I Haven't Missed Tiger at the U.S. Open, Have You?

By: Jay Flemma

Dan Jenkins sums up the situation with his usual sparkling wit: "Five hours into the U.S. Open and Tiger has yet to make a bogey."

As usual, Jenkins is lampooning, indeed skewering the broadcast media for their addiction to ratings, casual eyeballs and train wrecks. The biggest buzz of the tournament so far is "Tiger's not here! Tiger's not here! What do we do??!! What does it all mean??!!"

It means we get to cover golf again, that's what it means. It also means we'll have to start using our brains more.

Therein lies the problem. Broadcasters, commentators and "analysts" are paid to use their mouths and, as human beings always forget, when you open your mouth, your brain and your ears stop working.

He's not here, people. Yet commentator after commentator are falling all over themselves telling us that without him, the tournament is somehow diminished. Well that's just pure, weapons-grade Bolonium.

Even Rick Reilly, who I love, and who is as funny as Feherty, sent me running for the beta-blockers when he said that the only person who could save this tournament is Tiger Woods.

I'm sorry, I must be confused. Rory McIlroy blistered Big, Bad Congressional yesterday, giving us another opening-day salvo worthy of every word of the ocean of ink spilled in chronicling his stellar 65.

"I just managed to keep the ball in the fairway and find a lot of greens, and that was basically how I shot that score," he said. Even though he hit just nine fairways, he hit 17 greens, leading the field in that stat, perhaps the most critical at a U.S. Open.

"Greens in regulation and putting," said former Masters champion Trevor Immelman before the tournament, and he's right. Was that 65 boring? Did that 65 "need" Tiger Woods? No, it was stratospheric, another virtuoso performance by our most exciting rising star to open a major championship. Now, after all his heartbreak in majors, especially the epic flame-out in the final round this year at Augusta National, we have a riveting story line.

What about Phil Mickelson? Sure, he played terribly, but it was hysterical to watch. We weren't laughing at him, we were laughing at the situation.

"There he is again! In the woods!" exclaimed journalist after journalist as Phil went traipsing thought the jungle like a modern-day Henry Stanley. Hole after hole, Mickelson was hitting out of the spinach patch that passes for rough in the hinterlands of the golf course Phil was exploring. He found Dr. Livingston, Private Ryan, Amelia Earhart, the crew of the Marie Celeste, Glenn Miller, several Roanoke colonists and, occasionally, his ball.

Nevertheless, it was entertaining. "The Hair-raising Adventures of That Wacky Phil Mickelson" is better than any reality show in creation. Who needs Woods when Phil is this mesmerizing? Even Phil had to laugh at it.

"Rory had an amazing round today, I wish I'd seen it," he quipped drily.

"A wild round like that is worth the price of admission itself. So was Phil's, for different reasons, of course," exclaimed Ryan Markey, a fan from Wisconsin. "I didn't miss Woods one bit. Let him stay home and count his money."

That sentiment is running wildfire through the ranks of the fans. Ardent golfers have always chosen Phil over Tiger by a wide margin, but now that the disconnect between the media and the fans has been erased by the Internet, people are letting their displeasure with the broadcasts and the addiction to Woods be known with a vengeance.

The New York Post ran an article called "Golf Needs Woods." Well the resounding response from the fans was "No, we don't!" Just listen to some of the responses to the article that were printed by the paper:

"Golf needs current players like Phil Mickelson, old-timers like Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player, and young ones like Rory McIlroy and Charl Schwartzel. Tiger Woods remains what he always has been - an arrogant, rude and distasteful person who has never had any respect for the game, the players, or fans." - Joseph Carretta, Hoboken, N.J.

"Golf needs Mickelson - a man who truly loves the game and is its greatest ambassador . . . Woods just loves Woods." - Bill Moran, Stewart Manor, N.Y.

"Woods's philandering is an embarrassment to the PGA Tour and to its fans (of which I am a former one) [sic] and as such he deserved little if any additional attention. The time is way overdue for the sports media, CBS included, to stop slavishly fawning over him and to move on to other players who have truly earned face time on camera." - Kurt Nielsen, Closter, N.J.

Put more simply - we don't believe the media hype about Tiger any more, and it's about time professional golf began making preparations for life without him, because even if he does return he will never the dominant force of nature he was before. He took too deep a hit for that. The aura of invincibility is shattered forever, thanks to unsavory Jezebels. Thanks for sullying not only your legacy, but the game as well. We will never be able to gloss over that scandal. It will burn like a proprietary torch over his career forever, his watershed and Waterloo in one.

Meanwhile, despite the fan tempest raging in retort, television continues to broadcast to itself: begging, pleading someone, anyone to believe the hype. But for every "casual eyeball" that glances by for a fleeting moment, they alienate the fervent, ardent golf fan that is their base, their lifeblood, their responsibility.

We don't need Tiger. We have a barnburner of a U.S. Open with American stars and international icons dominating the leaderboard and blazing away at pins like Fourth of July fireworks. Golf was great long before Tiger was gleam in Earl's eye.

And golf will be golf long after Woods sails off into the sunset on his new sloop poignantly named Solitude. We just have to summon the strength of will to face the future. We can make it brighter if only we try.

Since launching his first golf writing website in 2004, http://www.jayflemma.thegolfspace.com, Jay Flemma's comparative analysis of golf designs and knowledge of golf course architecture and golf travel have garnered wide industry respect. In researching his book on America's great public golf courses (and whether they're worth the money), Jay, an associate editor of Cybergolf, has played over 220 nationally ranked public golf courses in 37 different states. Jay has played about 1,649,000 yards of golf - or roughly 938 miles. His pieces on travel and architecture appear in Golf Observer (www.golfobserver.com), Cybergolf and other print magazines. When not researching golf courses for design, value and excitement, Jay is an entertainment, copyright, Internet and trademark lawyer and an Entertainment and Internet Law professor in Manhattan. His clients have been nominated for Grammy and Emmy awards, won a Sundance Film Festival Best Director award, performed on stage and screen, and designed pop art for museums and collectors. Jay lives in Forest Hills, N.Y., and is fiercely loyal to his alma maters, Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts and Trinity College in Connecticut.