Sunday, April 08, 2007

The law of unintended consequences

First of all, HAPPY EASTER! May you and your family enjoy this very special day--and may you be teaching your younger ones the true meaning of this day.

Now back to our regularly scheduled program:

I'm a semi-big fan of golf.

I LOVE playing the game, although I rarely find myself with enough time to get to the course anymore. But believe you me, when I finally make it big financially (no doubt through my blogging enterprise--tee hee), I am going to spend a good deal of time on the golf course.

And I somewhat love watching golf on TV. Although I may not be a week-in, week-out watcher of the tournaments, I probably watch more golf than the average guy.

The word "somewhat" above gets thrown out when it comes to The Masters. I truly enjoy watching that tournament. The course, the golf, the lineup of players. . .it's the best of golf viewing, bar none.

Or at least that was my opinion until this year.

Color me a non-fan of "Tigerproofing", the process of changing Augusta so that Tiger Woods, the best golfer in the game today, doesn't continue to walk away with record-low scores and enough green jackets to sew his own golf hole.

Now I'm all about increasing competition! And I don't mind saying that Tiger is not my favorite golfer--I don't hate him, mind you, but I will almost always find myself rooting for whatever competition he has that week, if for no other reason than I am a sympathetic sucker for the underdog. And let's face it--if you find yourself up against Tiger for a tournament title, you are an underdog. Maybe even an extraordinary underdog, so complete is Tiger's reign on the golf world.

But "Tigerproofing", especially at Augusta, has not increased the competition. In fact, the added length has taken all but about 20 players out of contention before the first ball is even teed up. One of those handful of players still in the running, of course, is Tiger. Not among that handful of players are Mike Weir, a former champion at Augusta, and David Toms, who won a classic match against Phil Mickelson in Georgia 6 years ago to bring home a major title. Their ilk are almost afterthoughts, relegated to posting "nice" scores and finishing early enough on Sunday afternoon to be able to watch the real drama of the leaders hitting the final 7 holes from the clubhouse locker room.

But more than being counterproductive to the cause, the changes to the golf course have led to some U.S. Open-like scoring from the field. And I, for one, don't really care to watch the U.S. Open. I have no desire to watch the best golfers in the world struggling for par because it's just not good TV.

Augusta, among the majors, was always different. The last 27 holes of the Masters used to bring out some of the most invigorating viewing from any sport (perhaps made doubly so because folks who actually watch televised golf are pretty dedicated fans of the sport). My brother wrote a few weeks ago about the great stretch of sports-watching upcoming, which included March Madness and Opening Day in baseball. The Masters used to be the crown jewel of that collection, because no matter how good the Madness was (and I LOVE the Madness!), the Masters almost always topped it as pure spectator spectacle.

Not anymore. The likelihood of being "wowed" by the low scores posted on holes 13 and 15 is getting smaller. The chance of watching someone piece together a 30 on the back nine to surge into the lead on Sunday afternoon--like Nicklaus did in '86 to win his 6th jacket--is practically nil.

Maybe some of it is the weather, I'll give you that. However, I still don't think there's any way that this field, in these same conditions, playing the course as it was back in 1995, for example, would be over par.

How ironic that the best hole to watch now is the 12th, a simple-looking par 3, all of 170 yards when played to its full length. Mostly unchanged by the hand of Tigerproofing, it still brings out some of the best drama in the sport.

Of course, only a handful of players will REALLY be actors in the Masters drama by the time they hit the 12th on Sunday afternoon.

One of them, of course, will be Tiger Woods. Because no matter how much you "Tigerproof" the sport, he will be at the top of the leaderboard. He's that good.

But I won't be watching his historic run for his 5th green jacket with baited breath at home. Tigerproofing, as a strategy, is that bad--it has ruined what used to be one of my favorite events to watch.

And that's not Tiger's fault. All he is is a phenomenal talent.

But the masters of the Augusta National Committee didn't want to embrace his talent and let their tournament be used as a springboard to some historic performances. So instead they contrived a system that nearly guarantees his supremacy for the next decade or so while making the weekend almost entirely devoid of "the little men" of golf. You know, the ones that we casual players can identify with.

Which brings me to my point: sometimes, every once in a while, some ONE comes along that is just better at their "job" than has ever been seen before. That talent should be recognized and celebrated--not cursed and minimized. If we fail to recognize the best in us as a human race, then we give no reason for people to become specialists in their field.

And by the way: the really special people will find a way to overcome whatever obstacles are in their place. Tiger has proven that. He'll keep bringing home green jackets more frequently than the mailman brings me bills for my cellphone, regardless of what the folks at Augusta do to their course.

That is, until some other amazing talent emerges on the scene that can handle Tiger at that course.

I wonder what ANC will do then?

UPDATE: so maybe the weather did have a lot to do with the scores. Today, in much better conditions, a third of the field shot par or better, and there was more than a little excitement in the back nine play today. Best of all: Zach Johnson is a guy I can really get behind. He showed some steely nerves today, and the kind of humility that you love to see. This was a good way to end the tournament!


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