Analysing Tiger Woods & Phil Mickelson's $10 Million Match
You could say that time does funny things to relationships. On the one hand it can destroy the closest unions and on the other it can warm the icy distance that inevitably builds between great rivals.
With the announcement of a prime-time made-for-television winner-takes-all $10 million head-to-head clash between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson we can assume that their frost has thawed. The two are now making golf betting history together.
In truth we knew as much because they've spent much of 2018 flirting bromance style. It began when they practised together at the Masters together, much to the amusement of other golfers. "I never thought I'd see the day," joked Rory McIlroy.
As if dressing up for a first date at high school Mickelson even debuted his long sleeve short for the occasion. It really was a million miles from Hal Sutton's doomed attempt to match-make at the 2004 Ryder Cup. The body language that day was reminiscent of Charles and Diana at their worst. In contrast the Augusta National dalliance far more Harry and Meghan on front of the cameras.
And so to the grand match. In one sense it makes perfect sense. Mickelson is renowned for his high stakes matches in practice, famously hustling Keegan Bradley so badly the loser avoided money games for 12 months afterwards. It’s safe to say that Mickelson’s golf betting strategy is an interesting one.
It's also well-known that both men love to trash-talk and the notion of them being mic'd up for the 18 holes, introducing viewers into another side of their personalities, is one that will greatly appeal to TV executives across the globe.
The Head to Head Factor
The idea also has history on its side. The growth of the game in the 19th century was built not on tournaments and championships, but head-to-head matches with huge stakes, usually funded by big-time businessmen.
These matches extended into the 20th century and when television came along the likes of Shell's Wonderful World of Golf morphed into the "Battle At -" franchise.
Sports business experts have been quick to proclaim that they are convinced the model is strong, that pay-per-view would work, and that social media can whip fans into a frenzy, providing an arena to fuel and grow the smack talk. It's easy to imagine fellow players adding to this, which would only increase the attention.
How realistic is it? Well, one telling of the story is that the match very nearly happened last week so it does seem to be on the cards. A Las Vegas venue is mooted, supposedly the perfect backdrop for two eminent chancers to dual to the golfing death.
What's without question is that if their current friendship has allowed this match to be considered, then their past enmity is what adds the spice. We know that losing will sting, that it will hurt the loser's ego.
Money or Publicity?
What maybe isn't true is that the money matters, which is the first of many doubts about the exercise. The thought is that it's simply crass to be playing for so much. If $10 million mattered (Tiger said he'd play for enough that would hurt his opponent), if it really was a matter of comfort and future financial security, they wouldn't play. So it's not the be all and end all. Which makes it doubly crass.
The next misgiving would focus on the relevance. Is the entire enterprise an admission that they're no longer the gladiators they once were? Is it tacit recognition that this battle is never going to take place in the only arena that actually matters: over the back nine, on a Sunday, in a major championship?
The truth might speaks volumes about the sport because those voicing their lack of interest most loudly are committed golf fans who see the exercise for what it is: a vulgar confection without context.
But the reality is that golf cannot really survive on the love of those fans alone. It needs the uncommitted, the half-hearted and the sporadically attentive whose gaze is not engaged by history, pertinence or class. It rather likes vulgar confections.
It was from this demographic that most excitable noise was made in the aftermath of the announcement and it is their eyeballs which will determine the success or failure of a golfing gamble of a curiously old-fashioned kind, one which attract plenty of punting action from third parties, not just the two legends on the course.
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