When the proposed Phil Mickelson-Tiger Woods $10 million match was announced last week, I reacted similarly to many of you probably. The thought of two of the best 12 golfers in history playing for $10 million (!) in a heads-up match is completely overwhelming. It also stirs a lot of other emotions.
Whether you're a fan of Lefty or Big Cat or both or neither, you feel a certain way about two grown men hitting a ball in a field for a check with seven zeros. You just do. You can't not feel something.
As big as Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy are in this world, Woods and Mickelson still dwarf their stars, if only because of how long they've been doing this. They are not only two of the greatest golfers in PGA Tour history, with 19 majors and 122 PGA Tour wins between them.
They have also turned into two of the most grandiose personalities. Mickelson more for what he says and Woods because he seems to carry (and always has carried) that mythical aura of a sportsman who is bigger than not only the game he plays but than life itself.
To see those two pitted against one another in this format with microphones turned on (!) and that much money at stake is almost too much to ask. I have many thoughts on what could (and hopefully will) take place over the next year. Let's get to them.
1. Throwback to yesteryear: For the people crying foul over the fact that this isn't what we want golf to be: Have you ever read about Walter Hagen's life? This sort of exhibition has been intertwined into the fabric of golf for over a century, and just because more money is involved does not mean that the idea has fundamentally changed. Consider this on Arnold Palmer from Sports Illustrated ... in 1962.
The Arnold Palmer Golf Exhibitions, Inc. promotes and sponsors all his exhibition matches, handling publicity, tickets, parking, concessions, everything. The host club gets a guarantee or a percentage, the corporation pockets the rest.
"ABC's Challenge Golf, the new television series that we are filming now," says agent Mark McCormack, "has been called the most lucrative TV contract ever entered into by a sports personality. In addition to the prize money that Arnie receives, Worldwide Productions, an Arnold Palmer-controlled corporation, is co-producer and part owner of the show.
2. That's a LOT of money: Wait, $10 million? As in more than most of the events on the PGA Tour schedule? Where exactly is this money coming from? Will the event be put on pay-per-view (plausible), or will a sponsor simply fork it over to have their name plastered on the telecast for four and a half hours (less plausible)?
Based on the way all of this was leaked and presented, I have to think that at least some of the power brokers and gatekeepers of the vault have yet to sign off and that the report last week was Mickelson's way of sending a flare to show the people he needed to show that yes, there is enough excitement to validate the preposterous amount of cash.
3. Course, crowd and production matter: This part is maybe the most fascinating to me. According to the report by Shipnuck, Shadow Creek in Las Vegas would be the spot for this match. That's fine, I suppose, but what do the galleries look like? What do ticket sales look like? And is there a way to get them on a more iconic course, like, a true classic such as Cypress Point or even one of the Pebble Beach courses? You want breath-taking views when you have four and a half hours to fill with just 140 golf shots, and I'm not sure Shadow Creek meets that mark.
Additionally, this event could potentially be made or broken by the television production. The possibilities here are limitless and could included on-course interviews during the match, side wagering (with graphics) and all manner of media (both social and traditional) infusion. There is a way to make must-see TV must-talk-about TV a day or a week later, and a lot of that will come down to not only how these two play, but also the production of the event.
4. Ratings bonanza: I find it difficult to believe that, given the correct timing and locale here, this match's rating wouldn't exceed the final round of the 2018 U.S. Open, which was 3.2 with 5.1 million viewers. In fact, I think it could approach the final round of the Masters, which had a 7.9 rating and 13 million viewers.
Golf is sometimes a difficult sport to follow because it has to happen during the day on the weekend. That makes it great for folks going to the tournament but not great for folks watching on TV. A Tiger-Mickelson match on a Tuesday evening at 7 p.m. with great visuals and mics for everyone? Yeah, that would destroy.
5. Is this the future? And was that buddy-buddy act ... real? One of my friends posited that this is what the future could (maybe even should?) look like. Sure, it might be a little contrived, but there are only 12 guys on the PGA Tour who matter anyway. Why not whisk them away from time to time and pit them against one another in these exhibitions at pre-eminent courses around the nation? It might feel a little like wrestling, but would that be such a bad thing as long as the names you want to see are involved?
Mickelson even gave us a little taste of it in the Golf.com report!
An initial match in Las Vegas -- Shadow Creek is the likely venue -- is just the beginning of their shared vision. Mickelson says he and Woods hope to play a couple exhibitions a year, around the world. Sometimes they could partner up -- depending on how the Ryder Cup goes, it's easy to envision Tiger and Phil taking on two top Europeans (a match with Rory McIlroy and Ian Poulter as the opposition could be particularly juicy).
Woods and Mickelson are both shrewd businessmen, and they are trying to set up this new venture so they essentially own the matches and thus will get a chunk of the TV revenue, merchandising, and sponsorship dough.
I think it's also a little curious to view the buddy-buddy relationship Woods and Mickelson have been displaying all year in the current light. I think some of it is certainly genuine, but there's also a little sadness for me because part of it feels like a high-stakes business decision for the future. They know the end is near at the highest level on the PGA Tour and that a trash-talking partnership for the next 25 years is more profitable than going it alone.
Of course, if we get a handful of big money matches because of this reality that sliver of sadness goes away rather quickly.