Sobel: How to Improve the Next Edition of ‘The Match’

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LAS VEGAS – Minutes after the first edition of “The Match” was finally completed after four playoff holes, including three from a makeshift tee on the practice green, I asked newly crowned winner Phil Mickelson if he could foresee future iterations of his event with Tiger Woods.

“I think we need to wait and see how people liked it or not,” he said. “This was really fun for me, some of the most fun I’ve had on a golf course. … I guess it will depend on if people enjoyed it and want more, but I don’t know what that is right now. I just know that today was a really special, fun day.”

His non commitment was understandable in the moment, though I’d be surprised if this doesn’t open up some Pandora’s Box to more match-play events — Tiger and Phil each with a partner, Tiger and Phil playing as a team, even a throwback to the old skins game days with a foursome playing as every-man-for-himself.


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I’m going to get to my five takeaways on what needs to be improved for future versions. But I don’t think the resounding vibe in the aftermath of this one should be a negative.

Tiger and Phil tried something. They created competition when there previously wasn’t any.

Was it perfect? No way. Did parts of it reek of greed? Absolutely. Could certain aspects be fine-tuned? No doubt — and that’s what I’m going to write about.

This match shouldn’t be perceived as some failure by the public.

At the very least, it offered nearly five hours of legendary golfers playing on an otherwise gloomy Black Friday. At best, it gave us a glimpse into what this event can become. If they do continue this as a series, it can only get better.

Let’s take a look at five potential improvements:

Play better

This one sounds too easy, doesn’t it? Trust me: Both guys were trying out there; they just didn’t have their best stuff.

Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Tiger Woods reacts to his putt on on the 14th green.

And this was on a Shadow Creek course that was set up for birdie binges. The tees were largely moved up and hole locations were in easier spots.

My idea for the next one: Make it even easier.

More driveable par-4s, like six of ‘em. Hell, it’s match play and these are always the most fun holes in this type of format. Give ‘em a bunch of par-5s they can reach in two. And a few par-3s that require only a flip wedge.

I wouldn’t want a U.S. Open set up like this, but in a made-for-TV match where the overall score doesn’t matter, they need to give themselves every opportunity for eagles and birdies.

That rarely happened on Friday.

More side challenges

First off, let’s cut this “challenge” nonsense. They’re called bets — and the PGA Tour, whose jurisdiction over this event I still don’t quite understand, needs to acknowledge that.

Secondly, they need to allow more of ‘em.

Four side wagers cashed during the match — which is no surprise, considering I’d reported two months ago that they’d only be allowed two “challenges” per side.

I want to see Tiger drop a ball in the fairway and bet Phil a quarter-million he can’t hit it closer. I want to see them exchange drivers and see who hits it farthest. I want to see them race to the green, sprinting as fast as they can.

Instead, the side wagers wound up being the pre-tourney one where Phil bet he’d birdie the first (he didn’t) and three subsequent closest-to-the-pin bets on the par-3s (all won by Phil).

That’s boring.

The side action is where the fun can really happen, but it never got going on Friday.

Don’t flaunt the money

Unlike many observers of this match, I don’t begrudge them playing for prize money. Everything in the world, especially the sports world, is dictated by the almighty dollar. These are professional athletes, competing in their sport, for money.

Don’t act so sanctimonious.

That said, more of the money going to charity would help change public perception.

And for goodness sake, stop taking PR photos with $9 million in fake money, like it’s the World Series of Poker.

It’s a bad look. And this event doesn’t need any more bad looks.

Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Charles Barkley holds a part of the prize money before The Match.

Make a generous donation to the First Tee. Have some kids out there following the match, maybe in #TeamTiger or #TeamPhil t-shirts. Hell, the players should even let the kids hit a putt here and there; if they make it, even more money toward their organization.

These are all easy ways that Tiger and Phil could move the masses back to their side. It wouldn’t take much.

They’ve done the greedy thing. It didn’t work. Next time, try the philanthropy thing. It’ll work so much better.

Mute the announcers

Just after the match was over, Mickelson said, “I’m curious to see how some of the drone shots and some of the mics and roaming cameras, curious to see how that turned about, because it’s all about creating a better viewing experience for the viewers as we continue down this road with sports.”

Spoiler alert: The telecast left a lot to be desired.

I don’t think the camera shots that Phil spoke about broke down any barriers and will lead to innovations in the way we watch golf tournaments.

The bigger problem is that the announcing team stepped all over the stars of the show throughout the day.

The whole benefit of Tiger and Phil being mic’d up is that we get to hear their conversations with each other, with their caddies and with the fans. Instead, it felt like every time they opened their mouths, one of the commentators would speak over them.

Again — and I also wrote this before the event – this was treated too much like a golf tournament and not enough like a special event. The only commentator who even drew a smile from viewers was Charles Barkley, who brazenly said he could beat both of them on the front nine.

(Someone involved with the event should’ve heard these words and immediately dragged Sir Charles out on the course. There needed to be more situational awareness and quick decisions like this.)

I’d prefer a crew made up completely of people who’d never before broadcasted golf, but are humorous and well-spoken and make for good television.

Find some opponents

Even though Tiger and Phil insist they don’t know the future of this event, I think it’s safe to guess we’ll see more — and I think it’s safe to guess they’ll team up at some point to play together.

There will be plenty of options available.

Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth? Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka? Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose?

All are decent options, but none will offer anything we’ve never seen before.

Here’s what I want: A couple of 16-handicaps, maybe people who win a contest or something, playing a two-man scramble while getting a couple of shots on each hole from Tiger and Phil, who would play best-ball.

I want to see something I’ve never seen before. I want to see average Joe golfer, shaking in his soft spikes over playing two of the game’s legends, trying to get up and down for $10,000.

It might not be fun for those guys, but it sure would be fun for those of us watching.

And maybe it could actually happen.

When I posed this idea to Mickelson a few months ago, well, he didn’t hate it.

This could be a nice way for this event to transition into something a bit different, while building on any momentum it scored on Friday.