It was in 1991 when ‘this internet thing’, as coined by a grizzled journalist, found its way into our dialogue. ‘It will never catch on,’ the senior boldly predicted.
In 2004 Facebook was launched by Mark Zuckerberg. ‘Pah!’ some scoffed. ‘It will never catch on …’
Nor would sevens rugby, because fifteens is the very essence of that sport.
And Twenty20 cricket? No space for it. Test cricket was the only format that mattered. It’s probably all called ‘evolution’, with a small minority having the vision to believe that an idea so completely ‘left field’ could grow into the way of life we now experience.
Which brings me to golf. GolfSixes, to be specific.
In early-May, GolfSixes made its debut on the European Tour, with two-man teams from 16 countries competing against one another in a six-hole format. Plenty of whoop-whooping, a noisy clock countdown, 40 seconds to play a shot, big-screen TVs, stadium-type seating and music accompanying the players to the 1st tee.
Welcome to the future of golf, a sport desperate to stop the bleeding of interest as other sports find more ways to be innovative and increase playing appeal. If cricket could grow exponentially with the advance of T20, to the degree Test cricket is in severe distress, then golf can also find a way to ignite the masses. At least, that’s what the pioneers will be saying.
It’s hard to find those invested in golf who have a bad word to say about GolfSixes, the inaugural tournament which was won by Denmark. Time will tell if it remains a gimmick, some light relief to the draining 72-hole events week in and week out, or grows into something taken altogether more seriously.
A note here: if the world’s best golfers didn’t bother turning up to represent their country at the 2016 Rio Olympics, why will they bother representing their country at GolfSixes events? While the Zika virus and ‘scheduling’ were the two most common excuses for not competing in Rio, a more honest word would be ‘money’. Or the lack thereof.
This is where cricket’s T20 and GolfSixes are polar opposites. T20 has become the cash cow of the sport and players are making a fortune to field for 90 minutes and bat for 20 overs; little wonder they favour that over the pittance of representing their country in a Test format that takes five days and 450 overs of cricket.
There’s certainly a place for GolfSixes, but let’s not believe it will turn the sport on its head.
Can you imagine Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth representing the US, Jason Day and Adam Scott Australia, and Branden Grace and Charl Schwartzel South Africa?
In the inaugural GolfSixes it was Brandon Stone and Darren Fichardt who flew the South African flag – and yes, it was a European Tour event and all the aforementioned campaign on the PGA Tour, where money is everything.
Would those on the US Tour have a similar appetite for GolfSixes?
But, there’s always a first time and this was an eye-catching debut for GolfSixes, even if the traditionalists are choking on their pretzels.
The devil is in the detail. That 40-second limit to play a shot can be the biggest benefit. Slow play is the scourge of modern golf and speeding it up, to put players on the clock and have a fixed time limit, will help.
And, GolfSixes showed that a shot played in 40 seconds can be as good as one over which a player has deliberated excessively.
– This article first appeared in the June issue of Compleat Golfer, now on sale