As I sat and watched the 91st PGA Championship Sunday afternoon, I started wondering something. Why? Why am I sitting here watching this?
I love basically every sport (except that one where guys drive cars around in a circle) and enjoy the heck out of wasting a Sunday afternoon on the sofa watching grown men hit a ball around in a park. But why? In every other major sport, we watch because we care. We care about our team and our players. We care about our city or our school. If you’re an SEC team, you care about your conference. We feel like we’re as much a part of the team as the players and coaching staff. We buy the jerseys, buy the hats, put decals on our cars and fly flags in our yards. We watch because we have invested in the team and they’re our guys. When they win, we win. When they lose, we lose. But nobody’s putting on a Tiger Woods jersey or a crying for hours because Phil couldn’t finish at Winged Foot. Well, besides maybe Phil of course.
But in golf, there’s no such bond. Sure, people can have their favorites. We all root for Tiger on Sunday. When a great story gets rolling like Tom Watson at Turnberry, he’s our favorite person ever for five hours. But for the most part, there’s no link between us and the golfer. We’re not pumping our fists at great shots, high-fiving strangers after an eagle or arguing with friends about next year’s PGA Tour. We basically forget about the sport until Saturday and Sunday roll around and sometimes, we don’t even notice unless Eldrick is involved. But alas, a lot of us deeply care about what happens with the sport. And so I ask: Why?
My best guess is because instead of active fan involvement as in football, basketball or baseball, it’s appreciation and admiration of the game and those involved. Appreciation of what those guys can do, but we can’t. Admiration for their incredible skill and focus. Most everybody has tried to pick up a golf club and swing it around. Some swing it just 75 or 80 times an afternoon. Others take 100 and sometimes more hacks at that little white ball. We can’t do what those guys can. And so we watch and think, What a shot! Why can’t I do that?
And on top of appreciating the skill, golf is really great theater. No sport can be so boring, yet so intense at the same time. We’re enthralled while we watch Lucas Glover squat over a putt, look at it, step back, talk to his caddy, squat over it again, line up, take a practice swing, back off and then do it all again. We can’t pull away from it. Over 18 holes there’s so many ups and downs and even when someone has a three shot lead with two to play, we still think: Is there a chance? That ball could go skip off into the water, he could skull it for a bad drive or he could get stuck in a bunker. Maybe it’s not over. But 99 times out of 100 the player pars one and bogeys the other for the win. They can handle it. We can’t. We’d skull, slice and push our way to an eight and a six.
And maybe that’s why we appreciate it so darn much. It’s all about the competition and in golf, it’s as intense as ever. Like we saw Sunday, two guys can captivate us for five hours just because they’re competing. When the stakes are high and the competition is good, sports fans will watch just about anything. It’s just in our DNA. Doesn’t matter if it’s competitive eating, a baseball game between teams we don’t care about or lingerie football, we’ll watch. If you’re playing, we’re watching.
One of my favorite days of the year is Father’s Day and no, I’m not a father… yet. So it’s not about presents or nice cards. It’s because I go to church, go out to eat with my family and then settle into the cushions for an afternoon at the U.S. Open while dad sits in the chair next to me. It’s just… great. It’s not like when we sit and watch an OU football game together and scream at the TV and complain about that missed holding call. It’s not like when the family gathers around to watch the Sooners play in the NCAA tournament. We’re not rooting for anybody out there. We’re just watching.
So while I watched some guy named Y.E. Yang snatch No. 15 from Tiger and was glued to the TV for hours of pure drama and intensity, I wondered why I was doing it. Sure I wanted Tiger to take home the Wanamaker Trophy, but it wasn’t because I felt the connection of being a fan of his. It was just for the story and the ongoing saga of his greatness. Or if the unthinkable happened and he lost, well, then that’s quite a tall tale as well.
So what is it? Is it the appreciation of what one can do, but we cannot? Is it because we’re hooked in to the high drama of one shot to the next? Is is because of a connection to a player and a desire to constantly see history? Is it the great competition during a high stakes event?
Or maybe sometimes it’s just that there wasn’t really anything else on. Football starts soon, right?