There are many doom-sayers on social media who love to use phrases from George Orwell’s 1984, like “ignorance is strength!” and “war is peace!” and so on.
I’m not prepared to go that far about the modern media. However, I’ll add another Orwell-style phrase of my own. “Radical is mainstream!”
I have often found myself holding the least-popular opinions imaginable on major sports and individual athletes’ performances, simply because my views don’t fall into the “U Suk haha” category or the “God has officially returned to Earth” variety.
Take a pair of well-known controversies – Tim Tebow and Colin Kaepernick in the NFL. Politics aside, I saw both QBs as having exceptional skill-sets in pro football. Each could run and pitch like crazy, and pass well enough when in a comfort zone. But neither is great at adapting to change, or at running the single NFL playbook more-or-less utilized by all 32 teams, and franchises decided that the noise from fans and social activists was not worth it.
That plain-vanilla opinion put me at odds with 99% of the public and the TV media – those for whom “great” and “suck” are the only 2 adjectives allowed in any player analysis.
It’s been much the same with The Match, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson’s high-stakes links battle in Las Vegas on Thanksgiving weekend.
Not only did The Match – themed especially for casual gamblers and golf betting sites – take undue criticism in reviews by the press, but the most significant and newsworthy story to have come out of The Match has hardly been covered at all.
The PGA Tour Takes Revenge on Tiger…and Las Vegas
Those who didn’t see The Match live must have thought Tiger and Phil scrabbled ducks with their tee shots, dug new holes in the course with their irons, and 5-putted every hole. When Charles Barkley joked early in the round that the golf was “terrible,” some writers even picked up on it and used his wording as if Sir Charles was dead-serious and pronouncing the careers of both golfers dead on-site.
Let’s be realistic. Nobody likes to work on Thanksgiving, even Tony Kornheiser. Like Citizen Kane on election night, celebrity pundits had 2 pre-arranged, pre-written stories to run with on Saturday morning after The Match. If Tiger and Phil each shot 59s while starring in Gone With The Wind, then they would have praised The Match for great golf and great drama. When it didn’t happen, the so-called journalists went roaring the other way.
It wasn’t a perfect broadcast or a perfect round of golf. Samuel L. Jackson had to glance at a notecard while introducing Tiger Woods, and Phil putted tentatively on the front 9 holes. At one point, Mickelson’s wild effort at an eagle chance from 280 yards out wound up in one of Shadow Creek’s epic bunkers instead, from where he struggled even to reach the putting surface.
I enjoyed The Match, and Phil’s classy sportsmanship in conceding a long putt to Tiger on the final hole. (Those who read and took my advice on a moneyline bet also cleaned-up.) But it was noticeable early-on that something was wrong with the side-betting angle, a much-hyped format where the 2 famous linksmen would constantly barter with each other for odds on drives, iron shots, and putts, allowing gamblers at home to join in and wager against each other and the sportsbook.
Very little trash-talk took place as the golfers were unexpectedly surrounded by hordes of friends and well-wishers along the way. Only a small handful of very vanilla side-betting took place. As the critics pointed out, much of the back 9 was consumed by basketball celebrities mouthing-off in the TV booth while Tiger stalked around Shadow Creek with a worried look on his face.
The golfers shot a combined -6 on a tough course. They weren’t great, but they didn’t suck. They raised a lot of money for charity too (not nearly as much as expected, but we’ll get to that).
The single bummer-aspect of the broadcast everyone could agree on was not Tiger’s fault, not Phil’s doing, and certainly nothing to do with the setting.
Except that the setting was in Las Vegas.
The Stuffed Shirts at it Again
The full story would break shortly after The Match concluded. Citing very reliable sources, Brendan Porath of SB Nation has connected a few dots, explaining that the reason side-betting was so scant was not because Tiger and Phil don’t like giving money to charity, or that the golfers’ idea of a great broadcast was viewers watching them frown while listening to Charles Barkley talk about his golf game.
Instead, it was PGA Tour officials, exercising their political pull to prevent more gambling from taking place.
Somehow, someway, the Tour limited The Match to only 4 side bets totaling $800,000. Mickelson had stated he was hoping for $2,000,000 in side bets. Though this part of the story hasn’t appeared anywhere yet, I’d love to know which charities the PGA Tour ripped off for over a million bucks in donations.
Porath points out that there were too many hands involved in The Match, with business parties, casinos, television execs and advertisers all trying to influence the proceedings. That’s certainly true. Phil and Tiger are too busy and too competitive on a weekly basis to serve as wonderful producers.
But the PGA Tour’s dirty pool strikes me as a separate issue. “This is outrageous,” opines Porath. “The Tour should have no such authority on (an) outside game that’s not an official PGA Tour event…(the Tour) shouldn’t ruin and restrict what felt like one of the most appealing aspects at the start of the day.”
Assuming that the PGA Tour did have some authority over The Match, why would officials choose to screw-over the charities?
Maybe because they wanted to screw-over the gamblers. Or Tiger Woods.
Hem, Haw, Lock Jaw
The media (outside of the token editorial at SB Nation) has done a pretty good job of covering for the Tour, but even Golf Channel’s post-event fluff provides some clues as to the motivation behind the hosing.
Read how PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan talks about the legalization of sports gambling without actually talking about it:
“I’m curious about every single sporting event I watch and the fan engagement opportunities that are created because of the Supreme Court’s ruling in May,” Monahan said to a Golf Channel flunky…er, a Golf Channel correspondent. “The timing of the match is perfect in that we are coming off of that ruling and we’re spending a lot of time going state by state representing, alongside the NBA and Major League Baseball, what we think is the proper legislation, the proper fan protections and the proper business model.”
The ”Supreme Court’s ruling in May,” of course, refers to gambling.
Nobody can slather sweet, sweet ether over a threatening remark like a PGA Tour commissioner. Let’s translate his words into English.
Curious = Concerned about too much golf gambling.
Going state by state representing = Going state by state, lobbying and pulling favors.
Proper legislation = New laws against gambling.
Fan protections = protections against golf fans freely gambling.
Proper business model = The PGA Tour getting a cut of what remaining action there is.
Monahan would make a good politician. In fact, he is a good politician. His organization just ripped off the poor and needy for 1.2 million dollars (let’s hope that Phil made up for it by privately donating more of his winnings) and somehow almost nobody in the media noticed, or cared to comment.
Tiger and the PGA…and Other Thoughts
There is no love lost between Tiger Woods and the PGA Tour. Back when Tiger was still on top of his game (and the world) in 2009, he tore into the Tour for allowing a last-round showdown with Padraig Harrington to go on long after dusk.
As Mike Greenberg put it days later, the Tour’s reaction was to tell Tiger “we’re fining you.” No, you’re not said the golfing legend. “Well, okay, how about you apologize then,” they said. No, I won’t he replied, and then went on to bash the Tour’s decision-making yet again.
When a player wields that kind of power over a gigantic business, there tend to be a few long faces among those rich WASPs who had been enjoying a carefree ride on the apple cart. It’s likely that nobody at PGA Tour HQ forgot how Tiger treated them when he had the muscle.
Finally, it goes without saying that a lot of the graying dandruff-shampoo customers who run the PGA Tour are against gambling on principle. The officials were probably not fans of how Tiger and Phil designed The Match in the first place – as an event enjoyable for all but especially designed for bettors in Las Vegas and in easy chairs around the globe.
Is it hypocritical, infuriating, and backhanded for the Tour to cop such an attitude? Absolutely on all 3 counts…and more. Golf can an extremely expensive hobby, much more expensive for the consumer than responsible sports betting.
The PGA Tour not only pushes fans around the world to go out and spend untold sums of money on the links. It even facilitates slimy “Pick Up the Pace” features on TV and magazines, ostensibly to encourage golfers to play faster and run breathlessly from shot to shot out of courtesy, but actually so that their pals in clubhouses can collect more greens’ fees in a given day’s time.
But golfers, fans, and sports gamblers can make up their own minds about those issues. What’s objectively true is that if the PGA Tour is going to work under the table to limit and restrict gambling, a wink-wink media class should not be so cooperative in keeping the chicanery a secret.