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My Take: Sunday's event could be turning point for golf
Dustin Johnson (left) and Rory McIlroy teamed up to win a charity event at Seminole Golf Club on Sunday, raising over $5 million for relief efforts. - photo by Associated Press

The sports world is still a far cry from being normal, but at least one item on my personal checklist returned on Sunday afternoon.

As has happened on countless spring and summer weekends, I accomplished half of the household chores my wife had asked of me, only to be lured to the television — and a nap — by pro golf.

In a charity event held at the esteemed Seminole Golf Club in Juno Beach, Fla., Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson defeated Rickie Fowler and Matthew Wolff in a skins match that raised over $5 million.

With every sport trying to figure out what strange new features will enable them to return to play as soon as possible, golf certainly seems like it can deliver the same sort of product while adhering to safety guidelines. The lack of a crowd didn’t change my personal viewing experience. If anything, it allowed viewers to take in a spectacular Seminole Club course that had never appeared on television before.

The players wore shorts and carried their own bags, but - if anything - that made the action even more relatable to the high-handicappers watching at home who don’t play with caddies and who would never show up to a course wearing slacks on a muggy Florida afternoon. 

Following Sunday’s event, it dawned on me that this could be a huge turning point for the sport and for how players choose to promote themselves.

To be sure, the marquee events on the PGA Tour and the four majors aren’t going anywhere. Ratings will be stellar if and when the tour is able to play its amended major schedule this fall, and attendance at those events figures to remain high as soon as crowds are permitted back on the links.

But as for many other dates on the golf calendar, who’s to say?

While current times are certainly an exception and not a rule, it’s not hard to fathom a future where huge names are reeled in for a payday in exclusive one-off events. Years of ratings prove that viewers follow the game’s biggest stars and plenty of non-pandemic TV specials have raked in tons of money. 

If the money is there to be had, it doesn’t seem far-fetched to envision a golf club looking to make a name for itself ponying up the purse to put on a show. 

If the television and online streaming eyeballs will be focused on the event, it seems like a no-brainer that top brands might organize an event featuring all the stars under their umbrella putting on a five-hour infomercial for the latest line of products.

Golf has been primetime viewing - at least during the biggest events - ever since Tiger Woods burst onto the scene. But prior to the late 90s, there was little hype for lesser events and nobody outside of the top 10-20 players in the world were getting rich off of the game.

And the truth is, anyone not consistently making cuts and finishing on the first few pages of the leaderboard every week still isn’t exactly a legend at their local bank. It should come as no surprise that the lowest-level tour events — or those played concurrent to majors or big overseas tournaments — feature no-name players with sparse crowds and not much on the way of possible winnings.

The world’s top players already make more money in endorsements than they do through tournament checks. If special events can guarantee big paydays — while also offering the lack of excessive media obligations, pro-ams, long days due to slow play from a 150-man field, etc. — there’s little that will stop the world’s top players from ditching smaller tournaments in favor of receiving top billing at a special event.

The Premier Golf League is currently trying to compete with the PGA. It aims to be a more global affair, playing only half as many tournaments while still offering huge purses. However, many of the game’s biggest names have already declined potential offers to join.

But with more singular, unaffiliated events, it would be easy for big draws to pocket more money without the hassle of worldwide travel or learning the rules and format of an entirely new tour.

The PGA isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, but if Sunday’s Seminole showdown proves anything, it’s that there could be more opportunities soon for the world’s top players might call in sick to lesser events in order to sneak out for a round of golf.