"The Match"

“Double it”, Tiger dared as Phil Mickelson bet him 100K that he would birdie the first hole. Mickelson agreed and the two continued light-hearted trash talk while promoting their upcoming round on SportsCenter this past week. “The Match”, as it has come to be known, put Tiger and Phil toe-to-toe at Shadow Creek Golf Course in Las Vegas on Black Friday. With a 9 million dollar purse, there was more than just pride on the line between these old friends. Typically, athletes on the PGA tour make the majority of their money from endorsement deals rather than earnings from tournaments. For example, Phil Mickelson raked in just over half of this weekend’s winnings during the entirety of the 2017-2018 season while appearing in 24 tournaments. Tiger and Phil rank first and second in career PGA earnings for reference.

Using their position as two of the game’s most influential players and numerous connections, their round has generated significant buzz in the public since reports surfaced at the end of the summer. Offering the round on pay-per-view for twenty dollars, the two attracted audiences through outlandish side bets paid out of pocket and non-stop banter. Mic’d up during the match and closed to the public, the two aimed to create a unique at-home experience for viewers and it worked. Never separated by more than a hole in match play, Woods was unable to capitalize on good ball striking due to poor putting. 18 holes was not enough as they both finished with a 3-under 69. Forced into 4 playoff holes, Mickelson was able to edge past Tiger as daylight quickly faded over Las Vegas, capturing the 9 million dollar purse. Phil also won on side bets, winning 3 out of 4 and netting $400,000 for the charity of his choice. With 14 majors compared to Phil’s 5, Phil was excited to finally have an edge on one of the game’s greats; “It’s not the Masters, it’s not the U.S. Open, I know, but it’s something”.

Moving forward people speculate that this could be a new wave in the sport of golf. Higher profits, more laid back and less demanding on the body (one round compared to four), the advantages are obvious. With enhanced streaming technology and more stars in the sport than ever before, other players may look to get a part of the action. My prediction, Jordan Spieth squaring up with Justin Thomas; two of the best young golfers in the game with enough name recognition to bring in viewers. While we have seen a similar business model in other sports, namely UFC and Boxing, it is new to golf.

Social media and the influx of young stars in the game has opened up the opportunity for athletes to connect with fans more intimately. On a “boy’s trip” to the Bahamas in the spring of 2016, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler and Smylie Kaufman showed their age as the young golfers shared Snapchat stories of each other goofing around, playing rounds without shirts or shoes. People loved it and this recent culture change has resulted in increased interest, diversity and youth in a sport that has traditionally been viewed as a white-collar sport. As an individual sport, a single athlete can make great waves in the game. For example, the excitement surrounding Tiger Woods and the increased TV ratings he brings has come to be known as the Tiger Effect. A recent Nielsen report estimates that Tiger playing in a tournament can bring in an additional 2 million viewers. These reasons lead to a legitimate case for attempts at recreating “The Match”.

John Winner

USBC Journal Writer

Class of 2021