The fourth edition of "The Match" was all downhill after the introduction.
That’s not because it was played on the side of a mountain in Montana at The Reserve at Moonlight Basin, a Jack Nicklaus course that is spectacular and should totally be on your bucket list if you crave long rounds, lost golf balls in the wilderness and misery.
It’s not because the actual match itself didn’t have surprising highlights. Bryson DeChambeau drove the 392 par-4 third green with a 3-wood, a shot that finished about 12 feet from the hole. Then seven-time Super Bowl champion quarterback Tom Brady hit driver onto the green, a few inches closer than DeChambeau’s shot. Fewer people saw that coming than expected Brady to become football’s alleged G.O.A.T. (That’s Greatest Of All-Time, to be debated elsewhere.)
No, the most impressive part of "The Match" was Mickelson’s pre-game charity challenge.
For each 10-foot putt he holed in 30 seconds, 10,000 meals would be donated to the needy. Mickelson proceeded to hammer in 15 consecutive putts, then narrowly missed his 16th and final putt to the left. Fifteen for fifteen from 10 feet? Even if Phil used an old betting trick and had somebody leave a garden hose filled with water on his line overnight—and there’s no reason to believe he did—it was a display nearly as impressive as his recent PGA Championship victory. Well rolled, sir. Pay the man, Sal—that’ll be 150,000 meals. Is dessert included?
Unfortunately, the rest of "The Match" couldn’t overcome its inherent schlockiness. It was Phil and Brady versus DeChambeau and Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. We learned that of the four, only Phil is remotely entertaining with his line of snappy patter but after a while, even his patter gets less snappy and veers toward annoying. Nobody else had anything clever to say, unless you were interested in why DeChambeau switched from a 4-iron to a hybrid and tried to hit a toe-down shot from a bad lie an inch from a cart path.
The show’s best entertainer, Charles Barkley, was in an overcrowded booth and had to share air time with footballer Larry Fitzgerald, former Masters champ Trevor Immelman and roving interviewer Cheyenne Woods. Barkley was heard from far too little.
Once, Barkley got into a conversation with Brady and told him how impressed he’d been at a previous edition of "The Match" when he saw Brady play 18 holes in the morning, then run wind-sprints in the parking lot before they played "The Match." “And I tell people, Tom, you’re a pretty man, too,” Barkley said.
"The Match" needed more Barkley, fewer quarterbacks.
It got more crowded, and slower when former President Obama joined the show during the second hole for a long-distance interview. He isn’t a showman, either, which we already knew, although he did point out that he played with Fitzgerald when the All-Pro receiver made a hole-in-one and he played with Mickelson a few weeks before he won the PGA Championship, so the ex-President positioned himself as a good-luck charm. I would never call a former President boring but he was, um, measured.
When TNT pulled in Brady’s teammate, Rob Gronkowski, for a live chat from his nephew’s baseball game, it smacked of desperation. It was supposed to be amusing when Gronk joked that Rodgers looks lazier than he did during his brief retirement. The TNT talking heads chuckled. In fact, they were chuckle-heads most of the day. Gronk, however, brought nothing else to this table.
Neither did hockey great Wayne Gretzky, who checked in for a brief interview during the 10th hole? Why Gretzky, you ask? Why, indeed.
By the way, you weren’t expecting any journalism during this show, were you? There was no talk of Phil’s rant in Detroit that he wouldn’t come back because of what he considered a negative story—how he’d won a $500,000 bet from a bookmaker who didn’t pay off and later went to prison. Then Phil said he’d come back if 50,000 fans signed a petition. What about Bryson’s recent poor play and surprising split from his long-time caddie?
They did eventually ask Rodgers if he will play for the Packers this season. Here's what they got:
The pace of play was tough to take, too. They played alternate shot to speed things up but 45 minutes into the show, the Fab Four had only finished three holes. DeChambeau still plays slow, FYI, and then he insisted on hitting a mulligan on the 777-yard par-5 8th hole just to see if he could get one to roll out past the 500-yard mark since the hole drops some 280 feet from tee to green. After DeChambeau begged for the mulligan, he snap-hooked one left out of sight. Big time-waster.
Maybe that was behind the questionable decision at the par-3 fifth hole not to putt out. The fifth carried a $5 million bonus for charity for an ace. Mickelson hit a 6-iron shot that caught the slope pin high, rolled back toward the pin and stopped two and a half feet away. DeChambeau hit a similar shot that finished 2 feet 7 inches away. Even Rodgers played the slope and got his shot inside five feet. “I’m all right with good-good,” Mickelson said. So rather than entertain viewers with birdie putts, they conceded birdies and halved the hole. They weren’t miss-able, you say? Well, after Phil’s 15-for-15, maybe so. But as a viewer, I still felt cheated.
The other problem with this format is having to watch too many shots by amateurs. Maybe Brady and Rodgers can break 80 on a good day, maybe not, but it was painful to watch Brady and his awkward all-arms swing and unpleasant to see Rodgers hit some early snipe-hooks left with his driver. Although Rodgers did find the fairway at that crazy par-5 eighth with his tee shot and it rolled out to 400 yards. Give him a gold star with an asterisk.
In fact, Rodgers was the MVP of The Match. After his slow start, he found some fairways and holed a series of clutch putts, including a 15-footer at the 16th hole that clinched a 3 & 2 victory over Phil and Brady. He also scored swagger points early on when Mickelson was talking about something or other and Rodgers said, “Shut up, Phil,” without breaking stride. Rodgers was The Cool Guy in this foursome.
But another annoyance for regular pro golf viewers was TNT’s total lack of information. How far did Phil’s drive go? What was Rodgers’ distance to the green with his second shot? How long is Bryson’s putt? Viewers got no numbers unless some charity challenge was involved. The only way we got information was if we overheard the players talking.
This is TV schlock, all right, so there has to be time for commercials. But nearly two and a half hours to play the first nine in modified alternate shot? It bordered on a crime against golf. And hey, TNT, you know all of us have remotes and know how to use them, right?
The low point came at that hideous eighth hole, the downhill 777-yarder that practically has two ski jumping sites built in. It looks like a great hole for a video game. Or a mountain goat. Well, Phil and Brady had trouble and DeChambeau had a 12-foot birdie putt after Rodgers played a nice bunker shot.
Phil must’ve had a director in his earpiece or something because he says they’re conceding the hole but hey, tell us what’s running through your mind on this putt, Bryson? Whoa, what? You may as well ask a Republican Senator if he wants to filibuster. DeChambeau went off on a long, rambling diatribe that, really, no one listened to. What’s he thinking on a putt that doesn’t matter now because you already conceded it, Phil? C’mon. After a lengthy and complicated speech, DeChambeau poured the putt in. Of course he did. Because it didn’t count, he’d already won the hole.
TNT’s Immelman chimed in after DeChambeau’s dissertation, “Did you catch all that, Charles?”
Barkley was ready and waiting with an answer: “Can you imagine being in a car with these two guys on a long trip?”
Yes. We were for nine long, tedious holes. They’re playing nine more?
Yikes. Count me out.
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