Call me a golf nerd, but as the theme song piped up and the sweet, sweet voice of Jim Nantz came through the TV, my blood was pumping. The season technically began a few weeks ago, but consider those preseason games. For my money, the PGA Tour year starts when CBS joins the party, with Nantz leading the way.
Sitting on the couch Saturday afternoon, a day after the winter blues had struck with full force, I expected a typical day of golf. The leader board was strong, with big names and exciting stories destined for lots of camera time. But when that Yanni-composed masterpiece started pumping, the feeling was more like a Yankee World Series game, or Sunday of the Masters. I was caught off guard by how excited I was. Just a two weeks earlier I'd lamented whether my golf fever had finally broken. Thankfully I'm as afflicted as ever.
Golf on TV gets a bad rap. Most people find it induces sleep better than Ambien. But to a real aficionado of the game, and not just the game of golf, but the spectator sport of golf, there is nothing better than a weekend planted in front of the big screen, watching all the colors come alive in high def, with waves crashing in the background, and a yard of snow piled up outside the living room window.
This season promised so much drama before they got under way in Hawaii just after New Year's. But wow, what a way to start the year, with storylines coming out the wazoo.
Watching golf on TV is about more than simply seeing one great golf shot after another. It's a matter of appreciating the stories of the guys involved. Unlike so many team sports where it's "no I in team" and we root for the laundry a guy is wearing one year, and rooting against him when he dons the hated rival's jersey, in golf there's an emotional investment. Or a legitimate reason to crack a smile when someone you can't stand dunks one into the lake on 18.
Take Bubba Watson for example. The guy is pure excitement, he hits the ball a mile, shapes shots unlike anyone else this generation (or maybe in history), takes risky plays like his way too aggressive shot in the PGA Championship playoff, and has opened up his personal life for all to see. The budding star from Bagdad, Fla. is constantly on Twitter, messing with his fans, shining a light on life on the Tour.
And in Watson's case, we know just how real real life can be. When he lost his dad, he had a legion of fans who'd never met the man mourning. As he sank the putt on the 72nd hole Sunday, not a single fan watching didn't know that Bubba's thoughts were with his father. Name a player on your favorite NBA team you feel like you know that well.
Another guy we should all be dying to learn more about is and to fall in love with is Johnny Vegas, the 26-year-old who has stormed onto the stage. He's got the unique Latin American roots that golf has so rarely known, the swagger, the "so happy to be here" grin, the less-than-chiseled physique, and the bull in a china shop mentality of going at every flag, whether the pond is there to gobble up a miss or not.
How about the way the Farmers ended? If you weren't on the edge of your seat wondering if Phil Mickelson would find a way to pull the impossible and hole out from 72 yards, then you're nothing like me. When he walked to the 17th green to read the ridge near the cup and nearly brought his approach off that slope I was yelling for it to go in. Yes, I was watching golf, not the Super Bowl, but the passion was no less. As Mickelson sent his caddie Bones McKay up to the 18th green to tend the flag, we saw what Mickelson knows already: Golf isn't just about winning, losing, and hitting pretty shots. It's about creating drama, building suspense, giving the fans a great show. Never was that better on display than with Lefty standing 216 feet from the cup, wedge in hand, needing to hole out for eagle to force a playoff. Did he milk it for all it was worth? Absolutely. If you're a Phil-hater, you'll say he was putting on a show and it was absurd. If you're a fan, you'll understand he was building up for one of the great finishes TV golf has seen in some time. And when that ball began its final descent, and touched down just inches from the cup, I'd have a hard time believing that anyone watching could call that sleep-inducing television.
Some people turn on golf on a Sunday and think nap. With all due respect, it's Sunday back nine drama that all sports should dream about. Cue Yanni …