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Thursday, October 22, 2020

ANA Inspiration, The Blue Wall, and a lesson for the PGA Tour

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The second women’s major of 2020 will be remembered for many reasons. There was the unusual sight of caddies riding in golf carts due to the excessive heat, there was the absence of the reigning Ladies British Open champion Sophia Popov for whom a special exemption was not extended, there was Nelly Korda coming up agonisingly shy of a wire-to-wire victory, and there was eventual champion Mirim Lee’s hat-trick of chip-ins during the final round, including one for eagle on the 72nd hole to force her way into a playoff.

But the 2020 ANA Inspiration will be remembered above all for the obscenely branded blue wall erected behind the 18th green which served as a backstop for many balls destined for a watery grave in Poppie’s Pond.

The ridiculousness of the wall has already been well covered by golf media, but what really piqued my interest was how television dealt with the blue monstrosity.

Week in, week out, PGA Tour broadcasts insult the intelligence of the viewership by repeatedly failing to acknowledge that golf exists outside the boundaries of their own tour and telling us that the likes of Matt Fitzpatrick and Tommy Fleetwood have zero career wins, by over-espousing the value of Fed-Ex Cup points with little-to-no context, and by insisting that all players are “gentlemen” when, quite often, hard evidence paints a contradictory picture.

And of course, when push comes to shove, CBS and NBC play ball. During the final round of last week’s Tour Championship, the United States broadcast made no mention whatsoever of the money on the line. The entire premise of the Fed-Ex Cup is the cash grab at the finishing line, but a PGA Tour directive instructed that all money-talk be avoided and NBC duly obliged, despite themselves and CBS paying the PGA Tour in excess of $700 million for the broadcast rights for the next decade.

Had a PGA Tour tournament featured an excrescence as hideous and ill thought through as the ANA Inspiration wall, you can guarantee that the overriding abhorrence would’ve been blatantly ignored by the commentary team, but that wasn’t the case this week. The wall, the sponsors and the LPGA Tour all came in for heavy criticism from the booth and LPGA commissioner Mike Whan was quick to suggest that the “Great Wall of Dinah” was erected at the behest of the sponsors despite LPGA Tour opposition.

Contrast this with the PGA Tour’s active attempts to hide UPS’ – Fed-Ex’s biggest commercial rival – logo being shown on screen on the breast of UPS ambassadors Louis Oosthuizen and Lee Westwood, and to bludgeon their sponsor’s name and logo into any and every situation possible, to the extent that CBS on course reporter Peter Kostis was instructed to ignore the Masters Invitation that a player had just earned through victory and instead ask how it felt to have earned 500 Fed-Ex points.

The blue wall was an unfortunate blight upon an otherwise incredibly exciting finale to the ANA Inspiration, but by acknowledging the problem, I’m reasonably confident that they will learn from their mistakes and that the backstop will be a thing of the past.

There’s nothing worse than burying your head in the sand and pretending that everything is rosy.

The PGA Tour would do well to take note.

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