You know what? That was a lot of fun.
Like many, I was fairly critical of the first installment of ’The Match,’ which pitted Tiger Woods against Phil Mickelson for a cool $9 million back on Black Friday 2018. A flawed premise, uneven play, clunky production and some technical glitches made it a bumpy ride, but overall it was an interesting experience.
The second version, in short, was a lot better, both in terms of golf entertainment and production quality. The addition of Peyton Manning and Tom Brady to the “field” proved an inspired choice, as it helped make the event watchable for people outside the hardcore golf fanbase. It also raised $20 million for charities combating the coronavirus pandemic. And the two quarterbacks actually hit some meaningful shots (more on these in a minute).
Here are 9 things I took away from The Match: Champions for Charity.
1. Tiger Woods was not going 0-2 against Phil Mickelson.
Sure, only bragging rights were on the line this time around, but you wouldn’t have guessed it to see Tiger’s demeanor change as the match wore on. He supplied some caustic banter early on, at one point calling out Mickelson's U.S. Open near-misses and his own three wins in the event as he and Manning surged to a 3-up lead on the front nine. But as Mickelson and Brady drew closer, Woods put on his game face, saying little over the closing holes. His swing looked dialed-in and he was clearly comfortable on his home course, striking the ball solidly the whole round as he shepherded Manning to the win.
2. Never count out Touchdown Tom.
For the first six and a half holes, Tom Brady absolutely stunk up the joint. He duck-hooked his opening tee shot and then proceeded to lose what seemed like a dozen golf balls, prompting widespread skepticism about his 8.1 handicap index.
The par-5 7th hole didn’t begin well, either, but Brady found himself in the fairway lying three. Charles Barkley, who proved he has both insight and comic relief to add to broadcasts outside of basketball, jawed in Brady’s ear as he addressed his fourth shot.
What happened next was the signature moment of the day.
To cap it off, Brady split his trousers bending over to pluck his ball from the cup and played the rest of the round in baggy rain pants.
Between the amateur heroics, the banter and general lightened mood, it showed how much a golf broadcast can depart from the norm and remain exciting to watch, and it reminded many sports fans of Brady’s knack for pulling greatness out of nowhere.
3. Justin Thomas has a future in broadcasting…eventually.
The 2017 PGA Champion and pro golf phenom joined the TNT telecast as an on-course analyst and did a flat-out great job. His insider status enabled him to toggle naturally between genuine insight and barb-trading with various characters in the match.
Tony Romo has become football’s most sought-after analyst in his short career as such because he has recent, real insight into the action that he can articulate in a way enriches an audience’s view of a game. Thomas has the same gift, but unlike Romo, he has a couple more decades of golf to play at the highest level, so we’ll probably have to wait a while for more of this from him.
4. Medalist Golf Club drains beautifully.
When the broadcast began at 3 p.m. local time, it was looking like it was time to line up two of everything at the clubhouse of the prestigious private club that hosted the event. Early shots of the course and practice facilities showed greens that had become ponds. That the course was ready after a 45-minute delay and that play didn’t need to be stopped even after some heavy rain during the match is a testament to the course’s maintenance staff.
That said, my main criticism of the event has to do with the golf course. Unlike last week's TaylorMade Driving relief, where host venue Seminole Golf Club co-starred along with the four players, the Champions for Charity broadcast revealed the bare minimum about its host course. No significant mention of Pete Dye, who co-designed it with Greg Norman. No mention of the recent renovation work by Bobby Weed. I thought the golf course deserved a bit more attention from the announcers.
5. Peyton Manning wears a lot of hats, including the hero one.
Despite Brady’s occasional heroics, Manning outshined him both as a player and a personality during the event. His hat-changing bit throughout the round was amusing, and he was the more talkative of the quarterbacks.
Despite Brady’s hole-out, Manning hit the most important shot of the match, a tee shot on the par-3 16th to inches from the cup after both Brady and Mickelson had stiffed their tee shots, too. Manning and Woods clung to a precarious 1-up lead at that point, so it was a do-or-die situation. Once again, the ability to handle pressure crossed sporting lines.
6. Any opportunity to listen to Phil Mickelson talk through a golf shot is a pleasure.
Tiger Woods was the greatest golfer of the day, but as ever, Mickelson was the showman. His greatest moment of the match came early, as he explained to Justin Thomas precisely how he planned to play a tricky pitch shot on the second hole, and then executed it to near-perfection.
7. Want to play fast? Play alternate shot.
With darkness looming, the split format of the match made the difference between a twilight conclusion and a disjointed, unsatisfying Monday finish. The first nine, which was a four-ball format, took nearly three hours to play, and if it had continued the rest of the way, there was no chance of finishing before dark.
Thankfully, the back nine was a modified alternate shot, reducing the number of golf balls in play from four to two. As a result, the group played a full hour faster, reaching the 18th hole just after 8 pm.
Golf buddy trips are starting to shy away from all-you-can-play days of golf, but if you want to get a second round in without wearing yourself out, alternate-shot is a nice way to halve the number of shots each player has to hit while doubling the intensity of any potential bet.
8. Tiger and Peyton were not the only winners.
Part of what made Champions for Charity so much more enjoyable than the $9 million Shadow Creek match was that the quartet of players were competing for something higher than just another gaudy payday. The event was underpinned from the start with $10 million to be distributed to various COVID-19 relief charities, but that amount doubled over the course of the afternoon, with viewers donating via phone and other sports figures stepping up to get involved. Brady’s holeout netted a $100k donation from Brooks Koepka, and Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson pledge a hefty donation to Feeding America in the wake of the spectacular shots on 16. Whereas the first Match felt a little slimy because the players were playing entirely for themselves, the second installment felt good for everyone because of the wider benefit.
9. Charles Barkley was a great member of the telecast, but he still stinks at golf.
It was a complete afterthought due to the hasty end of the round, but After everything was finished, TNT aired Charles Barkley’s attempt to make a bogey on the 18th hole at Medalist for a souped-up donation on top of the rest of the day’s largesse. He failed, but $100,000 went to the cause anyway. Keep practicing, Chuck.