These days it’s almost impossible to scroll by insipid influencers without crashing into some pearl-clutcher’s pieties about how golf fans are being driven from the sport. Apparently, the masses are angrily rending polo shirts as they mourn a once-noble game that has been lost to the relentless rise of dollars, division and douchebaggery.
Perhaps there is a more palpable air of melancholy surrounding golf — or at least the men’s professional corner of it — but as with most assertions peddled on social media, the notion that fans are drifting away in droves seems more anecdotal than evidential. Many of those who claim to have disengaged continue to comment on golf’s every storyline in the manner of those who are, well, enthusiastically engaged. There are plenty of folks who find the current state of affairs disheartening and are eager to scold those they hold responsible — chiefly greedy players, incompetent executives, shilling media and, occasionally, moneyed human rights abusers.
But leavin’ they ain’t.
Take last week’s Sentry tournament in Maui. The full event broadcast of Chris Kirk’s victory averaged only 4,000 viewers fewer than Jon Rahm’s in ’23 despite the obvious disparity in star power atop the leaderboard. Ratings were the second-best since 2017 while weekend network coverage was a tiny notch higher than last year. Viewership of last fall’s slate of PGA Tour events — presumed doomed by the general absence of stars — showed negligible difference year on year. Small samples for sure, but it makes one ponder a point made Tuesday by Tour veteran Paul Goydos on Golf Today, that there’s a tendency to overstate the importance of individual golfers while underestimating the resiliency of the collective golf product. Or, in layman’s terms, everyone is replaceable, and often forgotten.
Still, the PGA Tour’s product has been undeniably weakened by the defection of a handful of meaningful players, and even loyal fans might be ambivalent on the subsequent contortions the Tour made to maintain the loyalty of others. The myriad issues roiling the sport will get messier yet, but the opening fortnight of the ’24 season has at least proved to even the most disgruntled fans that there are guys worth rooting for. One of them leaves Hawaii with a trophy, the other with something much more precious.
Chris Kirk’s lows are well documented — battles with alcoholism and depression that forced him to take a leave of absence…