Seldom do I expect to write about professional golf on this blog, but something about this week’s PGA Tour event in Arizona caught my eye. The American pro golf tour this week is hosting one of its corporation-concocted “World Championship” events, and its format is most distinctive: match play, as opposed to stroke play. Sixty four of the best players in golf square off one-on-one over 18 holes. Their individual cumulative scores matter none. It’s one-on-one, hole by hole, whoever wins the most holes wins the match. Kinda Ryder Cuppish, but more globally inclusive. The big news from this week’s early goings: Tiger Woods went out in round one.
The sixty four competitors are divided up into four brackets, just like the NCAA hoops tourney (until recently), and they’re named after . . . golfing legends: Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Gary Player, Bobby Jones.
Once upon a time, the NHL identified its divisional alignment by the names of legends in the sport — Smythe, Norris, Patrick, Adams. Who changed that? Why, the visionary marketing guru hired away from the NBA, Gary Bettman.
How’s that structural re-branding worked out, do you imagine, over the past decade and a half, in terms of broadening NHL hockey’s elemental identity? Also, looking back on the rationale offered at the time by the league for jettisoning hockey’s heritage, how does it strike you today? Would it be wise, do you think, to replicate it, given the league’s overall standing in the sports world today? (The league’s American television contract is with Versus, incidentally.)
(Here’s another fun question for you: what will be the name of the division in which the Capitals reside in about 12 weeks’ time, after the moving vans have packed up the Thrash?)
This PGA Tour event, by virtue of its structural novelty and elite talent, draws more media attention than does your typical Tour event. PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem of course presides over a niche sport; interest in professional golf in America will never rival that of fans’ interest for football, basketball, or baseball — and the moreso once Tiger’s competitive viability durably wanes. And yet Finchem, in his remarkable curator’s role in growing the Tour’s revenues (admittedly aided to no small degree by Woods’ emergence) has never sold out his sport’s heritage. Pro golf under Finchem has enjoyed a stratospheric rise in fiscal health, while not ever losing a sense of its historical bearings. It’s a good thing, I think, for a professional sport of significant legacy to adhere where it can to its roots. Its hero roots.
Finchem, incidentally, arrived at his present post in 1994 — one year after Bettman.