August 14, 2017
Golf is boring.
That sentence reflects the reason so many young people may not watch or follow the sport of golf. In a world where instant gratification has seized the culture, the tedious and time-consuming sport of golf seems out of place. Some have gone so far to even say the oft-maligned millennials will “kill the sport.” According to a 2015 National Golf Foundation report, participation in the 18-34 age group is down by 3 million since the mid-90s, which has in turn created a cloud of uncertainty about the future of the sport.
The PGA has continued to power through while this ominous cloud looms over them. This past weekend they held their 99th PGA Championship at the Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, North Carolina, a course that was renovated during the summer of 2016 and has always been notorious for its difficulty (particularly the three final holes, dubbed “The Green Mile”).
The event was well attended, as thousands traveled to the Queen City to see the best golfers in the world compete for one of golf’s four majors. The first three days of the competition were somewhat archetypal, with Kevin Kisner being able to maintain a lead over the rest of the field, including favorites Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth, whose middling play had them right around par for the entirety of the tournament. However, the tournament never lacked entertaining moments–watching the golfers rushing to get their play in before it went dark on Friday was thoroughly amusing.
Championship Sunday arrived and brought with it tremendous action, unpredictable storylines, and a fair share of memorable moments. Perhaps the most memorable was Justin Thomas’ putt on the 10th hole. In a moment that seemed to defy the laws of physics, the ball sat on the ring of the hole for a solid 10 seconds before deciding to drop in for birdie.
Thomas (affectionately referred to as “J.T.” by the fans) ended up winning the tournament, thanks somewhat to fortunate plays such as that putt. But what propelled the 24-year-old third generation golfer even more was the quiet confidence he possessed when facing the prospect of winning his first major. The confidence could best be exemplified by a story he told reporters during his press conference: “I truly felt like I was going to win. I remember my girlfriend was supposed to fly out at about 7:00 and I was like, ‘You need to change your flight to later, because I don’t know, I just feel like I don’t want you to miss this. I feel like I’m going to get it done…she’s the first person to tell you that I don’t want to talk about golf when I get in that situation.”
Thomas was one of many who had a shot at taking home the Wanamaker Trophy on Sunday. Kevin Kisner, Rickie Fowler, Patrick Reed and Hideki Matsuyama were all in contention late Sunday evening. The final round showed the sport at its finest. The nervousness of watching a young man trying to hold on to his first major. The heartbreak of seeing the man who had led all weekend struggle on the back nine to have the lead he maintained all weekend slip away. The thrill of witnessing the best players in the world meticulously planning and assessing their next shots, knowing that each stroke could get them closer or further away from winning one of the most prestigious tournaments in the sport.
During the fourth round at Quail Hollow, golf stood in open defiance to the millennial mindset that the sport is boring, completely contradicting the stereotype at every moment.
Golf is exciting.
In response to its recent staggering, there have been suggestions that golf should change the sport to cater to younger fans. This would be a brash course of action. The sport itself doesn’t need to change. The problem is not the PGA selling a bad product, but the PGA struggling to convince people to watch with so many other entertainment options and distractions. If golf could get more young people to the course, they would quickly realize their perception of the sport is inaccurate, much like during the Tiger Woods era.
The PGA is a first class organization. The 99th PGA Championship was run with outstanding efficiency, arrant professionalism, and complete order. If they can take those qualities and use them to promote the sport to a younger and more diverse group, they would benefit greatly. Taking the initiative to do things that may seem small (such as offering ticket discounts for college students) may end up going a long way. The biggest resource they have on their side are guys like Justin Thomas. The 24-year-old is one of many younger golfers who are starting to make a name for themselves. Thomas, Fowler, Spieth, and Matsuyama are all proven golfers under the age of 30, which can greatly assist in the sport building a younger fan base.
The future is bright for Justin Thomas, who now has five PGA Tour wins and a PGA Championship under his belt. If the PGA can properly market Thomas and his millennial peers, the future could be much brighter for the sport of golf.