It's a Wonderful Life?

It’s a Wonderful Life?

Local Event Finds Golf in the Gutter

SAN DIEGO — As the game’s alpha dogs prowl Torrey Pines at next week’s U.S. (golf) Open, one question hounds them: Can’t anybody lead this pack? A different player has won each of golf’s last eight majors. Nobody has repeated as Player of the Year since 1995. No golfer can match the star power of Kobe Bryant, Tom Brady or bowling sensation Rhino Page. In short, golf needs a hero.

Phil, Are You Listening? Hometown favorite Phil Mickelson leads active players with six majors, a far cry from Jack Nicklaus’s record 18. Ernie Els’s five majors include last year’s PGA Championship, at which the Big Easy outlasted Woody Austin … or was it Woody Allen? Vijay Singh and nerveless Sergio García have three apiece, while the list of multiple major winners also features Chris DiMarco, David Duval, Sean Micheel, etc. — a group Colin Montgomerie and Bob May could join this week.

Impossible to Dominate “It’s a parity party,” says Fuzzy Zoeller, golf’s most beloved voice since he replaced Ken Venturi in the CBS booth in 2002. According to Zoeller, technology and technique have narrowed the gap between the best and the rest. “Everybody’s long, and they swing near perfect. Each week anybody can win. That’s why nobody’ll ever get near Jack’s record. Not Phil and Ernie, and certainly not Sergio or Monty, much as I love El Beaño and ol’ Haggis Breath.” Funnyman David Feherty says Nicklaus’s 18 majors are “up there with sports’ most hallowed and unattainable records — DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak and the 56 streaks in my pants at the ’91 Ryder Cup.”

Star-crossed Purists may appreciate parity, but casual fans want stars. Perhaps that’s why Montgomerie’s First Tea program fizzled, and Mickelson found few takers for his charity dare, Bet You Can’t Beat Me, Kid. Even with the Tour shortening courses to add excitement, TV ratings keep sinking. Nike, which spent millions on its Hello World, I’m Charles Howell ads, now focuses on NASCAR. Golf lost another advertiser when General Motors’ Buick Division went under. Gatorade’s ballyhooed Drink Your Phil brand went dry when bloggers spread rumors that two flavors, Flop Sweat and Bag o’ Bones, contained subcutaneous fat.

Googling Golf? “Aw, golf’s fine,” says Zoeller, who will call the Open on HDNet under the game’s new $950,000 TV deal. “Sure, it’s a minority taste, but I love minorities!” As for rumors that the PGA Tour will soon be acquired by Google billionaires Larry Page, Sergey Brin and Eldrick…

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