As the U.S. Open quickly approaches – and my excitement builds as the hours count down until the first televised tee times – I would be lying if I didn’t say I’ve been wondering how this one will shake up from a television standpoint.
Yes it’s the U.S.Open, and yes it’s a major, and majors always do well from a broadcast standpoint, but this year I honestly can’t tell you who the favorite is. Now, as a golf enthusiast that’s not a bad thing, but for the casual fans who just tune in to the majors or just want to see Tiger, Phil, or even Sergio (Garcia, for those who have already forgotten) be in the hunt on the final day, that may be a deal breaker. Those names I mentioned may seem a bit antiquated in terms of who’s actually been competing consistently across the tour, but those are the big names that the casual fans still recognize. Lucas Glover, Luke Donald and Lee Westwood might as well all be minor league baseball players to some casual fans, and while names like Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson are familiar, their lack of major championships hurt their “big name” marketability to those who don’t regularly follow the tour. Let’s also not forget that Tiger has officially withdrawn, which means that viewership has already taken a hit before a single stroke has been made.
Forgetting the big names for a second, the Congressional Blue Course itself may also present a (potential) problem for big ratings. Congressional has hosted a total of 3 PGA majors. The first was the 1964 U.S. Open, which saw Ken Venturi win with a score of 2 under. The next major to come to Congressional was the 1976 PGA Championship, which Dick Stockton won with a 1 over. The U.S. Open again returned to Congressional in 97, and Ernie Else posted a 4 under to beat out Colin Montgomerie by just one stroke. This kind of low scoring golf can have varying results on TV ratings, especially when you consider that the Tiger effect will not be admissible for this one. While low scoring golf is compelling, especially to the avid fan, the casual watcher will not always agree, or at least not enough to consistently watch.
All of this wont matter come tomorrow, of course. I’ll be settling in, watching every minute I can when not working, and tracking it while I am. I wish the same could be said for everyone else though, because I don’t think golf should have to rely on a Tiger Woods type figure in order to maximize it’s interest, and though I would be lying if I said I don’t want to see him at the top of leader board on the final day, there’s a difference between watching a compelling figure because you love the sport he competes in and watching a sport because you love the compelling figure competing.