About halfway through the final round of Rory McIlroy’s multi-record-setting performance at the U.S.Open, my wife, Ann, said, “I’ll bet the ratings for this will be huge.” Ann is not a golfer. But through osmosis from me and a healthy dose of the “Tiger Phenomenon” over the last decade or so, she has come to appreciate the game. To the point where not only does she not bolt from the room when she sees I’m watching golf on TV, but might even spend some time watching herself. Such was the case during the weekend of the McIlroy Miracle. Even as a casual golf fan, she knew she was witnessing history. Therefore, she assumed that most other golf fans were witnessing it, too. I hoped that was the case. But I also know that the casual golf fan can be fickle, so I was going to withhold my opinion on the ratings until I saw the finals numbers in black and white.
Well, they’re in and they’re not good. Compared to the final round of the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach (also won by an Irishman, Graeme McDowell), viewership for this year’s final round was down more than 25%. But why? The short answer: it wasn’t Tiger. Or Phil. Or Bubba for that matter. As compelling as the storyline was – boyish 22-year-old, recent Masters meltdown, a major tournament, countless U.S. Open records being made or broken – ultimately, it seems the casual golf fan was not interested in a relatively unknown foreigner winning our national championship. Especially when the outcome was a fait accompli as of Saturday night. It’s impossible to know exactly what intangibles get people to watch or not watch. Perhaps the better ratings last year had to do with the breathtaking landscape that is the Monterrey Peninsula. Perhaps the lower ratings this year had to do with a Sunday leaderboard populated by names like Day, Chappell, Garrigus, Yang, Schwartzel and Oosthuizen. Household names they’re not.
If it’s going to take having an American golfer in a position to win to get the ratings up for a golf major, it’s hard to tell how long we’ll have to wait. America’s best are on an 0-for-5 streak.