Two of the world’s oldest running competitive events got underway over the weekend: The Masters and Bells Beach.
Golf and surfing. Surfing and golf. They go together like lamb and tuna fish.
Tiger Woods made the weekend cut for the 23rd consecutive year, tying a record held by Gary Player and Freddy Couples.
Freddy Couples, at 63 years of age, also made the weekend cut, crowning him as the oldest player ever to do so at the Masters.
Tiger, 47, looked to capture his 16th Major in Augusta, though the conversation was less on his golf game and more on how he is able to even walk the course after his horrific car wreck in 2021.
Doctors said he might lose his leg, let alone walk on it.
Over the weekend, he made the cut and needed a heavy sprinkle of that Tiger magic to give himself a chance at winning, but if there was anyone to have enough magic dust in their cupboard of tricks it was Tiger.
That wasn’t the case, however, as he withdrew early Sunday morning after reaggravating his plantar fasciitis in his foot. The foot of his bad leg.
As Bells was called on last Thursday, the competitors took to the Southern Ocean in unexceptional, tousled conditions that found 11-time World Champion Kelly Slater, 51, cast into the early elimination round.
It’s a place that Slater has found himself more frequently over the past few years, especially in sub-par surf (which has also become an ever-developing theme on the Tour this year).
Like Tiger, if there was anyone who possessed enough of that je ne sais pas to claw his way out of the elimination round and up onto stage to ring that Bell like QuasiModo, it’s Kelly. If he were to do so, it would be his fifth win at Bells in 31 years.
On Saturday Slater advanced out of the elimination round, beating early-exit staples Connor O’leary and Carlos Munoz, before falling to Kanoa Igarashi in the round of 32.
The problem is not Kelly’s ability, even at his ripe old age. His is a motivation problem, which is a waves problem. Kelly’s inner demons don’t come out to play in wind-slop Winkipop.
The stakes aren’t high enough, even with the mid-season cut looming for the GOAT.
The mid-season cut has been…CUT.
Just the other evening, the WSL and their leader Erik Logan came out with a pork-filled midnight policy change regarding the cut, essentially stating that if you happen to be 11-time world champion Kelly Slater you will have wildcard opportunities in the second half of the season to earn points and re-qualify.
Previously, wildcard competitors in the second half of the season would earn zero points should they win a competition. That is no longer the case.
What stakes? There are no stakes. And without stakes there are no narratives. There is no drama, and by default, the character of the competition slowly squeaks away like air out of a party balloon.
We need something more. It’s a cookie-cutter mess. Where are the psychos? The shit-talkers? The rascals?
The Masters of professional golf is one of four Majors held throughout the year. If you’re a pro golfer, your entire legacy is dependent on how many Majors you win.
The four Majors:
- The Masters
- PGA Championship
- U.S. Open
- The Open Championship
Each Major is special, and treated with prestige and lore and respect that these golfers, if they’re made of the right stuff, will do nearly anything to win. Further, they are the most difficult golf tournaments on the planet.
For two reasons.
The first is the setting at which these tournaments take place. The courses are otherworldly and make everyday golfers shutter at the thought of doing what these golfers do on national television.
For me, I would flay every driver into the crowd as if I were aiming for them. I’m not aiming for them, I assure you. I’m simply overcome by the second reason these tournaments captivate us.
It’s immense and thick and buttery. To handle that kind of lather you must be a piece of burnt toast that’s been through the flames and still come out on the other side intact.
As a golfer, if you’re able to win all four Majors, your name is etched in history forever.
Only five players in the modern era of golf have ever accomplished the feat:
- Gene Sarazen
- Ben Hogan
- Gary Player
- Jack Nicklaus
- Tiger Woods
Not even Arnold Palmer is on that list, though he’s still regarded as one of the greatest golfers of all time. As a consolation, they named an iced tea-infused beverage after him.
If you win all four in the same calendar year, it’s called a Grand Slam. No one’s ever done it. Tiger Woods came closest to achieving it in 2000. He won all four Majors consecutively, though his fourth victory, at the Masters, came in 2001.
Many still consider it a successful conquest and it’s been dubbed the Tiger Slam.
If we’re going to compare sports, golf and surfing are not two that likely come to mind at the top. I won’t disagree with you on the differences of each, but I will not discount that there are some similarities – and more so, there are things that surfing can learn from golf.
- It’s an individual sport.
- That individual is competing against other individuals.
- The competition is held at different venues, and each is unique.
- The eventual world number 1 is decided by a tour-style season.
The main difference is that professional golf knows how to lean into narratives. They know how to build suspense. They know how to be human about the whole damn thing.
How is it that professional golfers as a whole are currently more interesting than professional surfers?!
That should not be the case.
I think it’s because golf has MAJORS.
Yes, they have other tournaments – lots of them, but they’re there to build the tension, anticipation, expectation of who will win the Majors.
Don’t, for one second, please, try to convince me that the Rio Pro is as important as Pipeline or Teahupo’o. It’s not. It never will be.
Right there is the problem with the World Championship Tour of surfing. They don’t value waves like Pipeline and Tahiti the way they should be.
Pipe is the Masters. Teahupo’o is the Open Championship. I’m not sure what the other two are, but that’s not important right now.
Bottom line, professional surfing needs Majors.
Professional surfing should rip this page out of pro golf’s book, fill it with the bermuda grass used at the Masters, roll it into a joint, and smoke it in deep.
Instead, we treat every contest equally, and we shouldn’t.
There’s not an easy solution, but that doesn’t mean there’s not a solution. Truthfully, all that means is that it’s a difficult problem to solve, which are the only problems worth solving.
I have a thought. An idea. I’ve been kicking it around lately like a can down an alley. I think it’s good, because I would want to watch it.
Working title: The Strike Tour.
What it does is create stakes, extra rare and dripping in blood like they’re meant to be.
The first piece of the puzzle problem, the way I see it, is the current schedule. It’s all backwards.
There once was a time when the CT started in Australia and ended in Hawaii, with the last contest of the season culminating at Pipeline – the wave you should have to surf well in order to win the World Title.
Now, we start the season in Hawaii. It’s anticlimactic and, frankly, disrespectful.
After Hawaii, we head into a pseudo-European leg, again in the wrong season, and which is really just one contest in Portugal. Where’s France!? Mundaka!? Anything more interesting than just a Hawaiian hangover and Portuguese pastel de nata in cold water and bad waves.
Next, we saunter on into cold Australia to try to recapture a shrivel of momentum. It’s boggy, forced, and boring.
I watched the round of 32 at Bells over the weekend and it was not enjoyable. The only reason I had any interest in it, at all, was because of the Surfival League.
THERE WERE STAKES!
The worst part about the WSL World Tour is that it currently ends on a wave that makes even the worst surfer feel invincible. Not to discredit or downplay the majesty with which these pros surf it, but Trestles, in my opinion, is not where the Title should be decided.
Trestles should be a contest. It should be surfed, but it should not be the decider.
On the Strike Tour I’m proposing, or merely just talking about, Trestles would not be the wave that determines the champion.
What I’m proposing is a system where four MAJOR waves are rewarded in a different way.
More points. More prestige. More drama. More prize money!
Right now, the closest thing surfing has to that is the Triple Crown, but with the new schedule the weight of that tiara has been overshadowed.
Unequivocally, we should all agree that Pipeline should be worth more than what it is currently valued.
With the Strike Tour, we are only concerned with the four Majors. Each Major is of massive consequence and bounty.
As such, the Majors contests should not be pre-planned. They should be dictated by the weather. Sure, there will be staples. For two of them, perhaps, but the other two should be left to the ocean.
When a swell hits, the Majors strike.
Only 16 of the top professional surfers in the world qualify to compete in these events. This, in and of itself, raises the stakes of all the other contests that are lesser than the Majors.
The points awarded to the Majors victors are enhanced, for they mean more. They should.
The other pre-planned events can run on their regularly scheduled program, but with the Strike Tour also in place to amplify the entirety of the World Championship Tour, it leaves a ballroom-sized dance floor open to theatrics that the Italian Opera would envy.
We don’t want to see 10 contests of equal value. We want to see waves appropriately book-kept.
I can hear the skeptics now: “This gives too much advantage to the best surfers in the world!”
Isn’t that what we’re trying to achieve!?
Isn’t that the point of all this???!
With just 16 surfers qualifying for each Major, the contest can be held in one bangarang of a day. I’d also switch up the contest format, opting instead for a seeded bracket style. Number 16 faces number 1, and so on. Win or go home.
Tell me Kelly and his demons won’t get up in the morning for something like that.
Pipe > Trestles.
I’ll flush out more as I continue to think on it.