Our national champion-ships offer a platform to celebrate the talents of individuals and teams, as well as the excite-ment, strategy and human interest stories of the sports they represent.
Super Bowl. Final Four. Stanley Cup. NBA Finals. World Series. The list goes on. The television ratings, media coverage and social media volume clearly indicate we connect with the events and the people.
I have always thought the U.S. Open should be mentioned in the same breath as the above events. But it seems that our national golf championship has been mired in such frequent controversy as of late that the water cooler talk the next day is not about the great competition, but rather a strange ruling, questionable course setup, sub-par telecast or other issue. Rather than celebrate the game of golf, we talk about its archaic nature.
Let’s be clear. The game of golf that the Saturday morning group plays at the local municipal course is still a wonderful experience. I don’t see anyone quitting the game because of the ruling faux pas in the final round of this year’s U.S. Open. But there is no doubt golf needs all of the good karma it can get.
I certainly do not want to come off as a curmudgeon, but the professional game is the best marketing tool we have for the sport – for better or worse. We need that platform to bring back some of the personality and excitement that has been missing.
Those who manage the U.S. Open are good people. They have proven their competency over the long haul. But I believe they have lived by a mantra of living on the edge. Courses are being pushed to the brink in terms of set up and conditioning. The unspoken target of even par makes an unplanned change in weather or honest miscalculation in setup a recipe for disaster.
The pressure of the event affects more than just the competitors. Nobody wants to see 20-under par at the U.S. Open, but the result after 72 holes should not look like an MMA fight.
My call is for a “kinder, gentler” U.S. Open. Let’s show the world what the game offers. Fortunately, we get four majors per year to display the game’s personality.
On a related note, my mini rant about the U.S. Open also concerns the element that receives more scrutiny than anything other than Tiger Woods’ health. That is the golf course. It is rare when the week’s Twitter feed isn’t full of golf course superintendents questioning the commentary about the course. Nobody likes to see the work and expertise of their peers be called into question, especially when it is done by someone they perceive to lack the knowledge to make such comments.
Having been behind the scenes of a television production for the U.S. Open, I can tell you there is a concerted effort by television personnel to learn about the course through research and conversations with the golf course superintendent. I have never witnessed the intent to put the superintendent in a bad light. In fact, you will hear of many compliments being directed toward superintendents.
But it is time to go one step further (actually it’s beyond time). The superintendent needs to appear on the live broadcast of the event. We have had architects, golf professionals and even owners in the booth. The person who best knows the course and thus can provide the viewer the best information is the superintendent.
This is not a new concept. Progress has been made over the past two decades in injecting the golf course superintendent into the media. It would be great to see the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America and the USGA work to make it happen.