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Lynch: The Match proves golf can be a fun product, without trading virtues for vulgarity

It was Avery Brundage, the former president of the International Olympic Committee, who insisted that sport must be amateur, that if played professionally it is instead mere entertainment. To be fair, it was one of the less loathsome viewpoints Brundage held, but over time support for his sentiment has dissolved, not least in the Olympic movement itself. The notion that a sport is sullied when played for pay won’t garner much support these days even in the tweediest corners of the USGA and R&A, yet there remains a debate within golf over that gray area dividing worthy competition from trivial entertainment.

This week—at least in the United States—golf tilts toward the latter. The QBE Shootout, for example, an event formerly associated with a man who could rival Brundage in his disregard for the human suffering happening under those who line his pockets. Nelly Korda and Lexi Thompson are in the field this year, continuing a sporadic tradition of women competing alongside men in the team event. The 2024 Shootout will feature more mixed teams, a nod to the old J.C. Penney Classic and not its own roots as a tool for marketing Greg Norman’s machismo.

On the same weekend as the Shootout we also have The Match, another made-for-TV event distancing itself from its once-prominent frontman. This spectacle—pitting Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy against Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas over 12 holes under lights—also lands firmly on the lighthearted side of the entertainment vs. competition question, though Phil Mickelson may be among the few watching at home who won’t be entertained.

What the Match and the Shootout offer is a laid-back respite from most every other week in professional golf, when things of consequence are at stake, while still providing sustenance to fans who care not a whit for the World Cup away nor the travails of the Texans at home. What we’ve seen this week—and will next at the PNC Championship —is partitioned from the norm in almost every respect, from format to setting to seriousness. It’s a downy dessert that won’t linger on the palate, but which makes for a pleasing conclusion to a more substantial menu. For such events has this time of year become known as the ‘silly season.’

The ability to distinguish silly from serious is relevant when it comes to LIV Golf, which as a tour aggressively markets itself as entertainment-forward. Audience figures suggest LIV is not to every golf fan’s taste, but there’s a small subset enthusiastic for gaudy theatrics, for teams of near-arthritic middle-aged nerds aping swaggering jocks, and for exhibitions so larded with Saudi largesse that only the cash ends up having lasting value. The performative vulgarities could be forgiven in the cause of entertainment, even the relentless focus on money. But not the source of that money nor its sportswashing intent. And not the masquerading as serious golfers engaged in serious competition.

The difference between athletes and entertainers lies in what they play for: legacy or laughs. It’s why you don’t see many kids walking around with basketball shirts bearing the names of ‘Hi-Rise’ Hinton, ‘Dragon’ Taylor or anyone else on the Harlem Globetrotters roster.

For too long, the PGA Tour greeted endeavors like The Match with territorial wariness, suspicious that its product might be diluted by proximity, which was akin to a Michelin-starred chef objecting to a Dunkin Donuts opening down the street. The Tour loosened its girdle over the years, and now there’s even evidence that it has embraced the idea of entertaining fans outside the strict perimeters of its tournaments.

Like the upcoming Netflix series about Tour life. Whatever content value the show ultimately has, insiders insist it represents a radical shift from Ponte Vedra’s established, heavy-handed image control. There’s also TGL, the stadium-based concept spearheaded by Woods and McIlroy that launches in 2024, and which promises to lift the gloom from Monday evenings in winter. Should it gain traction, TGL can hasten the end of golf being perceived as a sport that only exists—at least as a viewing product—Thursday through Sunday, and only in conventional tournament form.

The Tour can do more toward that end as well. Plenty of events would benefit from adding entertainment-oriented components early in the week before action gets underway, especially in the era of elevated stops that leave poorer relations looking for any marketing leverage they can muster. In the coming dispensation, Tuesdays on Tour ought to be experimental days and nights.

The Match and the various acronymic ventures (QBE, PNC, TGL) illustrate in different ways how golf can entertain beyond customary norms around formats and time slots, without diluting meaningful competition elsewhere. And more importantly, that golf as entertainment can be delivered independent of terrorist regimes and their lackeys.

Source : Yahoo