I, like many viewers, was watching the PGA Championship when coverage switched to Tiger Woods, about to hit his approach shot. The ball landed some 40 feet from the hole. Then the camera panned back down the fairway to where Rory McIlroy was preparing to hit. His shot was a little closer to the flag stick than Woods, but it could only be described as “ordinary”.
As both balls were landing you couldn’t help but to see another, sitting just three feet away from the hole. No mention of it from any commentator, no replay of the shot that resulted in the ball being that close.
Why? Well, because Zach Johnson hit it and outside of Iowa, nobody cares if Zach Johnson hits a good shot. People don’t tune in to see the Zach Johnsons, Luke Donalds or Bob Estes of the world. They want rock stars, or at least that’s what the folks who own the networks think.
You may get to see more balanced coverage on “Golf Channel” but you can forget about it if the tournament is being aired on NBC, CBS or ABC/ESPN. It’s all about ratings.
The guy with the red shirt is who drives the ratings. If you don’t know who the guy with the red shirt is then why are you reading a golf magazine? Even Gorman knows who the guy with the red shirt is, and what Gorman knows can safely be placed inside a thimble with plenty of room left over.
So, the question for this month? Is it really the PGA Tour or the Tiger Woods Tour? Officially it’s still Tim Finchem’s fiefdom. You need to finish in the top 125 to keep your playing privileges. If you play better than other people you get more money, at least the official kind. It’s the free market system at its best.
Except for this: Tiger Woods is the reason people watch. Tiger’s warm up on the range gets more coverage than Heath Slocum rattling off seven birdies in succession. If coverage switches to somebody like Scott Piercy (who?) you know it’s on tape and you know it’s something spectacular, like a hole-in-one, a hole out from the fairway or a 60-foot eagle putt that falls.
Much of T.V.’s coverage is of Tiger standing in the fairway, his legs crossed, throwing grass into the air. Meanwhile you can hear one of his playing partners hitting their shot (thwaak!) and no comment or visual sighting of where the ball ends up.
Rory, of course, is going to get a lion’s share of the coverage because at the moment he’s the crown prince of golf, the way Sergio was a decade ago. And those on the first page of the leaderboard of any tournament will be given “reluctant” coverage because it’s necessary.
But aside from a few stars T.V. largely chooses to ignore the majority of the field and with good reason. The average sports fan tunes in a golf tournament to see Tiger and to a lesser extent Rory, Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler (mainly to see what outrageous color scheme he’s wearing), etc.
Paine Stewart was a world class player, who nobody knew much about until he decided to start wearing knickers and the Ben Hogan style cap. Caterpillar to butterfly. Stewart’s golf was always great, but he was just another invisible touring pro. It’s all as about image and swag as it is about great golf.
Tiger can be 10 shots off the lead, completely out of contention and yet almost every shot he attempts is at least recorded to be shown later. Tiger & the stars. It’s all about ratings. Golf? Just the back ground noise.
Tim Geary is a R.I. based freelance writer. He once appeared during T.V. coverage of a tournament. Nobody noticed.WHAT'S YOUR REACTION?