There was a poignant moment during the boxing-style face-off between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson ahead of ‘The Match’ on Friday.
Neither of them were able to keep straight face, and as they crumbled into a friendly embrace, it was almost as though they realised simultaneously: ‘Hang on, it’s golf.’
There is something quite weird about this whole made-for-TV, manufactured match. Where’s the romance?
The context is money: nine million big ones going straight into the winner’s pocket, with side-bets for charity as they go round. Mickelson has already bet $200,000 he will birdie the first hole.
It feels like a poker match with golf wrapping paper on it. They’re even playing in Las Vegas – hardly the first place which springs to mind when you think of golf.
And it’s just a bit tacky. Cast your mind back to when David Haye and Tony Bellew managed to convince us all we were about to witness the heavyweight bout of the century, before brawling like two drunk men in an alley.
It’s no secret that you don’t need to sell sport with sport; you just need a couple of icons and a publicity stunt. It’s just a shame lovely, innocent golf has clocked on.
They could get Woods opening a tin of tomatoes on TV and most of the sporting world would tune in.
And that’s just what they’ve done. ‘The Match’ (inventively titled) is being sold through scripted ‘trash talk’ and gimmicks. Why do you think Woods was dressed in his Sunday red during the press conference?
Yes, they were once bitter rivals. Yes, Woods is the reason Mickelson hasn’t reached double-figures in Major titles. And yes, this would’ve been very cool if it was 15 years ago at Augusta.
Imagine Chelsea’s title-winning side of 2004/05 playing Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’ today. There’s an undeniable allure, but at the same time, we all know it doesn’t matter.
It’s just the shamelessness of ‘The Match’ which strikes you. Golf is not exempt from the greed that dominates modern sport, with players demanding huge fees to appear and prioritising the lucrative PGA Tour over more important events, but a multi-millionaire and a billionaire competing to be made $9million wealthier for no apparent reason? Come on.
At a time when golf is heavily criticised for being too exclusive, an event open only to VIPs and sponsors in Vegas which sees the rich get richer couldn’t be more out of touch.
“It’s an opportunity for us to bring golf to the masses in prime time during a period where we don’t have much going on in the world of golf,” Mickelson said.
The masses? Tickets aren’t being sold to the public and Americans can only watch on a pay-per-view channel.
British Masters winner Eddie Pepperell summed it up perfectly: “This is indeed everything golf shouldn’t be doing right now. One man earning $9million isn’t attractive. This putrid attempt at attention will turn out to be futile for everyone. Pathetic.”
When fewer people get a bigger slice of the pie, in any sport, the game suffers.
What’s so frustrating is this could’ve been an opportunity to do something good for golf, rather than an exploitative, unapologetic cash grab.
Get an undercard of young golfers and LPGA players, give the money to charity, shift attitudes.
To put the $9million into context, the highest earning female player, Sung Hyun Park, made four-times less than that in 2017, while the total prize fund on the Ladies European Tour this year is just under $14.5million.
Not far from Vegas, California has been left devastated by wildfires – just one of a number of places the money would be better served than Woods’ or Mickelson’s bank account.
Golf is unique in that it has remained relatively untouched by time. But if this is the future of the game, count me out.