Mediocrity and Meltdowns

Golf fans have certainly been spoilt for choice of late, as there have been more than enough entertaining events being televised. One of these, I’m afraid to say, was hardly worth watching.

“The Icons”, a made-for-television golf tournament which was recently beamed to the world via Fox Sports, was dubbed by the organisers as: “This is golf – as no-one has seen it before.” Well, I suppose they got that right. Part of the blurb included: “Relentless competition and unremitting exposure that reveals characters, gives different perspective and a new frontier in entertainment.” I’m sure some hard-working copy writer agonised over these lines, but unfortunately the product was not worthy of its billing. For those of you that missed this extravaganza, what it was all about was a group of sporting icons divided up into two teams – the USA and the Rest of the World. The requisite non-playing captains were Fred Couples and Ernie Els. The two teams competed in a Ryder Cup-type format, but edge-of-your-seat, nail-biting action it was not.

Trying not to be too unkind, I will say that a great venue for this “tournament” was secured – Liberty National Golf Club in Jersey City, a superb layout that has a spectacular backdrop of the New York skyline. Granted, the sportsmen and the one woman competing were out of the top drawer – the likes of boxer Canelo Alvarez, Tottenham Hotspur and England footballer Harry Kane, cricketers Ricky Ponting and Brian Lara, champion swimmer Michael Phelps, together with other well-known names in the sporting world, not least of all the solitary woman, retired tennis star Ashley Barty.

For the record, team USA won, not that anyone, least of all the players, seemed to care. Despite the best efforts of the commentators spouting some outrageous hyperbole, this whole production fell flat. I hope at least some worthy charities benefitted, because even the most fanatical golf nuts must have found this difficult to watch. This was the inaugural event, which is going to be taken around the world, but if this is indeed “a new frontier in entertainment”, I’ll happily settle for the old frontier, thank you.

The PGA Tour’s Travellers Championship was won by Xander Schauffele, of course he was one of my picks to win the US Open, but he was a week late in finding his game. This was his first individual triumph since 2019. Schauffele then won the 36-hole JP McManus Pro Am a week later. But it was Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Travellers that, not for the first time, I found inexplicable. At the risk of stating the obvious, McIlroy has been playing rather well this year, and is second on the US money list with earnings of more than $ 7 million. He opened his account with a 62 at the Travellers and looked to be on cruise control. Then came the second round, and I cringed to see him make an eight on what is a rather innocuous par four and added another double bogey later in the round. He effectively played his way out of the tournament before the halfway stage.

AN EMBARRASSMENT TO HIMSELF:  Rory loses it, sometimes.

I had the pleasure of being at the Congressional Club when the young Rory won the US Open in 2011. He didn’t just win, he lapped the field, setting all sorts of records and winning by eight shots. Let us not forget he won the PGA Championship the next year – again by eight shots. He added another two majors after that but the most recent was eight years ago. I do believe that he will have a strong chance of winning the Open at St Andrews, but I despair when I watch him struggle to read putts, and then make some disastrous decisions when it comes to basic course management. I am not suggesting that the game, even for the best players in the world, is ever easy. But with the ability that McIlroy has, he should be able to iron out his occasional lapses in judgement which cost him dearly. 

Then there was the recent performance of Lexi Thompson, someone I fancied to dominate the women’s game, but not unlike McIlroy, she so often finds a way to lose. For those who do not follow women’s golf, Thompson qualified for the US Women’s Open at the age of 12! At the age of 15 she turned pro and won on the LPGA Tour at the age of 16, the youngest winner ever. Now at the age of 27, Thompson has won 11 times the LPGA Tour, but her last major triumph was in 2014. At the recent Women’s PGA Championship at Congressional, it seemed that the former prodigy might finally break her winless drought. Seemingly well in control, Thompson’s putting (long her Achilles heel), suddenly started playing up and her card became littered with bogeys. Even with a two-shot lead with three holes to play, she couldn’t get the job done. Included among her litany of desperate putts, she missed one which was inside two feet. Even in my gambling school that putt would have conceded. It was heart-breaking to watch.

I will say nothing of the second LIV event played in Portland – for my money this is nothing more than an exhibition, where mediocrity is richly rewarded. The feuds continue, and the players, the PGA Tour and DP World Tour have all lawyered up. The court battles promise to be more entertaining that the golf.

All eyes are now on The Open, for my money still the ultimate prize in golf. And to win at the revered St Andrews Old Course means immortality for the champion. I can’t wait.  -IRC.

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