The race for TV ratings seems like a silly business, but what human beings find entertaining hasn’t changed for centuries: a dash of public humiliation or triumph is best, with risk of serious physical or mental injury tossed in. Not that long ago, we gathered in droves to toss rotten vegetables at some poor sod who’d been locked in the stocks for, say, playing the lute really badly. For the average poxaddled villager, an opportunity to mock the fallen warmed the cockles the same way that American Idol does today. Please, don’t try to tell me that show is about winners. It relies almost entirely on stupid people who have either no friends or mean friends. (“Hey dude, I think I can sing, d’ya think I should try out?” “Go for it!”)
We’ve had a couple of reality shows in golf, but so far none of them has had enough of the old squirmage factor to fit into the Idol category. I have high hopes for The Daly Planet, the first episode of which airs as I write. Big Johnny should leave a trail of rich white trash behind him that’s visible from space, covering the humiliation aspect, and the guy’s just brilliant enough to win another major.
Now I have a shot myself. I’m hosting the St. Joseph Pressure Challenge (May 14 and 20, 2 p.m. EST, CBS, just prior to telecasts of the Byron Nelson and the Colonial), produced by this very magazine, and I intend to inflict suffering of biblical proportions upon the Regular Joes therein. Verily, there shall be pestilence from above and heckling from beside these poor souls as they attempt to make pars for increasing amounts of cash. If they make nine in a row, they win $250,000. But there’s a Who Wants to Be a Millionaire catch: After each par, they can pocket the money, or risk losing it all with a bogey on the next hole. While the contestants will view this as their chance of a lifetime, I’m thinking of it as a useful outlet for all the pent-up vitriol I have up my kilt after 10 years of watching the pros. The problem with covering the Tour is that I never get to see crappy golf. It’s always right at the flag or the middle of the green. I’m bored.
Which leads me to wondering how much the world of golf might change when everything on TV is packaged like a reality show — a couple of seasons from now, I mean. The sweet spot seems to be humiliation combined with maximum bare skin, and since golf already has plenty of the former (whiffs, whoopsies, shanks, duffs, flinches, flubs, etc.) right away we’d have to start getting the tackle off. It’d be a whole new kind of skins game: For every bogey, the naughty golfer would have to remove an article of clothing. “Tiger, 4-over with three to play, is one shot away from the leopard skin plum-smuggler, but now let’s go to the third where big John Daly is playing his 11th shot! Dear God, he’s going to have to shed his spinnaker!” It wouldn’t be pretty, but neither is The Biggest Loser.
And I see good things here for the LPGA, equal-opportunity-wise. With the trend toward physical fitness spreading into the women’s game, and players getting younger and better-looking by the minute, the ladies suddenly might give the men a run for the ratings on Sunday afternoon. Advertisers know that until someone makes me a pair of underpants with opposable thumbs, I’m never going to stop putting my hands in my pockets to adjust my coin purse, and doing all the other guy things guys do, like looking at attractive females, which is, admittedly, disgraceful. On behalf of the 99 percent of the men who are reading this and feel exactly the same way (author’s estimate: probably a little low) I apologize. But the bottom line is this: If I need to see a triple-chinned, wobbly breasted salad swerver attempting an athletic endeavor, I’ll play golf with Roger Maltbie.
Would it work? Well, the closest thing we have to reality-based golf today is the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro- Am. Never mind which pro is in the lead, what people want to see is Kevin Costner looking windswept and magnificent with his tie tucked into his vest, topping one off the cliff at the eighth, and George Lopez refusing to rake bunkers in one of his frightening argyles. Now if we could just throw in Kevin James, one duff away from his birthday suit, maybe that would give Fear Factor a run for its ratings.
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