“Thank you sir, may I have another“Chip Diller
There I was, fingers at the keyboard, a television a dozen feet away, 90 minutes from the fourth iteration of The Match.
I watched the first one, Tiger v Phil at Shadow Creek, on November 23, 2018. It was predictable, terrible, and predictably terrible.
I watched the second one, Tiger and Peyton Manning v Phil and Tom Brady, on May 24, 2020. It was fantastic. Peyton Manning showed off his entertainer chops. Charles Barkley showed us why he is one of the best in the business. Justin Thomas showed up as a guest on-course announcer and, surprisingly, contributed. Tom Brady played like a chop until the 6th hole when he holed a shot from the fairway, said “Suck on that Chuck”, and then ripped his pants picking the ball out of the hole. This version had humor, it had good golf, it had terrible golf, it had technological bells and whistles, it had superstars, and it had Tiger. It was one of the best made for TV spectacles I have ever seen.
I did not watch the third one, Phil and Charles Barkley v Peyton Manning and Steph Curry. Why would I watch that? Why would anyone?
Now we’re a little more than a hour from number four. This time Mickelson (the only participant in ALL of them) is back and teamed with Brady again. But they aren’t taking on Tiger. Instead they’ll play Bryson DeChambeau and Aaron Rodgers. Will I watch? I’m still not sure. I might because it’s at a venue of which I know nothing but have heard spectacular things about. I might because I have several friends and former colleagues involved in the production. I might because it’s Tuesday afternoon and I love watching live sporting events on television. I might because Charles Barkley is back as an announcer and general pain in the butt. But I might not because there’s no Tiger. I might not because I’m guessing the four guys playing are going to try too hard to entertain me. I might not because it’s a beautiful day where I live and I could go hit balls. I might not because the second one was so damn good and I know nothing they do today will compare.
Bottom line… I compromised. I watched until I couldn’t watch any more. That point almost came when somebody thought it was cute to have talking goats in the tease. It actually came on the fourth hole. By that point I had invested almost 2 hours of my time and had very little to show for it. I tuned out, did some errands, walked the dogs, and came back. Unfortunately things didn’t get much better. That’s not to say there weren’t some things I really liked…
1. The views were spectacular. Not the golf course (funky bounces, tricked up holes) but the scenery. It was breathtaking.
2. Charles Barkley. He’s a treasure and an absolute must in an exhibition like this. Not playing (like he did in the third version of The Match), broadcasting. If there were a dozen memorable moments from this Barkley was responsible for 10 of them.
3. Charity. The amount of money raised and meals donated was impressive and potentially the only reason to have another one of these things.
4. Cart cams. This technology is a godsend to this exercise and one of the few elements that “works” every single time. It was, once again, expertly used and should have won an EMMY when it was first employed during The Match II.
5. Brian Anderson. He just might be the best and most versatile play by play person in the business.
That about does it for the positives. As I mentioned there were several entertaining moments during the broadcast. Aaron Rodgers was clutch, Tom Brady hit what might have been the best shot in the entire telecast. Sir Charles was funny. So, let’s put that number of entertaining snippets generously at a dozen. Give each moment 30 seconds and you’ve got 6 minutes. The problem with that is the show was more than 5 and a half hours long. The negatives were plentiful so I’ll just give you a few.
Pace of play. Good Lord why does this exhibition have to take SOOOOOO LOOOONNNNGGGG?!? One of the drawbacks of playing it on this particular golf course was there was no mercy for errant shots and there were plenty of errant shots. Do we really need to watch anyone (let alone Bryson DeChambeau, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Phil Mickelson) wander around the mountains looking for Titleists? That’s a rhetorical question by the way. Create a local rule… If you hit it out of sight, drop one and play on.
Anybody NOT named Brian Anderson or Charles Barkley. I know and like Trevor Immelman and I think the 2008 Masters Champion has a bright future in golf television. I have met and worked with Larry Fitzgerald on a few occasions. He is a wonderful guy, a Hall of Fame receiver, and a pretty darn good golfer. I don’t know, nor have I ever met, Cheyenne Woods. Having said that I can also say none of them were necessary on this telecast. With players mic’d up and clearly willing to engage and two of the best in the business in the booth why add voices?
Putting the best cameramen in the golf television business in a position to fail. The guys behind the lenses are indeed the best. They work for every major network covering world class golf on a weekly basis. Following a golf ball in the air from 300 yards away is a near impossible task for most humans and these guys can do it in their sleep. But not on a mountainside with blind tee shots and little to no preparation. Now I’m guessing they rehearsed, they always do in events like this but I’m sorry NOTHING could prepare them for having to follow shots hit by those for guys on that golf course. The broadcast made a “big deal” of the potential 500 yard drive but when push came to shove we couldn’t see any of the shots. Not the camera guys fault.
The “One Club Challenge”. Let’s have a blind draw to see which one club the four guys will have to use to play one particular hole. “It’ll be great!”, “sounds fun.” 30 minutes later I couldn’t have been the only one wishing they hadn’t done that. In fact I looked up “bad tv” in the dictionary and the definition was “a one club challenge on the side of a mountain in The Match.”
Phil’s “playing lessons”. Don’t get me wrong, the first one was fantastic. The eighth, ninth, and tenth? Not so much. And just because Phil Mickelson is good at it that doesn’t mean we should ask everyone else playing to do it.
But the biggest problem with “The Match” going forward is that it peaked with the second one. Tiger/Peyton v Phil/Brady was GREAT television. It was compelling, entertaining, interesting, different, and dramatic. It should have been the “drop the mic” moment for this franchise. Nothing going forward will ever be as good, the last two iterations proved that.
Nothing is going to make “The Match” worth 6 hours of someone’s time. Even if Tiger comes back and plays in one of them. That’s just too long of a commitment and the golf, the banter, the forced “guest interviews” and even the worthwhile charities, just aren’t compelling enough to clear that particular forced carry. Put “The Match” to bed. Kiss it goodnight.
Now, a very smart boss once told me, “don’t come around here with problems, bring solutions instead.” So here’s mine.
Bring me a modern day version of “Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf”. Two players, head to head. They can be Tour pros, they can be celebrities, they can be sports stars. They can be great players, good players, or decent players. It can be men against men, women against women, or women against men. Play a nine hole match on some of the world’s best courses. Give shots if the handicaps of amateurs is warranted. Have Phil Mickelson host it.