“Now the earth was a formless void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep. And God said ‘Let there be light’ and there was light. And God saw that the light was good.” Genesis 1
This must be what Rory McIlroy, NBC Sports and TaylorMade Golf heard in their sleep about three weeks ago because they managed to enlist some divine intervention from above and produce the first live sporting event in the nation since the entire sports world came to a sudden standstill two months ago on March 12.
Sports in the time of COVID has been true March Madness. On weekends golf fans were provided old footage from the PGA, the British Open and the US Open. Golf courses were closed, people wore those blue masks and golf fans were provided TV footage of old tournaments that few ever cared about in the first place. But it was necessary to watch because the alternative was to turn to CNN or MSNBC to further enhance one’s anxiety with bad news about death counts and unemployment rates.
The level of frustration for all athletes has been at its height in May. A stroll around one’s neighborhood showed nature at its finest. Squirrels and rabbits romped about, birds preened themselves and chirped, flowers bloomed, skies were blue and gardens and lawns were a lush green. Here we were with a double message. Nature was gorgeous yet it was nature itself in the form of tiny microbes that had the potential to strike you dead.
So nature, which is every athlete’s playground, was closed for business. We were all left with a short list of fun activities such as going to the supermarket, barbecuing yet another steak or taking a nap.
That is until Jimmie Dunne and Rory McIlroy came up with what may become known as the best idea of 2020. They decided to let the public inside the gates of one of the most exclusive and private golf clubs on Earth, Seminole Golf Club in Juno Beach, Fla. I have played almost all of the best golf courses in the world, but to date I have not seen either Augusta National or Seminole and it’s not for lack of trying.
This one-day event was called TaylorMade Driving Relief and was to be a charity effort for all those who have been affected by this pandemic. Dunne and McIlroy enlisted Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler and Matthew Wolff to play a skins game to the tune of about $100,000 per hole with all proceeds going to the American Nursing Foundation or the CDC Fund.
Golf is famous for its charity work, but this event outdid them all by pulling in $5.5 million from the viewing public, United Health Group, Farmers Insurance and others.
When I began watching this event, I was worried there would be no competitive drama and was wishing that Patrick ‘Captain America’ Reed was there to give the event some juice. But my worries were for naught.
On the first hole Matthew Wolff hits a perfect wedge onto the green and we watch as it lands just short of the pin, slowly trickles toward the cup, slowly passes by the cup and then meanders away and ends up 90 feet past and onto a gathering area. Welcome to the Donald Ross masterpiece and what Jimmie Dunne refers to as “greens visited in regulation.”
This is the place where Ben Hogan prepared his game before he went to The Masters, which had equally fast greens. I recall interviewing Mark Mielke, who had just gotten back from the US Open played on the other Donald Ross masterpiece Pinehurst. He told me that often if your ball went just three feet past the cup, it was likely to end up 100 feet away and off the green.
This type of shot making was required at Seminole. And the banter on display made the day fun to watch. Each player had a mic wired to him and on #3 Wolff hit his tee shot far right into a waste bunker to which McIlroy quipped: “Thank you for practicing social distancing.”
And to lighten up the mood even more they had the good sense to get the comic genius Bill Murray on the line through Skype. Murray has to be the coolest man on earth and there he sat in his kitchen fielding the questions from the ever sophisticated sports broadcaster of Mike Tirico. Mike remarks to Bill: “Gee, what do you think of these super stars guys wearing shorts and carrying their own bags?” to which Murray quips: “Yea, they almost look human.”
Every word out of Murray’s mouth is deadpan and therefore hysterical. Tirico then tries to engage Murray in a bet to which they will donate to the event. Murray responds: “OK, yea, sounds great, let’s bet $15. Fifteen is my lucky number, I can deal with that.” Tirico seems befuddled and does not know how to respond. This is what it’s like when you’re interviewing a very funny man who breathes irony with every word.
The famous South Florida wind picks up, the players play wonderfully, have the right tone throughout and it all ends too quickly. Seminole is shown to be an American treasure. The players are in fact shown to be human with their shorts and carrying their own bags and the lustrous world of big time golf becomes humanized for one brief moment in time.
The Lord said “Let there be light” and there was light. Finally the lights were turned on and the magic of big time sport shone down upon us, removing all this darkness at least for one special Sunday. Thank you Rory and Dustin and Rickie and Matthew and Jimmie and Bill ‘the funnyman’ Murray.