Match Play Should Be a Part of Professional Golf, but the Format is Critical for TV Viewers
The World Match Play Championship last week at Harding is always one of the most exciting weeks of golf – until you get to the weekend. While most PGA Tour events do not get exciting until after the cut and on the weekend, the Match Play peaks on its first two days.
In recent years the single elimination golf bracket event would make the first three days some of the most exciting golf of the year, but the drawback was the top players getting eliminated and weekend play featuring limited groups with unfamiliar names.
Last week the PGA Tour tried to eliminate that by creating a pool play system, which was exciting, but still sent many of the top players in the world home early.
While it is the beauty of match play to see the underdog win, there is a lot of television money that says we want to see the top players all the way to the end. So how do we do that? They will always make tweaks to the event and I have a few suggestions myself.
I love the pool play concept, but it was a bit confusing to keep track of the playoffs and sudden-death events. Maybe they can create a point system that would include points for halved matches like in Ryder Cup. Then if there was a tie in points a sudden-death playoff could make it exciting for match play spots.
Also, when the “Sweet 16” is determined for match play, re-seed the players based on world ranking or original seeding. This would guarantee the top players still alive would be split into two brackets increasing the odds of higher ranked players meeting in the finals. That could increase television ratings.
When the final eight is determined, those eight players would continue to play through out the weekend with the losers in the round of eight meeting on Sunday afternoon to play for more prize money, and FedEx Cup points. The final four would be played on Sunday morning with the losers meeting on Sunday afternoon. This is better for television because it is easier to cover four matches on a golf course versus just two.
Other options for the event could be to play a 54-hole stroke play over the first three days with the top 16 qualifying for match play over the weekend. Another exciting format would be to adopt the Western Amateur format.
In the Western Am, the field of 64 would play 18 holes of individual stroke play on Wednesday and Thursday after which the field will be cut to the low 44 scores and ties. Those remaining would play 36 holes of individual stroke play on Friday to determine the low 16 finishers. Ties would playoff. The “Sweet Sixteen” would then compete at Match Play on Saturday and Sunday to decide the champion. I actually think this would be a great format for the Tour Championship and determining a $10 million winner.
Whatever professional golf decides, I hope they keep match play around forever. It is the purest form of golf competition.