Tenacious D: Different Strokes for Golf
Something depressing will probably happen later this week.
When the Nielsen ratings are released, CBS executives will find that "Walker, Texas Ranger," "Touched By An Angel" and even the much ridiculed "Falcone" will have had more viewers than the final round of the 63rd Masters Tournament.
On Sunday, I was one of the 40 or so people nationwide watching the Masters (which, I should mention, is a historic golf tournament), and I can understand the frustration of those who complain about golf not being a good spectator sport.
After all, this year did turn out to be quite a bore. Tiger was nowhere to be found for most of the tournament, Jim Nantz's color commentary grated on the nerves, and some guy named Vijay ended up winning it all by the comfortable margin of three strokes. I found myself sitting in front of my roommate's TV shaking my head. At that moment of despair, I realized that golf needed to spruce up its image in the coming years to attract the viewers necessary to compete with the likes of Chuck Norris.
After much thought, I came up with some suggested improvements that will help golf remain competitive in the cutthroat television market of the 21st century.
Before I begin, though, I should address possible detractors. Purists may take offense at this column because the changes I advocate may alter the very nature of the game. To those people, I would say that I love the sanctity of the game as much as the next golfer. Although my handicap hovers around the age the Grille bouncer believes me to be, I am still enamoured with the magical spirit of golf and only seek to bring the sport to a wider audience.
And with that goal in mind, I propose these modifications to golf to make it more entertaining and "American," and therefore more likely to be enjoyed and avidly followed by mainstream Americans.
The first change I would propose is the scoring system. If the average person tunes into a golf tournament and sees someone posting a "- 8," the gut reaction might be "wow, that guy sucks so much he's losing points." To make golf more intuitive and to quench the odd American craving for high-scoring sports, I suggest giving players positive points (and lots of them) to award good shots.
Some smartass might point out that such a procedure exists in the Stableford system. True, but since maybe all of five people know about the Stableford system, I think it's high time we renewed interest in golf scoring that outpaces NBA scoring.
Another modification I would make to golf is to add a defensive element. Competition is a decidedly American value, and the problem with golf is that golfers pride themselves in "competing against the course." Well, frankly, competition against inanimate objects has never attracted a good television audience (note: see the San Francisco-San Diego Super Bowl for reference).
We Americans love to see the drama of head-to-head combat. To satisfy that urge, I advocate having golfers play in teams of three or four with one team trying to get the Titleist in the hole while the other team waits around the green, clubs in hand, to deny such an outcome. Just think of the added dimension of strategy such a change would add (Will Woods' team play Duval's team zone or man?).
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, is the need to instill the American ideal of equality in golf. With Tiger's rise to prominence, many golfers and television viewers feel as if there is an uneven playing field with such strong players as Woods. To address that legitimate concern and level the playing field, I propose golfers be allowed (and encouraged) to use mind and body altering substances.
A good friend of mine at Bucknell University tells me that his rounds of golf always remain evenly-matched down the stretch because "whoever wins the hole takes a shot of Tequila." Such a policy would be most useful (if not simply entertaining) in the PGA to ensure good players like Tiger don't get away with too large a lead.
Furthermore, players in the Senior PGA would greatly benefit from body-altering substances. One complaint from elderly golfers is that they've lost their distance off the tee. What better solution than Mark McGwire's home-run-inducing creatine. With a little muscle candy, Trevino and Palmer will be back to jacking balls well past the 300-yard mark in no time.
And even if something goes wrong, extensive substance use would prove very entertaining and ratings-friendly. Just imagine how many people would tune in to watch Chi Chi Rodriguez' famous sword dance if there were a chance he would succumb to 'roid rage and attack his caddy after sinking the putt. Hasn't FOX made a ratings killing off shows with similar premises?
Essentially, my point in all of this is to make the great game of golf more viewer-friendly and spread its endearing qualities to a new generation of Americans. Golf, though, needs to undergo some changes to ensure its survival in a changing world; as Gary Coleman once told us, "it takes different strokes for different folks."
In light of this powerful wisdom from a pint-sized pop icon, the answer is simple. Golf needs to start stroking the American people better than it has in the past. Or else, one day the sport of golf will discover that Americans have responded to its unchanging ambivalence with "What you talkin' 'bout, Willis?" and changed the channel in favor of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" or "Walker, Texas Ranger."