Thursday marked the opening day of the 95th PGA Championship. With Tiger Woods’ game — or at least his iron game — approaching its previously dominant level, I was one of many who couldn’t wait to see how he’d do at the very tough Oak Hill Country Club.
Yet when I woke up Thursday morning, I found out that I couldn’t see how he’d do. I’d have to track it hole by hole on the leaderboard because his opening round wasn’t televised.
The PGA has made many great marketing decisions in its past two decades. Fueled by the ascent of Tiger, golf has become a big-money sport at the forefront of American sporting interests. Somehow, golf has become cool.
Yet, puzzlingly, the major championships are still not televised from wire to wire. For a few, golfers have the opportunity to at least stream some of the action online, but for this week’s PGA Championship, there is no alternative to the Golf Channel’s “Live from the PGA Championship” programming. As I write, I’m watching Phil Mickelson hit his 50th practice swing on the driving range instead of being able to catch Tiger Woods on his back nine. There’s something blatantly wrong here.
Unlike in many similar situations, I don’t even understand the argument for not broadcasting the whole round.
Is it a rights issue? That wouldn’t make sense, as the PGA doesn’t gain anything from refusing to sell the rights to the entire round.
Is it a cost issue? Based on the number of camera angles I’ve seen and analysts I’ve heard from in the Golf Channel’s “Live from the PGA Championship,” that can’t be it either.
Is it a lack of interest? It definitely can’t have worse ratings than the alternatives at 10 a.m. on a Thursday on cable television.
There is literally no comparison to this problem in golf and any other sport. A major championship in golf could be compared to the playoffs of one of the big four sports. Every single one of those playoff games is televised somewhere — in its entirety I might add — so fans don’t have to miss any of the most important moments of a season.
Imagine having to turn on Game 2 of baseball’s American League Championship Series in the fourth inning because the first three innings weren’t televised. You’d have to check Twitter and watch Gamecast online just to follow the action so you won’t be too far behind when the coverage comes on television in a few hours.
It’s absurd, but that’s the strategy of golf right now. Even tennis sees its grand slams televised all day and all night, whether or not the stars are playing critical matches, easy matches or no matches at all. And tennis is not nearly as popular as golf, which sees network television coverage of its non-major events. Tennis is often relegated to The Tennis Channel or ESPN2.
Yet I, along with countless other fans who wanted to watch Tiger Woods Thursday morning, was forced to watch practice shot after practice shot instead of live major championship action.
Golf may be flourishing right now and not think that it needs to change anything, but who knows how long this golden age of the sport will last. The young generation of American golfers is struggling to find anything close to the consistent greatness that Tiger Woods displayed, which brought so many new fans to the game. And the biggest young foreign star, Rory McIlroy, hasn’t been the same since his win at the PGA a year ago. If golf slips back to relative obscurity a few years down the road, won’t the PGA regret all of the potential lost revenue from the morning hours of its major championships with Tiger Woods on the golf course?
And even if the revenue gain isn’t a big deal to the wealthy PGA — which I would doubt — doesn’t the PGA at least want to give its fans what they want, with the added financial benefit on the side?
Driving range action is not the answer. To be fair, the minute of Miguel Angel Jimenez stretching with a freshly lit cigar in his mouth made up for about half of my frustration, but it is still a waste of quality golf action.
And due to the nasty tricks of the passage of time, we don’t have many good Tiger rounds left to waste.
Sam Fisher is taking a well-deserved vacation before the start of the hustle and bustle of football season. Send him your requests for goofy tourist pictures at safisher ‘at’ Stanford.edu and follow him on Twitter @SamFisher908.