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Will the PGA grow wings in 2019?





I know I've banged the "PGA Championship is inferior" drum before, but it was with some interest that I noted how poor the ratings were over in America for the showpiece at Quail Hollow a week or so ago - specifically from the network CBS, who were kind enough to divulge details.

On Sunday, around 4.9 million tuned in to watch what was actually a fascinating race to the Wanamaker Trophy, which involved numerous legitimate contenders. This total produced a network index rating of 3.2. The corresponding figures last year were 5.3 million and 3.4, which equates to a drop off of seven percent and six percent for each measure respectively.

More alarmingly though is the nosedive compared with 2015, when Jason Day won at Whistling Straits. Back then, 6.7 million switched on their televisions to see the Aussie hold off Jordan Spieth for a rating of 4.4. In other words, there's been a 27 percent decline in both measures, making 2017 the least-viewed fourth day of the PGA since 2008 (which was shortly after Tiger's knee surgery, and coincided with the Beijing Olympics), and the second least since way back in 1981.

The numbers for day three weren't any better either, with 3.2 million viewers and a 2.2 index rating. Last year's third round was rained out, so, excluding that, these were the worst third-round figures since 2012, and a 24 percent/21 percent drop off on 2015 respectively.

Why? Why has the PGA fallen off a cliff from just 24 months ago?

Lower than average figures in 2008 and 2012 were largely blamed on the Olympics, hence the reason behind the slight rescheduling in 2016 (although it clearly didn't help last year). Obviously, this isn't an argument to hide behind for 2017. Instead, in a recent article, Golf Digest blogger Geoff Shackelford blamed:

  1. a lack of mega-star power,
  2. long telecast hours,
  3. the growth of illegal streaming, and
  4. my biggest bug bear of them all... excessive commercial breaks

Point one cannot be helped, point two is debatable, point three is slowly being brought under control, but point four is the biggest curse of them all. Greed. Commercial greed, which is self-defeating, and risks running the tournament into the ground.

All those around the world who must watch coverage through these networks (who have the broadcast rights) suffer too. You spend as much time watching players hacking it on a score of +12 as you do the leaders. Good luck watching more than a handful of shots of South Africans too, even when they're in contention. How does that make for compelling viewing? The golden goose is being sucked dry, and it will be everyone who loses out in the end.

Yet there is also another theory: major burnout. We all eagerly await the Masters, not only because of the splendour of Augusta, but also because it is the first major of the year, following an eight-month hiatus. The US Open, too, we must wait a further two months for, and the unique, difficult nature of the event is such that we all know it isn't over until the last putt goes in. The Open Championship reigns supreme because of its marvellous traditions, and we've seen some extraordinary climaxes over the years to boot.

And then, just a few weeks later, comes an event lacking history (the format has only been a strokeplay one for 60 years) and prestige. Sort of like a second, mediocre dessert which is served when you've barely had time to digest your first, and are still a little bit full.

Yet from 2019, that's all set to change, as we'll be heading to Bethpage Black for the PGA in May. Part of the reason for doing so was to prevent future clashes with the Olympics, and also to avoid losing viewers to the start of the NFL season. For me, I think it's a terrific idea. All the other three majors will hold their own regardless of when they are played, and the PGA can now look to bridge the gap.

Perhaps it is a shame that, over the course of 12 months, all the majors will be crammed into just three. There will also be ramifications for the Players Championship, Ryder Cup and other tournaments.

But, on balance, this is surely a step in the right direction. Come May 2019, we'll have only had the Masters to fill our bellies for that year, and all eyes will be on the PGA as we look to find out who the second major winner will be. And, if the bosses over at the networks can put lining their pockets with advertising revenue just a smidge further down the totem pole, there's a good chance that many of these eyeballs will stay transfixed on the action for an extended period of time.

It's time to let the PGA fly. Or at least give it the best possible opportunity of doing so. Well done to all for being brave enough to challenge the status quo.


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