The year began with a 24-year-old man lying motionless on an NFL field, a TV audience of perhaps 25 million sitting on the edge of life and death. Reality TV without a script, which is really all sports, and this time around, the potentially tragic tale of Dammar Hamlin appears to have a happy ending.
Hamelin’s rapid improvement attests to the power of love and the immense power of the human spirit – a crude reaction in a comprehensive form to a matter so intense. America’s largest pep rally in a long time, a collective voice of hope expressed without any hint of dissent or political dissent.
It makes golf’s biggest story seem absolutely ridiculous, this farcical feud between the mighty empire and lecherous vampires. Between splits and lawsuits, shifting priorities and a weakened majority, the PGA Tour and LIV Golf have entered the ring without gloves or a clue as to what they’re fighting for. From there, the public took sides, nearly all of them opposing the insolent rookie for his crooked finances, poor manners, and lack of a competitive case.
“They took all the holes,” Tour fringe player Harry Higgs told Golfweek’s Tim Schmidt last week. They took all the bad guys, and that’s the problem. They took some of the people they wrote stories about perhaps in a negative light, with some sort of negative connotation. … That’s kind of the driving force for people to read your story or turn on their television. I suffer from this.”
With differing views, Higgs doesn’t just take the cake — he’s bought the entire bakery. His assessment of professional golf as a popular competition is a brilliant counterattack aimed not at the polite behavior of the game, but at its dirty little secret. “What bothers me most is not the print side,” he adds. “It’s with the four-day golf tournament broadcast. I realize how hard it is to get over 156 storylines, but it always seems like we’re taking the easy way out, and a lot of that is the Tour’s fault as well.”
Don’t even consider the idea of a flail cannon failing to hit its targets. The villain factor has always been a welcome melting pot at the highest level of the game, getting its first stripes when a chubby kid named Jack Nicklaus knocked Arnold Palmer home the 1962 U.S. Open. Sev Ballesteros and Nick Faldo donned black hats with aplomb during decisive periods of their careers, creating a dynamic that polarized rooting interests and raising the competitive atmosphere to a level not unlike when Army meets Navy on the net.
When it really matters, we’re all in this together, but until then… Tiger Woods was the quintessential Darth Vader to many as he clawed his way to golfing immortality, stomping on necks and crushing dreams to the point it took the haters years to finally admit that his brilliance was beyond critical censure.
Good guys don’t always end up in the end. They will most likely make some surprise bogey and end up in T7. Higgs was correct in pointing out that a fair percentage of undesirables escaped the tour, but as Patrick Reed made it perfectly clear, one man’s naming is another man’s legal action. Golf fans are entitled to despise anyone they choose, but that doesn’t mean we don’t want them anymore. They always bring something to the party. Usually a bottle of vinegar to increase the punch of the fruit.
What made the departures of Brooks Koepka and Bryson Dechambeau so disappointing was that they both had more history to play for. Having spent most of his career as a neighborhood pinata, Sergio Garcia’s victory at the 2017 Masters Tournament became a good story for the ages, though Sergio quickly returned to acting like a snappy teenager again. Who’s to say DeChambeau wouldn’t have grown up to be a five-time major champion and crowd favorite? A man can repent with a heartfelt pathos – an honest act that Phil Mickelson never fully realized on his path to becoming one of the 10 or 12 greatest golfers who ever lived.
Love and hate are best classified as the result of emotional reflection, and in sports, these taps are easily managed. Hot and cold, always liquid. Higgs’ portrayal of televised golf as a liability that sees neither evil nor evil is a bold and very wise observation. Very few tour professionals have the courage to denounce such a long-standing standard, mainly because few are open-minded enough to recognize the value of touring off the beaten path.
This mentality may apply to the PGA Tour itself, especially with regards to its opinion of a low-key, no-nonsense operation that tries to steal its players and much of its thunder. Love overcomes all difficulties. Even the most hated enemy.