Live Golf’s Return: How TNT Outshined NBC in Every Way


Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson (above) competed along with two of the greatest NFL quarterbacks ever in “The Match II.” (Courtesy of Flickr)

After a 65-day hiatus due to COVID-19, professional golf finally returned to the airwaves on Sunday, May 17 with the “TaylorMade Driving Relief” match at Seminole Golf Club in Juno Beach, Florida. Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson played for the American Nurses Foundation against Rickie Fowler and Matthew Wolff, who donated their winnings to the CDC Foundation. Just one week later, Tiger Woods teamed up with Peyton Manning to take on Phil Mickelson and Tom Brady in “The Match: Champions for Charity.”

The TaylorMade format was such: the two teams played against each other in a skins match for charity. All four players are sponsored by TaylorMade, who organized the event and all of the money was donated to COVID-19 relief charities. Each team started with $500,000 in their kitty, adding to the number with each hole they won. Holes 1-6 were worth $50,000 each, 7-16 worth $100,000, the par-3 17th valued at $200,000, and the 18th hole worth $500,000. Each player played his own ball from tee to green and the individual player with the lowest score on each hole was awarded the prize money for their team. In the event of a tie on a single hole, the money would be pushed onto the next one, or be worth two skins. If the teams tied in skins after 18 holes (spoiler alert they do), they would decide the match on a closest to the pin competition on the 17th hole. 

The golf course was beautiful, architecture nerds and casual fans could both appreciate how special Seminole was during its first television appearance. Other than that, the vibe and the aesthetic was just weird. The absence of fans was odd but I could get used to it for a short time. It was just the broadcast that was off on so many levels. There were three places that NBC and the Golf Channel were shooting from, they had 2 people at the course in Juno Beach, Paul Azinger and Rich Lerner were at the Golf Channel Studios in St, Augustine, and Mike Tirico hosted the event from his home in Michigan. There were many times where the on-course broadcasters and in-studio guys were talking over each other and the audience could hear indistinct chatter between the players from the personal mics they had pinned to their shirts. Everyone was talking at one time it felt like and nothing about it seemed natural. What little banter and interaction between players there was overshadowed and drowned out by everyone else with a microphone. It was met with mostly negative reviews in terms of pure golf content and entertainment value. NBC had interviews that frankly no one cared about and the product was subpar. The two teams halved the final six holes with the money adding up to 1.1 million dollars. All of that money was awarded based on one shot from 125 yards onto the 17th green. McIlroy stuck it the closest, 13 feet to Wolff’s 18 feet 2 inches. In the end, Rory and DJ won 11 skins totaling at 1.85 million dollars while Fowler and Wolff won 7 skins and 1.15 million. At the end of the day, over 5 million dollars in total was donated to two fantastic charities doing great work during this time of need. 

One week later, and 18 months after Turner and Bleacher Report’s debacle with the Phil vs Tiger match, TNT aired “The Match: Champions for Charity.” Everything that NBC and TaylorMade didn’t have, TNT brought to the table. Even though Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson are stars of the game, they have nowhere near the star power shown on Memorial Day Weekend at Medalist Golf Club in Juno Beach. The two greatest golfers and quarterbacks of our generation teeing it up and raising over 20 million dollars for charity, and less importantly captaining the most-watched golf event in cable television history. The format was easier to understand as well as the players were not playing for the charities. The money was raised through the players starting the pot at 10 million dollars, raffles, closest-to-the-pin challenges, and Brooks Koepka throwing in a side bet via Twitter. The little bit of chatter we got at Seminole seemed a little bit forced which this did not. They looked and sounded like four friends playing golf on a Sunday afternoon for a round of drinks. 

The two teams played traditional four-ball on the front nine, with Woods and Manning making the turn at 3-up. On the back nine, 

The best part was watching two people who for years sports fans have watched perfect their craft be so mediocre at something. Manning and Brady are very good golfers, but the difference in their swing speeds and ball flights compared to tiger and Phil was noticeable on every swing. Brady struggled to find the fairway early and had to ask Trevor Immelmann, who was on the call, where he should drop the ball and take his penalty stroke. Peyton missed a few putts professionals would make but overall played very well. 

As bad as the NBC broadcast was at Seminole, Turner’s was brilliant in the rain at Medalist. Brian Anderson was the play-by-play voice, essentially running point throughout. He had 2008 Masters Champion and Golf Channel Analyst Trevor Immelmann, NBA Hall-of-Famer and NBA on TNT analyst Charles Barkley, CBS and Turner golf commentator and post-round interviewer Amanda Balionis, and number four ranked player in the world, Justin Thomas. A star-studded cast to say the least. Even with all of these personalities, the broadcast did not feel crowded at all. The television people were clearly coached to say very little and make way for when a great moment might occur between the players which they did perfectly. As for on the course, we got a nice balance of trash talk and the professionals giving tips to the amateurs. Tiger and Phil were reading putts for the quarterbacks, Phil told the camera exactly how he was going to hit a chip shot and then mastered it, and all of the conversations between teammates about which shot to take during alternate shot was awesome. 

Brady struggled throughout but hit the shot of the day when he holed out for birdie on the par-five seventh from the fairway. He took the time to fire back at Barkley, who had some choice words for him earlier and gloat over his perfect shot. 

In terms of the actual golf, Manning and Woods dominated the four-ball, going up 3 after nine, but Mickelson and Brady came back in alternate shot, closing the gap all the way to 1 down, but never being able to tie it up and eventually losing 1 down. 

Quick hitting winners and losers from golf’s return to television that I didn’t mention


Justin Thomas: He was great behind the mic. It certainly helps he’s buddy-buddy with Tiger (or T-Dub as he calls him) but he was able to talk the viewer through the shot so well and was refreshingly funny while doing so. Big win for him. 

Tiger Woods: In his first televised golf round in months, he hardly missed a shot. He carried his team on the front nine and put Peyton in several great places during the alternate shot. Much better than when he finished dead last at Riviera in February. The lay-off appears to have helped his game

Matthew Wolff: The relatively unknown name in the TaylorMade event held his own with the game’s brightest stars. He won one of the long drive holes and helped his team build a substantial lead in the middle holes. His funky swing and fu Manchu certainly popped off the screen that’s for sure


Tom Brady’s Handicap: He claimed he was an 8 handicap but many people are questioning the legitimacy of that after his showing at Medalist. That shot on seven seemed to shut a lot of people up though. 

Medalist: It rained all day for “The Match” which didn’t let the Greg Norman/Pete Dye Design flourish under the sun like Seminole did. It was still clear that it was a beautiful course, but everyone would have loved to see it in the sunlight. 

People who only watched the first one: Yes it was live sports for the first time in months but wow “The Match” was infinitely better and more watchable.