Six Fixes For The Match Play
February 17, 2014
Stay on the West Coast. With Accenture ending a great run as sponsor, the future of the event will be determined in large part by the company willing to put up $10-12 million for a sponsorship. While the needs of the sponsor are no doubt vital, the smart companies know that as nice as it is to entertain clients at a swank resort, real value comes from eyeballs. And a West Coast venue means later starting times and more opportunities to play into the evening hours on the East Coast at a time of year when televisions are tuned to golf.
Pick a match play venue. The West Coast offers some great potential courses suited to match play. You want to see the world's best play a great match, but nothing is more thrilling than a contest where a third element exists in the form of risk-reward holes. Which is why Sherwood Country Club, former longtime host to Tiger Woods' World Challenge, would make a perfect bookend to Riviera as a one-two Southern California punch. With an international airport not far away, players can get here more easily and once they do, find a back nine with three par 3s and three par 5s that have consistently provided thrilling finishes to Tiger's tournament. Oh, and Tiger likes the course, which never hurts. Or . . .
Go to the desert. Pete Dye's PGA West's Stadium Course may be the ultimate match play venue. Too tough when it hosted the old Bob Hope Classic, a lot has changed in the game and now it would provide the perfect foil for match play drama. The weather will be great and playing there a month after the Humana Challenge would be far enough away not to hurt that event. Now, about the format . . .
One and done must go. Players flying from around the world to play one match and go, while still worth their time for the generous last place money, just doesn't excite anyone. The easiest solution is to play 36 holes of qualifying, reduce the field to 32 and seed the players based on score. That way every major player tees it up for two rounds, and maybe more. Or, go bold . . .
Round-robin pool play works for the Olympics, so why not golf? But you say, how can the event add another day that pool play would require? How about nine-hole matches in groups of four? We need to legitimize nine holes in golf, as too many think that's not "real golf." With pool play we'd have a great mix of matches, and a different urgency to a shorter match. The format is used in club invitationals all the time, why not on the tour? But if you don't like any of these ideas, there is one sure way to stir the pot . . .
Selection committee. If the solutions for the format seem too radical, how about we at least explore an end to using the world rankings to determine the seedings, and introduce an NCAA basketball-like selection committee that seeds the players. After all, Hunter Mahan, a former winner of the event and who is playing solid golf right now, is an eight seed. Matt Kuchar and Jim Furyk are coming off winter breaks, yet have high seedings? Jimmy Walker and Jordan Spieth are red hot and deserve better seedings than they have. A committee could remedy this. There'd also be discussion generated by the move and maybe even a little good controversy, which never hurts the NCAA Tournament!