Golf Digest U.S. Open Challenge - Different Perspectives

A couple of months ago, when the five finalists for the 2010 Golf Digest U.S. Open Challenge were introduced, I was among the many who applauded the selection. ~ One of the things I liked about these contestants... each of whom played at a very high level... was that they were so different from one another. ~ Whereas one year earlier the finalists had been practically indistinguishable... and represented the narrowest possible slice of the demographic pie... this new group reflected a broad spectrum of the population. They reflected what many of us see as the future of golf.

From there, it was up to the public to select the finalist who'd try, alongside Mark Whalberg, Wayne Gretzky and Drew Brees, to break 100 playing Pebble Beach in U.S. Open championship conditions. And the public chose Peggy... Peggy Ference, the only woman among the finalists. ~ She wasn't my choice. My friend Kenny got my votes... and my Tweets. ~ But Peggy prevailed, and became the first woman to play in the challenge. And of course, there was controversy.

Some asked why a woman was even considered since this was a men's tournament, others suggested that the diversity of the finalists was a thinly disguised attempt by Golf Digest to reach a broader demographic... and added that because women are more likely to "vote in contests" the woman candidate won. ~ Then the controversy died down. Until this week.

On Wednesday the 2010 Challenge came to Pebble Beach and the players took to the course in 25 mph winds. The rough was knee-high and the greens were rolling at a 12 on the Stimpmeter... and Peggy, the "average golfer" posted a 118, which sounds to me like an awesome a pretty respectable score for any golfer who could honestly qualify as "average"... playing that course under those conditions. But that's just me.

So, once the score cards were signed and the results made public the inevitable debate began: "A popularity contest is no way to choose a competent golfer!"... "Should a woman have even been considered for this challenge?"... "This was just a PR choice by Golf Digest who wants women readers"... "That's truly a pathetic pick to bring a woman to a men's tournament, just look at her results". ~ Those are just a few of the comments that followed the announcement of Peggy's less-than-prodigious round at Pebble.

But there were also myriad comments along the lines of: "Thanks, Golf Digest, and thank you, Peggy, for being an inspiration to the rest of us Average American Golfers" and "Peggy Ference did a remarkable job and showed a great deal of character and class", so it seems there were several ways of looking the same outcome.

What's clear is that not everyone was on the same page regarding the purpose of the Challenge. Some seem to feel there's a certain responsibility on the part of Golf Digest to ensure that the person who ultimately plays be the best possible amateur golfer. The way I see it, the contest is more about passion and the search was, in fact, for an amateur golfer with a compelling story and a deep love for the game.

Was there an attempt... in the selection of the 2010 finalists... to reach a particular demographic? I don't think it was that, as much as a desire to reflect the future of the game... or what the future of the game needs to be if we want it to thrive; ie. multi-dimensional: people of different ages, both sexes and various ethnicities who play really well, but more importantly who love the game so much that they're inspired to evangelize it... get out and play it whenever they can and inspire others to do the same.

There will inevitably be tweaks to next year's contest... or at least the selection process... and it'll be interesting to see what they are. In the meantime The Challenge will air on NBC on Sunday, June 20, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. as a lead-in to the final round of the U.S. Open. ~ I'm not going to reveal what the celebs scored in case there are those who haven't heard, but as a true "average" golfer... one who hovers around 100 on courses far less draconian than Peggy played on... I'm looking forward to watching her round.