Sunday’s TaylorMade Driving Relief match featuring Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Matthew Wolff and Rickie Fowler went off without a hitch and provided a nice block of entertainment in what has otherwise been a black hole of sports content. The golf was not elite, but it was not expected to be. Instead, it was nice just to have anything at all to watch, make jokes about and over analyze.
However, there were a few takeaways from the event that were interesting and could be extrapolated to the rest of the golf season (and maybe beyond). Takeaways like the fact that the social distancing on the course seemed to actually work in a way that made me believe the PGA Tour could legitimately come back in June.
Crises often engender great ingenuity and invention (sometimes out of necessity), and maybe one of the good things to come out of this coronavirus pandemic in the sports world is a re-formatted and reconstituted golf landscape for the future. Here are five takeaways from Sunday’s event at Seminole Golf Club.
1. The best cause: In the aftermath of the event, I saw complaints about production, level of play and format. All of that is fine — and some of it is true — but in the middle of it all, I hope we don’t whiff on the reality that $5 million was raised to benefit the American Nurses Foundation and CDC Foundation in the middle of a pandemic. Could I have done without Bill Murray? Sure. Did I want this thing to end in a 120-yard closest-to-the-pin competition? Of course not. Did Dustin Johnson look like he just started playing golf in April? At times he did! But all of that was secondary or tertiary to the main purpose of the event.
2. More mics: We didn’t get every nugget throughout the day, but playing wearing mics made me wonder if, 10 years from now, we might think, “How did a broadcast of this sport ever exist without mics picking up players at all times?” You wouldn’t be able to mic guys up like they were on Sunday (or like NBA coaches are), but you could pick up enough with mics on bags or caddies or wherever else you want to place them to make it worthwhile. Every conversation between players and players or players and caddies is fascinating to me, the outside observer, and I’ll never complain about hearing more and more of these.
3. More Seminoles: One of the best courses in the world lived up to its reputation, especially when the wind started rolling down the stretch. It felt like Pinehurst if you dropped it off the coast of the North Sea. The green complexes were great, the approach strategies were myriad and the place felt just a bit elusive, even to the best guys in the world. It probably won’t happen, but as long as fans are not allowed at events, different organizations have a chance to move events to places that don’t normally have the infrastructure in place to handle them (think: Bandon Dunes). Logistics will likely prevent this from happening, but wouldn’t it be awesome if it did (even in small gatherings like this one)?
4. More unique swings: Maybe my biggest on-course takeaway from Sunday was the unique nature of these four swings. Maybe four of the most unique swings in the game.
McIlroy’s is obviously the most traditional and probably the best overall, but that’s three other guys getting it done at the highest level with three moves nobody else on the PGA Tour makes. Swing your swing, even if your swing is Hipster Jim Furyk.
5. Make a run: I thought of this while the golf was playing out on Sunday. If your game is in form over the next 15 months, you could build an entire career in that span of time. Fowler got hot in the middle of the round, and I thought, “What if he gets hot in the middle of this schedule?” The PGA Tour is back on June 11, and between then and the end of August 2021, there are two FedEx Cups, seven (!) majors, a Ryder Cup and an Olympics. What if Rory starts feeling it and runs off three majors and another FedEx Cup? What if Justin Thomas does what he normally does in the fall and goes from one major to the three in just a few months? This pandemic is certainly bigger than golf, but within this world, it’s fascinating to wonder just how all of this is going to go in the months and years ahead.