Most PGA Tour events are actually two tournaments in one: the 36-hole qualification on Thursday and Friday, followed by weekends of televised broadcasts and millions in prize money. These gigantic purses would not exist without the enormous reach of television. An overwhelming majority of golf fans watch the game from home rather than buying a ticket and traveling to the website, making CBS and NBC far more important to the product’s welfare than any individual player.
Only a man could possibly disagree with such an assessment. In February he broke his right leg.
While the first two rounds offer the spectators a rapid sequence of golf strokes, Saturday and Sunday have a completely different dimension. The focus shifts to those at the top of the leaderboard. A man in serious argument can accumulate an hour or two of actual airtime, and since golfers don’t wear helmets, their facial expressions and body language – and the pace of their play – become an indelible part of the television broadcast.
As a heterogeneous audience, we draw conclusions. Form opinions. Make generalizations. We judge tour professionals because the visual access is immense. Because some players are easier to like than others, regardless of whether this appeal comes from a swing full of power and grace, an eternal smile, an interaction with the audience or a simple appreciation for one’s own intense determination.
No other sport connects the man on the couch with the emotions of the competitor like golf. With the invaluable help of half a dozen pairs of eyeballs and my own marginal sense of perspective, this is followed by a rating of nine marquee players, each with a “observability” rating. The Bo Derek scale (10 for the best, 1 for the worst) is used to rate our subjects for their behavior on the course and various observation factors that improve (or impair) the viewing experience.
This is not a ranking. Just a subjective look at the men who make the game so interesting.
Rory McIlroy – 9 out of 10
The win in Vegas last weekend made Northern Ireland’s best the perfect leadoff hitter. McIlroy is probably the fastest player among the top division players. He makes some ridiculous course management decisions at times, but that’s not a negative. When things go well, he jumps down the fairway like a 9 year old. When they are not, he wears it on his face like few others. Sadness, not anger. He is incapable of glee or showboating. Polite but frank. Two steps higher gifted, but inexplicably flawed. A wonderful addition to the game, have fun watching it.
Patrick Cantlay – 6 out of 10
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His no-nonsense approach obviously paid off in 2021, although I prefer the fiery, fist-pumping version of Cantlay that we saw at the Ryder Cup. He’s blatantly slow on the greens, and that pawing of his feet over a putt can leave a dude with seasickness, but he’s hitting so many bombs you’ll be grateful he didn’t take another 90 seconds to hit the next.
Jordan Spieth – 5 out of 10
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He talks to his golf ball more than to his wife or anyone else, usually while in the air and often when flying in the wrong direction. Tiger Woods was found guilty of the same crime, but his ball rarely disobeyed orders. Spieth is probably the most verbally animated player on the tour, which can certainly get on the nerves of a viewer after a while. His brief game alone is reason enough to turn on the television.
Tyrrell Hatton – 8.5 out of 10
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When Sergio Garcia gets angry, his behavior is considered stubborn, mostly because it is. Hatton’s temperamental outbursts are considered an amusing form of self-abuse. He becomes so dissatisfied with himself that he seems ready to give up the game, then makes three consecutive birdies and breaks out the most apologetic grin golf kids know. If England’s toughest grinder ever becomes a dad, you can bet your life that his kids will behave when daddy is home.
Bubba Watson – 3 out of 10
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You don’t need to have a degree in psychology to know how Bubba’s day is going. When he lacks putts, which is not uncommon, Watson’s dramatic responses come with an authenticity that would have inspired Sir Laurence Olivier. Astonish. Confusion. Injustice. Watson’s collection of grim faces is the stuff of thousands of conspiracies, but the big guy can still shape his ball like nobody’s business. Don’t cry for Bubba. Chances are he’ll miss you at the same distance on the next hole.
Louis Oosthuizen – 8 out of 10
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In addition to having the smoothest move in every city he visits, the gentle South African has embraced his status of being close but cigar-free like a man. And thank goodness because his career has been plagued by a severe stogie deficiency lately. He’s never going to be a fan favorite for not doing wheel flicks or winning tournaments after a 15-foot run – he’s still 0-for-America – but Oostie is an underrated, overlooked commodity from a country that has not exactly burned the world stage in recent years. Think of him as the anti-Bubba.
Bryson DeChambeau – 1 some days, 10 others
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Oh where do we start? He drives 380 meters without tearing a chest muscle, blames everyone when things go wrong, says some of the stupidest things since Jethro Bodine, but still carries himself like the smartest guy in every room he walks into. It’s also not for nothing that DeChambeau is the only active golfer who really moves the needle – a guy who is able to gain 5,000 viewers a week or increase the tour’s rigid TV ratings. Love him or hate him, he’s a man of great impact. People can’t take their eyes off him.
Justin Thomas – 3 out of 10
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Thomas is clearly one of the most talented players in the game and can’t see the forest for the trees. He has won a few major tournaments but has cut himself off from others with an allergy to adversity that seems to get more acute every year. The woe is me thing just doesn’t work at the top level of the game. He’s a handful and a half if all goes well, but a lot of bad things happen on a golf course. You deal with them. If JT had the inner struggle that drives his close pal Spieth, he would win six times a year.
Jon Rahm – 9 out of 10
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Speaking of disposition makeover, let’s pay tribute to the most successful competitive lobotomy of the year. Rahm might not have won the US Open if he hadn’t strayed from his hot-headed manner, a change brought about by the birth of his first child and the COVID-19 / Forced Withdrawal that cost him the memorial, but it’s hard to imagine that guy with such a short fuse who emerges triumphant in the ultimate attrition of golf. He’s always been a big boy physically, but in 2021, Rahm added another 20 pounds of emotional muscle.
He is bright, extraordinarily talkative, and obviously grateful for the opportunity life offers him. Americans have always been reluctant to consider foreign golfers their own. Rahm is well on the way to becoming the most popular national player of all time.