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A glimpse of the future





What a breathless finish that was on Sunday at the Northern Trust Open. And what a way to kick off the business end of the FedEx Cup! Today's two biggest titans of the game, going at it hammer and tongs. What more could you ask for?

That round of golf Dustin Johnson produced on Sunday was as flawless as you'll ever see, but it was also an exhibition of striking the perfect balance between defence and attack. Spieth gave him an unnecessary sniff at the sixth hole, but it wasn't as if the Texan handed it to him on a platter thereafter. Johnson was simply in tune with his game, never looked in any trouble, and that tee shot in the playoff was just plain audacious.

Once he stood over the ball with sand wedge in hand, it felt like there was only ever going to be one possible outcome - and so it came to pass. Frankly, the only surprise for me was that he didn't hole it.

Spieth showed his usual fight for much of the day, along with grace in defeat. But he'll know that, when it comes to raw talent and ability alone, he and the rest can't hold a candle to DJ when he's in the zone.

For the man himself, it must have been immensely satisfying. That unfortunate injury in the lead-up to the Masters robbed him of his chance to snaffle one or more majors this year, just as he was reaching previously-unscaled peaks in his game. The sands of time over the last few months have also cast doubt upon the perceived legitimacy of his ranking as the world's finest golfer.

On Sunday, he emphatically cleared that one up for us. He's back, and he's not going anywhere.

But it wasn't only the sight of Johnson at his majestic best which caught my attention. In the background of the remarkable shots he and Spieth pulled off was a sea of smartphones, bobbing just above the heads of eager spectators. The same characterised the scene over in Denmark last week too.

Of course, legalising their use during tournament play is genius. At a time when social shares are the gold standard of marketing, allowing - nay, encouraging - fans to take photos and videos, and hashtagging them on social media, is the best possible way to get eyes on the game; quickly and effectively too. It's all part of moving with the times, which seems to be a message that's been received loud and clear by custodians of the game on both sides of the Atlantic this year. Well done, folks. Genuinely.

But forgive me if I merely accept this one as a necessary evil, rather than embrace it with the red carpet. Because my mind boggles as to why someone who’s paid good money for a ticket to watch a duel between the two biggest stars of the game feels the need to do so from behind a little screen. Does checking in and showing off to your friends really supersede living and breathing every second of the action?

I don't buy the argument that filming allows one to re-live these moments in the future too. Aside from the fact that footage can be sourced online with ease anyway, those magical sporting occasions I've been lucky enough to see live are burnt into my mind forever. Vividly. It's not something that requires a photographic memory. It just needs you to be in the moment, taking it all in.

A few different pundits commented on the reserved atmosphere at Glen Oaks on the weekend, despite the compelling drama which was unfolding. Several theories were put forward as to why, including a tired format of the Playoffs, the exclusive, stuffy nature of the golf club itself, and a series of tasteless complaints from players of fatigue, and a yearning for the off-season.

My theory is simpler: blame it on all the phones. Firstly, those with a slab of metal in their hands can't clap properly. But more than that, phones represent a distraction. Are those who are hidden behind these 'cameras', furiously texting away, and uploading to social platforms, fully engaged? Is the excitement of the theatre itself fully resonating with them, and are they feeding off the energy of the players to the maximum possible extent? Me thinks not.

But such is the way of the modern world. Apparently, a backdrop of iPhones and Androids makes for a better spectacle than awed faces when Johnson and Co are working their extraordinary magic. It isn't a reflection on the sport of golf, or even golf fans themselves. It is just a case of taking it onboard, or falling behind. And with the popularity of golf currently on shaky ground, it's not really a choice at the end of the day.

The right course of action has been taken. Improved social coverage, as a result of spectator uploads, may even yield a significant uptick in participation levels and interest around the world. In fact, it almost certainly will. Even still, I find it hard to jump for joy.


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