Watching professional golf is akin to watching paint dry for most people.  Even as ex-teaching professional, I must admit, I rarely watch the sport anymore.  The game has become very predictable, less appealing, and down right boring.  The players appear to all be clones, playing the game the same way, employing the same pre-shot routine, and having the same over-coached mechanical swing.  To make matters worse, the broadcasters do very little to make the game interesting and show the dynamics of the modern game and the players who are supposed to be their product to promote. 

It wasn’t always that way. The game used to be different.  I used to enjoy watching the final two rounds of almost any tournament that drew the big names of the game.  It was thrilling to see the greats of the game battle it out each and every week.  Palmer, Trevino, Nicklaus, and Player were the established giants.  Players like Watson, Weiskopf, Zoeller, Ballesteros and Miller were the challengers, beginning a transition of power and an influx of interesting personalities.  The 90’s saw players like Norman, Faldo, Couples and the ever charismatic Payne Stewart rise to the top.  Golf was actually enjoyable to watch as the results were usually in doubt week to week, and the players brought their own unique character to the game.  Things were in for a major change as a tempest was forming on the horizon.  This gathering storm was named Tiger Woods. 

Tiger burst onto the scene and became dominant in his second year on the tour.  Golf did everything it could to capitalize on this rising star and the potential new audience he could reach.  The face of Woods was everywhere, and the established players were shoved to the sidelines.  Tiger was the wunderkind that golf saw as a potential way to increase attendance and viewership on television.  What they didn’t know was that their actions would alienate other players, the hardcore fans, and the long standing traditions of the game.  Tiger would be great for business, but would he be great for the game? 

There is no doubt that Tiger Woods is the best golfer in the game today.  Tiger brings an amazing skill set to the course that makes him difficult to beat.  His blend of raw power, incredible control, delicate touch, and an imagination unparalleled by his peers make him a one man wrecking crew on the links.  There are other players that are longer off the tee.  Some are better around the green.  A few are better putters.  When it comes to putting it all together no other player in the game today comes close to Tiger Woods.  The only player that can beat Tiger is usually Tiger himself. 

As if Tiger needed another edge one was on the way, and one that would make the game what it is today.  Tiger not only was becoming dominant on the fairways and greens, but he was also becoming the biggest selling commodity in advertising.  You couldn’t swing a broken wedge without seeing Tiger’s likeness.  As Tiger’s popularity outside the game became greater, advertisers placed more pressure on broadcasters to show even more of their new cash cow.  Sadly, those bringing the game of golf to the masses fell into step and did just that.  Golf broadcasts became a four hour product placement.  While this was great for advertisers, and great for the new casual fans that Tiger attracted to the game, it was death to the long time hardcore fans of the game of golf. 

With the advent of the very Tiger-centric broadcasting of tournaments, jokingly called Tiger TV, the other players faded into oblivion.  The only players that got any coverage were the players that won a tournament over Woods.  Those in contention got little to no coverage.  If Tiger was in the field, the coverage all focused on him.  Even if Woods was eight to ten strokes off the pace the coverage was still focused on Tiger.  Don’t think for a second that this doesn’t work against every player out there.  Like Tiger, all the players on the tour have sponsors and these guys don’t get paid without getting their sponsor logos some coverage on TV.  The pressure on players to over-achieve and win was immense, and as any golfer knows, pressure is the enemy of anyone trying to post a number.  Broadcasters set up this pressure-cooker, and they kept the temperature on high with every minute of every broadcast.  Tiger could do no wrong, and no else could do no right.  Tiger’s on course behavior was questionable at times, and his caddie crossed many a boundary that would have had other players sanctioned.  Worst of all, Tiger’s gallery was sideshow in its own right.  In one tournament, Tiger’s gallery picked up a several hundred pound boulder so their favorite player would not incur a penalty for an unplayable lie.  Yet the broadcast community had nothing to say about these incidents that made a mockery of the time honored traditions of the game of golf.  Tiger had an unfair advantage. 

The media is a very powerful ally to Tiger.  Those who attempt to unseat the favorite do so under immense pressure.  When they finally do find themselves in the limelight the focus is not on them.  It still remains on Tiger.  The underdog is bombarded with questions about how they will withstand Tiger’s onslaught, or how they will continue to over-achieve and manage to fluke out a victory.  This weighs heavily on a players mind and plays tricks on his psyche.  Mind games are routinely played between players, but when the media does your dirty work for you, you have found an incredible advantage that is impossible to compete with.  I am certain that is why 54-hole leader, Aaron Baddeley, folded like a cheap tent.  When you are blitzkrieged by the media vultures and intimated you are lucky to be where you are, and that a Tiger is lurking in the weeds for you, it can get to you.  Especially when you are playing with that Tiger in the final pairing the next day; talk about being set up for failure?  This explains many of the self-destructions we have witnessed on past Sundays when Tiger was trailing the pack.  This may also explain why Angel Cabrera was able to hold his emotions in check and not succumb to the pressure built up by the media; Cabrera does not speak English. 

This is the point where the frustration really starts to surface.  For the first time in a few years I decided to spend the Father’s Day weekend doing something that was once a tradition; watching the U.S. Open.  This was the final two rounds of one of the great tournaments, featuring an all-world international field, at one of the classic courses in America, staged at Oakmont Country Club just outside Pittsburgh.  The competition was intense, as many players were still in the hunt for one of golf’s most prestigious trophies, but the coverage was pretty well exactly what I had come to expect, and why I didn’t bother to watch it any more.  This presentation of this world event was nothing more than a poorly disguised Tiger Woods cheerleading session. NBC Sports has a long tradition of producing quality programming, but I have to say that this production was embarrassing.  Listening to the inane ravings of host Dan Hicks and the gushing praise of Johnny Miller made one sick.  These two “journalists” proclaimed Tiger’s Saturday round as “the greatest round of ball striking in U.S. Open history.”  That is pretty steep praise when you consider that this was the 107th U.S. Open, and the greatest players in the game have participated in this tournament.  Certainly there must have been one or two rounds played in the past that were superior to the round Woods put in.  Yes, it was impressive that his missed only one green in regulation, but the greatest round of ball striking?  Surely Bobby Jones, Walter Hagan, Ben Hogan, or Jack Nicklaus must have put in a superior round, using much inferior equipment?  Maybe Miller and company did not consider the legendary round one Francis Ouimet played against Harry Vardon back in 1913?  One thing is for certain, according to the NBC crew, Disney will be producing a sequel to “The Greatest Game Ever Played” and it will be scripted around Tiger’s third round at the 2007 U.S. Open. 

NBC should go back to the drawing board when it comes to their coverage of golf.  They need to understand that they are covering the Professional Golfers Association tour, not the Tiger Woods and Friends tour.  There are 185 other players out there who participate in these events, and there are fans out there that want to see what these guys can do too.  They need to focus on the guys who are in the thick of things and build them up, not tear them down.  During Sunday’s final round we heard every story imaginable about how 36-hole leader, Angel Cabrera, had failed during his career, and then heard more about how Tiger was likely to succeed.  Instead of telling the amazing journey that the Argentinean would take to find his way to this pinnacle in his life, we were yet again reminded of his inferiority and Tiger’s superiority.  Golf used to be a gentleman’s game, and was broadcast accordingly.  This low brow broadcasting needs to stop and the commentary needs to take the impartial position it used to have, for the good of the sport and those who bother to watch it.