ATLANTA — The Michael Jordan well has been sucked fairly dry, although there’s always hope for a prequel to “The Last Dance.” Maybe a nine-part series. Call it: “MJ, the In-Utero Months.”
NASCAR has come back intent upon holding a race every time a rooster crows. And we even have our first conflagration of the jump-started season, that nice young Chase Elliott flashing his road rage finger Wednesday night at Kyle Busch after Busch wrecked the kid and took him out of contention. One pot has been put on to simmer.
So, what’s next on tap in the not so wide world of sports? What kind of event can be safely cobbled together this weekend to keep us mildly sedated on competition until something better comes back?
How about taking rivals from the NFL — former quarterback Peyton Manning and his nemesis Tom Brady — and from the PGA Tour — Phil Mickelson and The Man who kept him down, Tiger Woods — and smooshing them together for a charity golf match.
Yeah, sure, I’d watch that. It’s certainly better than trying it the other way around, watching Mickelson running buttonhooks in a two-on-two game of beach flag football.
Sunday at 3 p.m. EDT on TNT and TBS they’ll air “Capital One’s The Match: Champions for Charity” from a South Florida course so exclusive that you may need to wear and coat and tie just to watch. Team Woods/Manning will take on Team Mickelson/Brady in an exhibition designed to raise $10 million for COVID-19 relief. Even on this there is betting, Woods/Manning standing now as a 2-to-1 favorite.
One of the telecast’s analysts, 2008 Masters champ Trevor Immelman, touches on the most interesting facet of this match. It’s not watching Woods and Mickelson going head to head — we’ve seen that aplenty, including a contrived, big-money one-on-one in late 2018 that lacked sizzle. No, it’s watching the quarterbacks in this different arena.
“Even though they are so accomplished in their own sports, for them to be out there, outside of their comfort zone playing golf in front of the world, that’s going to be fun to see how they react to that,” Immelman said. “What kind of nerves they are feeling? The fact that they’ll be mic’d up, we’ll be able to get a little insight into that and hear what they have to say about it.”
The football guys will have to kick in something for the team eventually, given the format. It’s four-ball on the front nine, meaning that it would be possible to hide behind the golfing professionals over that stretch. But on the back nine, it will be alternate shot — all four players will hit tee shots and proceed from there — requiring that everyone contribute.
“The pressure’s really going to ratchet up at that point,” Immeman said. “Those guys will have to step up and hit the right shot at the right time. I see the second nine being a little more intense from that standpoint.”
Intensity is the X factor here. This is billed as a charity exhibition with no real title or personal financial gain on the line. How much, then, will guys grind out there? How seriously will they take it and how much will it be for laughs? We need at least the pretense of competitive tension.
Immelman believes there’s a common chromosome among such high-profile players that won’t allow them to laugh it all off.
“When you understand these types of iconic athletes and how competitive they are, they could be playing for $1 against each other and they want to make sure they don’t get beat,” he said. “Bragging rights at that level cost a lot more than anything else they’d have to pay over. …
“Absolutely they’re going to be out there competing their best to make sure they can keep reminding each other of the fact that they won.”
He’ll be working with an eclectic broadcast crew, which includes the world’s No. 4-ranked player Justin Thomas doing on-course work and NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley adding analysis. Given his own famously weird swing, filled as it has been with ellipses and commas through the years, Barkley commenting on anyone else’s game is like a butcher critiquing a diamond cutter.
Anyway, there is a good cause for which to play. There is a diversion to be staged. And, even though it is a mutant hybrid of sporting event, there is a message to deliver.
As Immelman says, he is legitimately excited about this assignment, “Not only because I miss seeing great golf on TV,” he said. “But also because even though there are so many people going through such a tough time all over the world, as trivial as it may seem when you can see athletes out there starting to compete — even if it’s NASCAR without fans — it just feels like a little light at the end of the tunnel.
“It’s a little bit of hope that hey, if everybody continues to do the right thing here, pretty soon we can get back to some kind of normalcy and get going again.”