Skin in the game? Just about…  

Mark McGowan

Rory McIlroy, Brian O'Driscoll, Mike Tindell and Tiger Woods (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

The seemingly never-ending saga that is Brexit. The DUP’s return to Stormont for the first time in three years in what was little more than a political stunt. The GAA congress blindly voting in the most radical set of changes in the organisation’s history as certain counties’ delegates don’t even bother to turn up. Ireland’s pitiful Rugby World Cup exit. The Republic’s failure to land any kind of a blow on the Swiss when a knockout was required in their Euro 2020 qualification tie. Racism alive and well all over Europe, Donald Trump being Donald Trump and Love Island to add a winter series as if the summer torture wasn’t bad enough.  

I think it’s safe to say that I was in need of some pleasant entertainment, and where better to find it than at the MGM Resorts The Challenge: Japan Skins? Well, plenty places, it turns out.   

Firstly – and this is purely personal of course – there is no worse format in golf than skins. In what other style of play could you absolutely stink the joint out, play one semi-decent hole and find yourself in the lead? What would have made the Japanese Challenge – I’m sorry MGM Resorts, even though it was extremely last minute, I’m sure you paid a tidy sum to have your name there – of greater interest would be if they pitted McIlroy and Matsuyama against Woods and Day in some kind of team format. As any weekend fourball can attest, the little team element adds all the spice.  

Secondly – and like Tiger versus Phil in The Match last year –mic’d up players and cutting-edge smack talk do not go hand-in-hand. In fact, it’s hard to imagine there are any worse trash-talkers than professional golfers. Generally, off the cuff denigration comes more naturally to athletes whose talents are honed on the streets. Golfers? It’s just not in their DNA. I’m not saying mic’d up players can’t deliver entertainment – they can and sometimes do – but please stop trying to push the “banter” angle. God, I feel like I need a shower after using that word.  

Thirdly, the money. As gaudy and over-the-top as The Match’s $9 million winner’s cheque was, the $350,000 on offer here was a token pittance given the near certainty that each of the four participants was getting seven figures just for showing up. Any number of entertaining forfeits could’ve been drawn up to add a level of excitement and pressure that $10,000 fails to arouse in multi-millionaires.   

Not to be all doom and gloom, there were a few highlights from the coverage. The one-club-challenge hole was a breath of fresh air and allowed Jason Day to demonstrate exactly why top professionals are operating on a level that even the best club golfers can scarcely comprehend. Opting for a six-iron, Day’s third blow saw him reach the greenside bunker, whereupon the Aussie played a delightful flop shot with a club usually used in 200-yards-plus situations. For good measure, he rolled his four-footer home with the same TaylorMade blade.   

The over-concentration of golf’s biggest events on American soil is something that has long irked the worldwide community, and though the Japanese challenge is unlikely to alter that any time soon, to see the four corners of the earth represented was a breath of fresh air.   

The golf was poor, the format worse, and the course offered little in compensation. Still, it was golf of sorts, it was Tiger and Rory, and it was something different.   

Far from the winning formula, but it’s a step closer.   

And at least it’s not Love Island.  



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