Player, now in his 80s, has shown the value of keeping up his fitness after retirement.
For those who think golf is a game for old men with woolly jumpers and woollier thinking, Gary Player strikes a refreshingly radical note. “Is golf boring?” the 82-year-old asked in response to the YouGov survey that said the British public found it the dullest of all sports. “Well, to put it simply, yes. I may take flak for this but it’s true.”
Player, the winner of nine major championships and the game’s elder statesman after the passing of Arnold Palmer in 2016, believes solutions include Elvis Presley, short-form games and a tennis-like world tour. He called on young people to come forward with ideas to keep the sport alive.
“It’s definitely not the most boring sport in the world but it has not evolved fast enough to keep on par with today’s fast-paced society,” Player told The Times.
“Maybe it’s time for a true world tour similar to tennis and the ATP. Tennis fans know that Federer, Nadal and Djokovic will be in their town with the rotating system. In golf one host venue might not see a top ten player in five years, perhaps never, but where are the characters? A Golden Bear [Jack Nicklaus], a Merry Mex [Lee Trevino], a Shark [Greg Norman] or Black Knight [Player himself]? A few stick out but, by and large, they all look, dress and act the same.”
A poll of 1,616 British adults found that 70 per cent of people who had watched golf live or on television found it quite or very boring. The next sport in the tedium table was American football while athletics was regarded as the most exciting, followed by tennis and football.
Player, who has hit a ceremonial tee-shot at the Masters, the season’s first major, every year since 2012, has been a long-standing critic of modern equipment which he feels negates skill. However, rather than a dyed-in-the-wool cynic, he has plenty of ideas to revamp golf.
“In the not-too-distant future this millennial generation, as my grandkids call themselves, will be tasked with keeping golf alive,” he said. “What do they want? Shorts, shirts off, music blaring? Why not? I listened to Elvis on the course for two hours with my group the last time I played in a pro-am. It was fun. That just wasn’t possible when I was growing up, but believe me, if it was I would have enjoyed practising even more. How do we get all the kids who are stuck on their video games and hand-held devices to enjoy a game that is very, very difficult?”
It is a perennial question although knee-jerk clichés forget that the last two Open Championships have had remarkable climaxes while the average age of the world’s top five players is only 23. By contrast, the average age of tennis’s big four – Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray – is 31. Yet the YouGov survey revealed that only two of the 161 people polled between the age of 18 and 24 found golf exciting. Both were male.
Player believes money would be no barrier to a regular world tour with a clear narrative arc rather than a fractured calendar with the PGA Tour and European Tours played in tandem. “Professional golf has plenty of money if that’s the issue – it can pay the massive appearance fees many of them now demand. The best in the world need to show why they are the best in the world by playing globally.
“There are several professional golf tournaments somewhere in the world for 52 weeks a year, yet they are basically all the standard, four-day, 72-hole stroke play tournament and have become a bit stale. I love what the European Tour and Keith Pelley [the chief executive] have done with the sixes matches. That’s what rugby did with the sevens and cricket with their night-time format.”
One of the biggest barriers to excitement is the pace of play with rounds at majors sometimes taking close to six hours. The European Tour has again taken a lead by trialling a shot clock at the Austrian Open in June. Players will get 40 seconds to play a shot or receive a yellow card and then a one-stroke penalty. Last year Jordan Spieth took 32 minutes to play one hole at the Open when his ball landed at the bottom of a ramp-like dune at Royal Birkdale. It was, however, very exciting.
Now Player wants the next generation to help. “We live in a world of instant gratification,” the South African said. “I certainly sympathise with those who feel golf is boring. The powers that be are trying to figure it out, but let them hear your voice too with some good ideas.”
Article courtesy of The Times