore no relation to the men we were watching.
And former Formula One world champion also admitted that when you are in a grand-prix car you can’t hear the fans. Success in F1 certainly owes something to a driver’s ability but it is rather more about the car they are driving. He said that golfers hold success within their own hands. It is all about their ability as individuals, the work they put into the game and the sheer ability they possess. In other words, a top tour pro has next to nothing in common with a Formula One driver.
At least Pietersen was able to offer some perspective, speaking as a world-class batsman who made his name through his ability as an individual in a team sport. But he is a cricketer. He is not a golfer!
We had teething problems. There was a break in transmission during Thursday’s play and Sky were forced to display an apology for all of us who had tuned in to watch live golf.
Their coverage started on Thursday and Friday with featured groups. It meant that we didn’t miss a shot from anybody of any significance. And featured group coverage continued over the weekend, starting at 1.30pm. So true enthusiasts could watch getting on for 10 hours of coverage, pausing only to reach for their cold beer and pizza. Guilty as charged!
Nobody really wants to watch the guys who barely made the cut, so plenty of time was spent watching and analysing golfers on the range before they set out.
Several players agreed to wear microphones. Thankfully, Dustin Johnson was not one of them. They have been asked not to spit - it seems that Johnson, Pat Perez, and several others, did not get the memo.
Rickie Fowler was one of those who agreed to the microphone request but you began to ask yourself why because he said next to nothing, perhaps because he was so acutely aware that the watching public would hear everything he said. And he missed the cut too. Coincidence?
Sadly, Jon Rahm, who, like Fowler, missed the cut, was not wearing a mic. He began the week as one of the favourites but grew increasingly hot under the collar as it is quickly emerged that he didn’t have his A-game with him. In truth, the Spaniard didn’t even have his Z-game with him. How much fun it would have been to have heard what he was saying as he thrashed his driver into the ground after yet another wayward tee shot.
And then there is Bryson DeChambeau, a man who has put on a staggering 40lb, is now hitting the ball a country mile but looks like he has eaten all the pies since the lockdown began. He is the most fascinating character in modern professional golf, so why didn’t they go out of their way to persuade him to wear a microphone?
It was clear that the players were delighted to be back in action, and they were blessed with sensational weather - blue sky, bright sunshine and the mercury nudging 90F. The course was in magnificent condition and there was some astonishing scoring.
But how strange that brilliant approach shots, holed pitches and drained birdie and eagle putts were greeted in utter silence. Some of the players acknowledged non-existent galleries, but in truth it was a bit like watching a group of friends playing friendly three balls - albeit with £7.5m prize money up for grabs. So maybe not that friendly.
There was simply no atmosphere, and that is going to continue until The Memorial, when it is planned to give 8,000 spectators access to Muirfield Village. That is also when we can expect to see Tiger Woods return to action.
All the cameramen were wearing face masks. The players wore masks when they arrived at Colonial but promptly removed them when they set out to tackle the course. Everybody has been tested for Covid-19 and the environment is clearly as safe as it is possible to be.
A welcome innovation was the static camera behind the 10th green. Players were asked to comment on playing without fans. Andrew Landry said: “It’s no different for me - nobody watches me anyway!” Most of the players simply said that while it was great to be out there competing again, the thing that they really missed was the fans.
Let’s hope that this is something that sticks - when all is said and done, fans want to know what these guys are really thinking and feeling.
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