With Fox winning broadcast rights to the U.S. Open beginning in 2015, observers are speculating about how the hard-charging network might spice up golf on TV. Incorporating more TrackMan statistics and shot-tracer technology into telecasts would help, and, who knows, perhaps Fox will introduce a VisorCam or 18th-hole cheerleaders. But all this talk about bells and whistles misses the point. Golf telecasts don't lack vitality; the game's unchanging every-golfer-for-himself format does.
Look at the NFL. Beyond the bone-rattling hits, what is football's appeal? As I see it, two things: (1) one team/city pitted against another team/city incites fierce jingoism, and (2) seemingly everyone has action on NFL games, legally or not, through weekly office pools, fantasy teams, or online bookies. Imagine if golf offered fans a similar experience.
Instead of the FedEx Cup playoffs, the Tour should conduct actual playoffs, which wouldn't affect the money list but would rouse fans' loyalties every year for four weeks in a way that the game now does only every two years during the Ryder Cup.
Here's how these "grudge matches" would work. The day after the season-ending Wyndham Championship, the Tour would hold a televised draft with eight cities each selecting 12 players from the top 96 players in the FedEx Cup standings; golf dignitaries with ties to each city or region could act as captains (Johnny Miller might helm the San Francisco squad, while Fuzzy Zoeller could lead Indy). The draft order would be determined by lottery.
A week later, four big-time venues across the nation would concurrently host a series of matches (call it "NBC's Golf Day in America" and hire avowed golf nut Justin Timberlake to compose a pulsating anthem), with the losing team members each pocketing $100,000 and the winners advancing with $200,000. The next week, the remaining four teams would square off in two cities, with the losers netting $250,000 and the winners taking home $500,000. The last two 12-man teams standing would play for the FedEx Cup, with the losers of those matches each collecting $1 million and the champs garnering a cool $2 million.
Imagine what the hysteria of a Ryder Cup–style event played all over the country might be like. Blue-chip companies would line up for sponsorships. Fans and pundits would scrutinize why one player (Zach Johnson?!) was picked over another (Tiger Woods?!). Betting lines would fluctuate madly from draft day to the finale.
Yes, I'm aware that sports gambling is illegal in most states, but fans still bet millions of dollars on the Super Bowl every year, and the constitutionality of the federal ban on sports gambling is an open question. What's not debatable is the staid way in which golf is staged in our fast-paced, Twitter-mad world. The game's power brokers need to ask themselves if they want to break from tradition for a possible seat at the big-boy table with the likes of the NFL and NBA.
Television is a game, and as much as I love watching the Tour, golf needs to unearth itself and offer fans an exciting, even outrageous alternative to the weekly grind. Maybe you have a better solution; if so, I'd love to hear it. (Drop me a line at [email protected] or on Twitter at @chambleebrandel.) In the meantime, I'm going to bounce my idea off my man Lee Trevino. My Dallas team needs a captain.