The Death of Sports Journalism: “Tiger wasn’t there, Phil folded, and the course was gah-bage”

My clock radio goes off early Monday morning. I awaken to a national sports talk show, and one of hosts mentions the U.S. Open. Another host chimes in — this is a close paraphrase — “I can sum up the U.S. Open for you: No Tiger, Phil folded, and the course was gah-bage.” Another host adds that it was a boring runaway.

That ends the golf discussion. The conversation turned back to the NBA Championship. (Actually, the conversation was not so much about the NBA Championship, where the Spurs had just annihilated the Heat, but rather it was about Lebron James.*)

Putting aside the fact that the Spurs overwhelmed the Heat, making the NBA Finals series just as much a boring runaway as the U.S. Open, I will address the Tiger/Phil/gah-bage remark. (I write gah-bage, because the host pronounced it that way.)

First off, the host — I’ll call him Gah-bage Mouth —  clearly didn’t want to discuss golf, obviously knowing next to nothing about the sport. (If I were the host of a national sports radio program, myself, I would feel compelled to keep up with sports well enough to intelligently discuss them. It’s called “earning your paycheck.”)

They went on to discuss the NBA Finals for the duration of the time I listened. It occurred to me that, had one desired, he as easily could have summed up the NBA Finals as, “No Lakers, No Celtics, four double-digit blowouts.” But they didn’t. So why make such a comment about golf?

Perhaps those sports generalists take their hints from the golf-specific reporters, who, almost to a man, share the first two views expressed by Gah-bage Mouth. Any serious follower of golf knows the golf media is All Tiger All The Time, and that Phil Mickelson is nothing more than a media-annointed anti-Tiger, useful to them as a Woods proxy. (As for the golf media’s views on the gah-bage course, I think they did an admirable job of covering the new direction in golf agronomy. I hope the ultimate result is the proliferation of modest courses, where pull carts are welcome, riding carts are not restricted to cart paths, and $15 green fees more than make up for a little hardpan and a few brown spots on the greens come July. If such a course doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, fine, you can “graduate” to a private country club, or the “upscale” public golf courses.)

Let’s take a factual look at the first two complaints registered by Gah-bage Mouth.

Woods has not won a major in six years. Six years. During that time, Martin Kaymer, Rory McIlroy, Bubba Watson, and Phil Mickelson have all won multiple majors. (If you go back seven years, you can add Padraig Harrington, who won two in the year Woods won his last, so five men have won multiple majors since Woods last won one.  Five!) You might think Kaymer winning his second would be worth a few minutes of discussion, but I’d wager Gah-bage Mouth didn’t even know Kaymer had a prior major. I can’t name ten MLB players, but if you paid me to discuss baseball, I’ll learn the players, so Gah-bag Mouth’s ignorance of golf showed a core incompetence.

The idea that “Tiger Woods is Golf” might have been en vogue six years ago, but time doesn’t stand still. In the past five years, Woods has won eight tournaments, or about 1-1/2 per year, none of them being majors. Also, there is the little matter of a shattered image. The continuing obsession with Woods by the media can only be explained by a Honey Boo Boo/cult-of-personality story arc. As Beavis and Butthead once said of Tom Petty, “He’s famous for, you know, being famous and stuff.”

Woods’s primary playing peak was fifteen years ago. His second-best peak was ten years ago. Woods is now 38 years old and will likely be 39 year old before he plays in his next Tour event. There’s a reason golf has a Seniors Tour: old golfers can’t regularly compete with young ones. Saying a golf tournament is boring without Woods is like saying a tennis tournament is boring without John McEnroe. It shows an utter disconnect from the current state of the game.

Then there’s the Phil Mickelson comment. Mickelson is 44 years old, and in the past five seasons, he’s won five events, two of them being majors. The two majors are noteworthy, but the five wins in five years is nothing special. (Jimmy Walker has three wins just this season, and gets almost no media coverage.) Compare Mickelson to Webb Simpson, a 28-year-old who has, in those same five seasons, won four events, one of them a major. Phil’s five-year record is one major better than Simpson’s. Does that justify Mickelson getting, oh, roughly, 1000 times more media attention than Webb Simpson?

The idea that Woods and Mickelson remain dominant figures in golf is ridiculously outdated, but Gah-bage Mouth and the rest of the general sports media are victims of the golf media. The golf media continues to dwell in the past. I look forward to the day when the first mainstream golf analyst will say, on-air, “Guys, I hate to pee in the punch bowl, but we’re showing waaaaaay too much of these two old guys who are five shots back.”

Jack Nicklaus finished a few wins behind Sam Snead’s career total, and no one cared.  It just wasn’t a thang.  Can you imagine how horrible golf coverage would have been if the story, week after ever-loving week, had been “Jack’s ‘historic’ assault on Sam’s record.”  If instead of showing Ben Crenshaw breaking down on the 72nd green, we’d seen blimp shots of Jack Nicklaus driving out of the parking lot?

Additionally, Woods’s “assault on history” is tainted by his association with Dr. Galea (well-known, unlicensed doping doctor) and a reported link to Biogenesis, meaning golf has its own Barry Bonds/Lance Armstrong character chasing a “historic” record. A record that, remembering what I said about Snead and Nicklaus, ultimately doesn’t amount to a hill of beans. So, by all means, let’s dismiss the entire sport of golf except for Woods’s “pursuit of history.”

What do you get after six years of incompetent and imbecilic golf media coverage? Sports generalists like Gah-bage Mouth saying, “No Tiger, Phil folded, and the course was gah-bage.” Which will generate no pushback from the golf media, or the PGA commissioner — because they agree!

(Imagine if Johnny Miller went on ESPN and said, of the NBA Championship, “No Lakers, no Celtics, a garbage series.” How about: “No Cowboys, no Patriots, another blowout piece of crap Super Bowl.” Think there would be pushback?)

—–

*Lebron James is the Tiger Woods of basketball in that he is discussed even when he isn’t the story. Why? Well, because “you either love him or hate him.”  Which is odd, because by all appearances, he’s a decent guy who doesn’t make headlines for the wrong reasons. I can’t imagine why anyone would hate him. As best I can tell, people have been convinced to “hate” him because he changed teams, and did so in an awkward, very-public fashion. That’s odd, though, because changing teams is an everyday occurrence in professional team sports. Some of sports’ most-beloved players have done so. Kareem Abdul Jabbar, for example.

Lebron made his announcement in a live media television broadcast called “The Decision.” The media created and publicized this show — then bashed Lebron for it. I guess the idea is to get people who don’t really give a damn one way or the other to “hate” him because he is “so conceited.” And “turned his back on Cleveland.” In the 21st century, there is a two-step rule that rises above all else.

  1. Create a personality.
  2. Create a conflict to push your audience to “love him” or “hate him.”

So the Spurs win the NBA title, and the media still obsesses over Lebron James. Because, once they invest their effort in creating a personality, they will largely ignore the rest of the players, not wanting to dilute the love-him/hate-him dynamic. This is, of course, familiar to golf fans, having observed the Tiger Woods Only golf media over the past six years.

—–

[Bonus Comment on Rosaforte]

While you wait, here’s a little anecdote about Tim Rosaforte.  I heard him say, during last week’s U.S. Open coverage, paraphrasing, “Until recently, Brooks Koepka was best-known for being Peter Uhilein’s roommate.”

I literally laughed out loud because very few unfamiliar with Koepka are going to be familiar with Uhilein.  Hard to imagine anyone saying, eyes wide as saucers, “Oh, you are Peter Uihlein’s roommate!”  I have followed both since they turned pro, and their journeys have been similar.  Both knocked around on the European and Challenge Tours with some decent success, playing the occasional PGA event on an exemption.  Both moved steadily into the top 100, and both have bounced around in the 70-100 range.

So why did Rosaforte make such a strange comment?  Because Uhilein’s father runs Titleist.  Rosaforte has rubbed shoulders with the golf industry execs so frequently that he assumes the public knows all their family details.  Says a lot about the golf media’s inability to seriously address equipment matters, such as rolling back balls and clubs.

By the way, this is obviously not a knock on Peter Uihlein.  He is an up-and-coming star (as is Koepka), and I have no doubt he will soon have PGA status and be qualifying for WGC events (whether or not he makes the PGA).  One good thing about Uhilein is that he’s unlikely to pull a Rory and ditch his Titleist clubs for Nike!

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2 Responses to The Death of Sports Journalism: “Tiger wasn’t there, Phil folded, and the course was gah-bage”

  1. Nate says:

    In a somewhat related example of how the media works…..The Cleveland Browns selected Johnny Manziel as a quarterback….Johnny has been a lightning rod for stories and interest through his college career…Normally the Browns aren’t reported on that much….Now CBS has a rather pointless story on the Browns, about who the starting quarterback should be, based on a single player’s opinion, who has NOTHING to do in determining who will or won’t start….This however, keeps Johnny’s name in the article, and hence keeps his NAME out there for all to see…..It immediately reminded me of these golf articles that CBS and ESPN ect have been putting out, just trying to keep the Eldrick spin alive……It really is the ‘same dance, just a different tune’, as the saying goes….Just shows they have a formula, and right or wrong, they stick to it….Can’t wait to see Johnny’s favorite recipe for chocolate chip cookies…

    • James York says:

      Jack Nicklaus had a winning percentage much lower than that of Ben Hogan. Snead’s was lower than Hogan’s also. But these three played honest golf and all should be rated higher than TW.

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