Wednesday, August 20, 2008

I love the drama of a well-contested tournament. This year’s PGA Championship was no exception, with my hero Padraig Harrington nailing his putt on the last hole to clinch the title over Sergio Garcia. Unfortunately, this championship wasn’t on the radar of the average sports fan because Tiger Woods wasn’t participating. Only Tiger is a proven closer in majors, and without him the sport feels like a competition among also-rans played for a few diehards wasting a summer weekend in front of the television.
Back in the day, television coverage of golf championships was less extensive, but it did a better job conveying the drama of the event. We were able to watch all the players as they worked their way into the clubhouse, not just a chosen few. We had heroes -- players like Sam Snead, Gary Player, Arnold Palmer, and Calvin Peete -- who didn’t win with the ease of Tiger, but we loved them anyway because we saw their journeys.
I have watched events this year that didn’t show shots from the leader just because he wasn’t a marquee player. Today, members of the media hype the tournament by predicting victory for the biggest and most marketable stars -- guys like Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els. Those guys repeatedly have failed to close the deal in big tournaments, but nonetheless they are touted as the favorites.
Most of these stars don't know how to win, so they shouldn't be advertised as favorites. When they “choke” down the finish, viewers are left with a bad taste in their mouths because the winner is perceived as a nobody who snuck in the backdoor. Truth is, guys like Kenny Perry have as good a shot week-to-week as Phil and Ernie, and fans wouldn't be disappointed if they weren't constantly being told that the big names were going to win.
Players like Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els should be spending their time learning how to finish. Maybe a little time with Mariano Rivera and Jonathan Papelbon, guys who know how to get those final outs, would help. And members of the media need to stop pretending that Mickelson and Els—and many more like them—know how to win. Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher Gerald McCullagh teaches at the University of Minnesota’s Le Bolstad Golf Club in Falcon Heights, Minn. He also blogs here.

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