I regret to inform you that it’s happening again. The tournament that nobody will leave alone is once again under attack, and this time, the call is coming from inside the house. If you love the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, this detail from Doug Ferguson’s latest AP column should give you the shivers:
[Paul] Casey said one sponsor proposal sent to—and rejected by—the Players Advisory Council was match play until the weekend, two players from each group advancing and 32 players competing in stroke play over the final two days. That would be about the size of the Tour Championship field.
“What would you call it?” Casey said, chuckling at the idea that stroke play would decide the Match Play champion.
As Geoff Shackelford pointed out at Golfweek, the implication is clear: The sponsor ain’t happy. And the reasons are probably the same ones we’ve heard over and over throughout the existence of this tournament: Because the field dwindles over the week, ending with just four players on Sunday, it gets less—not more—exciting in prime TV viewing hours. Also, matches don’t always go 18 holes, or even 17, or even 15, which is sad for the poor wealthy souls getting enjoying a few cocktails in hospitality tents above those greens—they have essentially paid big money to while away their weekend hours staring at an empty, if well-manicured, if idyllic, if downright arcadian … pasture.
And the usual godawful solutions have been bandied about: Start with match play, end with stroke play! Start with stroke play, end with match play! Only play nine-hole matches! Play 18-hole matches, but only on the back nine! Play the championship first, and then do the opening rounds on the weekend! Keep the format exactly the same, but instead of having head-to-head matches, put players out in groups of two and have them keep their own score relative to a standard we call “par,” and then use that standard to compare each player to all the other players, not just one opponent, over the course of 72 holes played over four days, while winnowing the field by half after 36 holes!
You get the idea. For a certain type, discontent reigns.
Here’s my counter-offer regarding what's about to transpire this week at Austin Country Club: Leave it alone. All you grubby, handsy tinkerers, heed this. Leave it alone. Go away. Stop meddling. Stop griping. Mow your lawns, read a book, take the weekend off. Leave our precious gem alone.
The WGC-Match Play already made two smart changes, the first of which was to end the very bad idea of having a 36-hole championship, the second of which was to institute group play over the first three days that kept the best players in the world from being eliminated while most fans were still sipping tepid coffee in their cubicles on Wednesday afternoon.
No more changes are necessary. None.
Yes, OK, let’s concede the point: This is never going to be perfect. There will always be some dead air on Sundays. Once in a while you’ll get a classic Jason Day-Victor Dubuisson final (has it really been five years?!?), but other times you’ll get Bubba Watson trouncing Kevin Kisner in 12 holes while the poor TV crew pretends to be excited about Alex Noren winning a consolation match. The best days will always be in the beginning, with rare exceptions, and yes, the format lends itself to anticlimax. Excitement will peak sometime around Friday mid-afternoon, and slowly ebb over the weekend, like gas leaking out of a hot-air balloon as it slowly crashes into the side of a mountain.
My message to anyone with any power is this:
Who cares? It’s fine.
And maybe it’s not fine for you, because of money. But it’s fine for everyone else, because buried in all these complaints about precisely how excited we feel on Sunday at 4 p.m., or how the vice president of the Texas Iniquity Oil Trust feels as he stares in a melancholy stupor at the empty 18th green while wearing the remains of a taco on his gingham shirt and sipping a watered-down margarita … well, aside from all that, the Match Play is blatantly, unapologetically awesome.
My God, you ingrates, will you just open your eyes!? It’s Wednesday, and on a day when normally there is no golf, you will turn on your television to watch Jason Day play Jim Furyk (what??). On Thursday, you get to see Bryson DeChambeau play Kiradech Aphibarnrat (what???)! ON FRIDAY, YOU WILL WATCH PATRICK REED PLAY SERGIO GARCIA!!
This is bizarre, this is wonderful, this is singular!
Appreciate it, you thankless wretches! And if you can’t, be silent! Take your boorish opinions to the grave!
There are like … 48 weeks of stroke play every year. Shelve your complaints and just try to enjoy this one precious week of (mostly) pure match play. Don’t tweak it. Don’t moan about sponsors. Don’t say, “Match play is good, but, hear me out for a second … what if it was more like stroke play?”
As I write this, Ian Poulter is trying to avenge last year’s quarterfinal humiliation at the hands of Kevin Kisner. Brooks Koepka is on the first hole of what is sure to be a thorough humiliation of someone named Tom Lewis (who, it turns out, is on my fantasy team … crap). Tommy Fleetwood, European Ryder Cup hero, is losing to Ben An because he clearly has a co-dependent relationship with Francisco Molinari and is utterly lost without him.
All of this would be amazing on any day of the week. On a Wednesday, it’s spectacular. It brings intrigue and joy to any golf fan willing to surrender to its strange pleasures, and if the Complainer Collective ever gathered enough influence to kill it, professional golf would be worse off.
To commissioner Jay Monahan and all the men and women of clout on the PGA Tour, I say: Please keep the faith. You are the fire that burns against the cold, the light that brings the dawn, the shield that guards the realms of men.
To the sponsors, I say: Please keep giving your money to this very good tournament, and please stop sending bad ideas to Paul Casey.
To Paul Casey and the gentlemen of the Players Advisory Council, I say: Please keep rejecting bad ideas.
And to the regular fan—to my fellow loyalists—I say: Please relish this tournament. Milk it for every last bit of enjoyment it yields, because like every other good thing in this world, the blackguards and varmints and scoundrels are toiling behind the curtains, trying their damnedest to take it away.