Greg Hansen: Fans have supported Match Play, a tournament about nothing

2014-02-23T00:00:00Z Greg Hansen: Fans have supported Match Play, a tournament about nothingGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

At 1 p.m. Saturday, a patio adjacent to the Golf Club of Dove Mountain driving range was full to overflowing. Each of the 25 umbrellas shaded a group of alleged golf fans munching $8 skinny turkey and pepper-jack sandwiches.

The closest golfer was a mile away, and none was scheduled to reappear for 18 hours.

They ate. They lounged in the sun. They ordered another drink.

Who’s winning?

Who cares.

Two hours later, after Graeme McDowell made a short putt to win the 13th hole, the player’s marshals packed up and went home. There would be no more golf played at or near the Walter Hagen Club on Saturday.

But almost nobody checked out.

Across five hours, about 2,500 people at the pricey Walter Hagen Club and the adjacent Saguaro Club had been witness to 11 putts and six chips shots. That comes out to about $6 a shot, and we’re not talking tequila.

What kind of audience would put in so much time and money to be at a golf tournament with almost no golf?

As Jim Furyk dropped a birdie putt at the 13th hole, my survey was inconclusive. Except for UA and golf-related hats, I scribbled down caps pledging allegiance to the Blue Jays, Bengals, Hurricanes, Padres, Yankees, Longhorns, Giants, Seahawks and even one with a maroon pitchfork that salutes you-know-who.

It’s a global tournament, all right. Everyone from somewhere else — in town for a little sun worship — shows up.

The sponsors of the 13th hole eating-and-drinking festival are also widely varied: Precision Toyota and Raytheon, LiftMaster and Bruegger’s Bagels.

The prevailing (but faulty) theory is that the average Southern Arizona golf fan is an old guy from Saddlebrooke who grew up in Iowa watching Orville Moody win the U.S. Open.

That’s not Dove Mountain golf. That’s not Match Play golf. There is too much sweat involved to get from hole to hole to make this a haven for a retired guy. It’s too hilly, and there’s too much danger of being bumped into something painful.

The most widely-distributed image of this year’s event hasn’t been a Rickie Fowler fist-pump or an Ernie Els smile, but some poor guy who was covered with jumping cholla.

If you’ve seen the overhead shots from the MetLife blimp, it was almost shocking to see the barren landscape at Dove Mountain. It looked like something lunar, something from the sci-fi channel.

You don’t lie in the grass and get some sun as Dow Finsterwald hits a 7-iron in some tree-lined paradise in Tucson any longer.

You work your butt off to keep up and stay hydrated.

It is remarkable to think that, for eight years, the Tucson Conquistadores and PGA Tour have been able to draw the types of crowds that attended Saturday’s four matches. There were probably 12,000 people on the move, most of them watching nothing.

Match Play is a lot like a “Seinfeld” plot. Nothing happens.

When the World Golf Championship people finally arrange for a new sponsor and a new location — although I wouldn’t be shocked if nothing happens (again) and Match Play vanishes from the PGA Tour schedule altogether — we might realize how naïve we were to support this event.

It all can be blamed on Tiger Woods.

When the PGA Tour introduced the notion of TPC establishments 30 years ago, Tucson got in on the ground floor.

The TPC of Starr Pass was built in the foothills of the Tucson Mountains, and it was so grand that you had to pinch yourself to believe this little corner of the globe was part of the elitist TPC Sawgrass and TPC Scottsdale system.

Tucson’s spot on the PGA Tour went from Randolph Park, a muni course, to TPC Starr Pass, which was a lot like going from the Delta Tau Chi fraternity in “Animal House” to a real fraternity, with guys named “Chip” and not “Bluto.”

Starr Pass, bless its golf soul, was a logistical headache, with parking woes, no shade and an unfriendly walk through old mountain passes. It was Dove Mountain of the ’80s and ’90s.

Both are apt places to play golf, but not to watch golf being played by someone else — even Woods.

But when Tiger and his mates became available eight years ago, many of us were seduced by the star-power, failing to take into account the a) format, b) venue and c) friendly nature of an encumbered PGA Tour event at Tucson National.

It has been a good eight years, with no regrets, but it remains an acquired taste, for sure. And I’m not talking skinny turkey and pepper-jack sandwiches.

Today's tee times

RoundTee timePlayer (seed)Player (Seed)
Semifinal7:05 a.m.Jason Day (8)Rickie Fowler (53)
7:20 a.m.Ernie Els (31)Victor Dubuisson (27)
Consolation11:40 a.m.Day-Fowler loserEls-Dubuisson loser
FinalNoonDay-Fowler winnerEls-Dubuisson winner

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