Hands up if you know where to start.
I’ll try – golf is not dying.
Golf has not lost its soul, and professional golf will not cease to be entertaining and captivating just because the people who ‘own’ it can’t decide which of them actually does own it. I’m going to watch as much of the final round of the Canadian Open as appeals to me, because Rory is up there and so is Fleetwood, and I’m excited to see how they navigate their respective chances of winning what I will still consider an event of historical significance, even if it won’t be in the near future. Justin Rose is up there too, and whether you personally like him or not he has done more for women’s golf directly than any other PGA Tour player I can think of. I’ll be watching, but I won’t be wondering if those players should be receiving more millions than they’re about to earn for ‘choosing’ to stay on a tour that provides them with that opportunity. I’ll just be watching. Because it’s golf.
Even though it’s professional golf, it’s still golf. It’s still the same sport that hundreds of thousands of people play across the world, as has been the case for centuries, because it offers something new every time you choose to lose yourself in its grip. There might be different levels of addiction – I’m sure some professionals do play because its a calculated career choice rather than a calling – but I refuse to believe there aren’t addicts buried in each of us somewhere. And that will exist regardless of people’s reasons for wanting to run the whole thing.
People’s reasons for wanting to run the whole thing are as complicated as you want to make them. It’s probably as simple as power. As complicated as influence. But if Kaymer – who I could listen to talk about the actual game of golf for days – wants to tell any professional golfer who objected to LIV on moral grounds to go and play in Japan, who wants to be the first to call out that golfer for taking an Uber from the airport to the course? And for booking that Uber on his iPhone? Who wants to be the first to throw whataboutery and wokism at every person that tries to think through a decision until something inevitably sticks? And then criticise the media training and the lack of realism on display in professional sports?
Maybe it’s hypocritical of me to write any of this, given my own decisions and dilemmas. But I’ve never felt like a hypocrite. I do know I’ve run exhausting circles around myself trying to figure that out, but the reality is if you know me then you’ll know that. People will make hypocrites of Rory and Jay Monahan, fairly or unfairly, but then applaud Dustin Johnson for being honest about ‘taking the money’. People will criticise any thought you dare to share, without acknowledging that they wanted it.
I have opinions on why certain things within and around this game happen, as I’m sure you do. I have conflicting opinions on events like the Scandinavian Mixed – I don’t think it works, however much good intention there is. But I also find them fascinating to play, and have huge awareness for how Linn Grant’s win last year created a level of exposure for the women’s game that simply wouldn’t have been possible without it. I have opinions on how one weekend can see corporate sponsors value male and female golfers in Europe the same, provided they perform as such, and for 90% of the rest of the year they decide women are worth roughly 15% of the men. And no one really questions why or how that can exist side by side. There are very different reasons we are put on equal footing to the men in events across the world – as the majors push their prize funds up and we play for a record purse in Saudi Arabia. Is that comparable? Some PGA Tour players certainly seem to think their value is at least whatever the highest bidder decides. Are they wrong or right, if the highest bidder is bidding for power rather than golf?
I’ve digressed slightly. The point is, we aren’t interested in golf for the conversations above. I wanted to ask every male player I bumped into at the Scandi Mixed what they thought about the merger news, but the second I walked off the first tee in round one I didn’t want anything to do with it. (I’m sure my playing partners are relieved too). I left Sweden far more captivated by why the men have better short games than we do – confidence? Foreearm strength? Exposure to those kind of courses? Black and white technique? – than whether they thought Richard Bland would be able to play on career money in 2024.
Speaking of black and white.. I fell a little bit in love with Eddie Howe this year. He has helped create a culture at the football club that I have been emotionally answerable to since before I could walk that actually reflects a hell of a lot of the things I believe in. And yes, that probably wouldn’t have happened without whatever version of sportswashing you want to define. But that doesn’t stop the human experience from being real. I’m not going to stop going to football matches because of things that get more complicated the more I try to understand them, the same way that I highly doubt any professional golfer is going to quit the game because of a merger that hasn’t actually merged yet. Man City winning the Champions League may have been inevitable. But that doesn’t mean whatever Jack Grealish is feeling today (or when he next feels again) isn’t real. It doesn’t make every bit of work Erling Haaland, or Pep Guardiola, has done in their careers not matter.
There are complicated reasons we connect with sport, be it as fans or players or media people or shareholders. I’ve always been fascinated by the decisions that get made at the top, and how the balance of equality and integrity and power intersect. What people think of that and why. Lately, I’ve been sick of it all. My apathy won’t make the slightest bit of difference to how the world will continue to work, or who gets paid what for having the loyalty to choose millions over more millions in a job that really can’t be that valuable to the world’s economy, but it’s probably a shame nonetheless.
Whatever level of interest you have in the power and the politics… however much you care about leaving the world in a better place than you found it, and whether you have any ability to do so… I think we’d all be a little better off remembering the things that bring us together as golf and sports fans. Things like arguing over Rory’s wedges, over whether Aimpoint speeds up or slows down play, about whether Rose Zhang will be the reason coverage of women’s golf finally changes. About what we feel when we walk to the first tee. About how somehow you can relate to a 17 year old being in contention on the LPGA, because golf makes fools of us all. About the indescribable emotion that connects anger and insecurity and misery with determination and satisfaction and joy. Because that’s the game. That’s everything.