No, this column isn’t about ‘The Match.’ At the time of writing we’re still a day away from the time that golf’s All-American stars—Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka—face off, mänō ä ˈmänō, in a televised duel, ostensibly, to settle scores. At least that’s the spiel. The build-up to ‘The Match,’ has all the elements that you’re used to seeing in big-ticket contact sports like boxing—with the exception that Koepka and DeChambeau have been trash talking each other over social media, rather than a press conference. But don’t worry—there will be a pre-event show in which our formidable pugilists will take questions from the hosts and viewers. I have a feeling that might be more fun to watch than ‘The Match,’ itself. What a circus.
If it’s all right with readers I’ll just skip this hype-fest to talk about the genuine article instead. Collin Morikawa, the 24-year-old American who’s gone deep into foreign territory and come back with the European Tour’s biggest prize—the Race to Dubai—is without question, American golf’s biggest star of 2021.
Not only is Morikawa the only American player in history to win the European Tour’s order-of-merit, he did it by outplaying a deeply motivated, and in-form, Rory McIlroy. Morikawa’s scintillating iron play led to five birdies on the last seven holes of the final day at the DP World Championship—his precise and strategic play presenting a welcome foil to the modern power game. Given the currency the Continentals place on model etiquette, there couldn’t have been a better winner than the gracious and polite Morikawa.
It was hard not to feel for Rory McIlroy. It’s really quite something to watch: how this infernal game treats those who court it. And the best players in the world get their teeth knocked out much more than us hapless amateurs. Playing flawless golf over three days, the Irishman teed it up in the final round with a one-stroke lead, determined to go the distance. With three holes left to play, his lead still intact, McIlroy lasered a wedge to the 15th green that hit the pin, and rebounded into the bunker. Unable to get up and down, the Ulsterman recorded a bogey, and lost his way. The internet was rife with images of McIlroy in a torn tee-shirt inside the player’s box after his round. So what, give the man a break. Not only did that ill-fortune deprive him of a probable win, and the order-of-merit title, it was a double whammy coming after his emotional experience at the Ryder Cup. There’s no question that not letting an American winning the Race to Dubai, as likeable as Morikawa may be, was on McIlroy’s mind.
Other big news in November, for those who may have missed it, was Tiger Woods posting a video, gingerly hitting baby wedges with a compression taping on his right leg. This time no one was surprised to see the man getting back on his feet. Of course he’s coming back. I mean have you not been watching golf for the last two decades? So what if he flipped his SUV multiple times down a kerb, suffered horrific multiple fractures in his right leg, among other debilitating injuries? In the video that predictably went viral, the muscle atrophy is clearly evident, as is to be expected in a leg that hasn’t been used for months, but here it was, the comeback swing, looking smooth as ever. This man is ridiculous.
On a parting note, James Hibbit, the Golf Monthly columnist raised a pertinent issue about the European Tour’s points system in which a player can win the season-ending title despite not participating in a reasonable number of standalone events—Morikawa played in (and won) three standalone European Tour events all season. With no malice toward Morikawa’s achievement, it is something for the Tour to consider going ahead as it rebrands to the DP World Tour. While the new sponsors have brought in a substantial increase in the Tour’s purse in 2022—over USD 200 million from USD 1054 million in 2021—the PGA Tour has responded by upping the ante to USD 427 million. That’s just the prize money and doesn’t include the hefty bonuses for the ‘Player Impact’ programme among others. The gist is this: if the European Tour can’t compete with the PGA Tour on prize money, then it needs to incentivise players for teeing it up at its events. Establishing a minimum number of events played to qualify for the Race to Dubai would be a good start.
Coming back to ‘The Match,’ that would have concluded as you read this. I’m not going to hazard a guess on the final tally but there’s one thing I’m reasonably certain of. Whatever it may or may not turn out to be, ‘The Match’ is likely to have been a damp squib. There’s way too much hype, for the two players, their considerable abilities notwithstanding, to do justice to. Especially since they’ve deigned to generously give the gallery 12 full holes for the contest. It just gets more ridiculous every day with Koepka tweeting barbs, and DeChambeau driving golf balls from a skyscraper’s rooftop to a target with Koepka’s face on it 500 yards away. The marketing teams are really having a field day with this one.
On that note I’m going to plan my Sunday fourball; the air pollution in the Capital has reduced to ‘very poor,’ which in Delhi, is a euphemism for clear blue skies and sunny winter days. Visibility is going to be important on Sunday in the aftermath of ‘The Match,’ with players flexing muscle and going ape over the ball. The duel might be good for popularising the game, as touted, to youngsters, but it’s certainly not going to be good for the game of those who play it. Have a good round folks! And watch your back.
A golfer, Meraj Shah also writes about the game