Professional golf, unless you’re already a die-hard fan, can be a difficult sell.

If you don’t believe me, try it sometime. Strike up a conversation with a stranger at a neighborhood barbecue or a bar, and really attempt to explain why there are billions of dollars currently flowing into the sport. Pretend for a second you’re not allowed to talk about sportswashing, and sincerely try to make the case for golf becoming the next big thing.

They’re probably familiar with Tiger Woods, so you could start there. At one point, he was the most famous athlete on earth. Of course, Woods doesn’t play much anymore, maybe five or six times a year, if he’s lucky, and he’s older and thicker and doesn’t conjure up magic as often as he used to. As much as Woods meant to golf, invoking his name is no longer a persuasive argument.

The closest player we have to Woods, Scottie Scheffler, is brilliant at hitting a golf ball. You could drop his name next; it’s hard to put into words how skilled he is. But he’s not an assassin the way Woods was. He’s more like a humble, friendly gym teacher who also happens to be the best athlete you’ve ever seen. He could have developed a rivalry with either Jon Rahm and Brooks Koepka, two guys with ornery personalities who do possess a killer instinct, but they left for a different league and admitted they wanted to play less golf and make more money. The one potential rival who did stay, Rory McIlroy, has raised the floor of his game but not his ceiling. He’s not the superstar he was a decade ago. Even he would concede this.

You could go on, but making your case would get increasingly difficult. Personalities aren’t moving the needle for the casual fan, no matter what league they play in or how much money they’re getting paid.

The best argument you could make, and the one chance you might have to draw them in, would be if you could convince them to watch the last few hours of The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass.

Professional golf might be irrevocably broken. Greed may have led it down an unfixable path. But if it’s going to have a fighting chance to survive (and even thrive) then we need more Sundays like the one we just witnessed. It was a reminder that as flawed as the PGA Tour might be, there is a template that can work. If I had billions of dollars like Steve Cohen or Arthur Blank or even Yasir Al-Rumayyan, I would study the last hour of The Players and ask myself: How can we replicate this more often than once or twice a year?

The answers aren’t complicated. You could write them out on a napkin.

Shots need to matter. There has to be risk and reward.

That starts with the setup and with the venue.

Commercials can’t overwhelm the broadcast. You have to let moments breathe.

Lastly, money can’t be the sole motivation for the competition.

On the back nine Sunday, all of those elements coalesced. You could sense the tension that Xander Schauffele and Wyndham Clark were feeling when Scheffler was climbing the leaderboard, and see how much harder the shots suddenly became. You could anticipate the consequences of going for certain pins, and feel how devastating it was when someone missed.

Personalities are important, of course. We need to care about who is hitting golf shots, whether we love them or hate them. (Remember, it’s fun to root against people we dislike!) But drama, suspense, and whether it matters as a piece of history, are the only things that are going to make more people interested in the product.

Would Scheffler’s victory have been more compelling if he’d reeled in Rahm or Koepka or Bryson DeChambeau instead of Schauffele and Clark? Undoubtedly so. And perhaps, someday, the best players in the game will get the opportunity to clash more frequently.

But the idea that unification will provide a permanent boost to professional golf is a fallacy, and I hope the billionaires looking for return on their investment (including the Saudis) will grasp that before it’s too late. It’s not like golf viewership was booming before LIV came along. Simply putting the pieces back together again — with oil money and private equity money flowing in both directions — won’t be enough. We need better venues, harder golf courses and better broadcasts.

I could spend the next 20 paragraphs telling you more about Scheffler, trying to convince you his game is as fascinating as anyone we’ve ever seen. And his grit and his competitiveness certainly deserve a mention. He was in so much pain this week after he tweaked a muscle in his neck, he wasn’t even sure he would be able to continue through the weekend. He spent Friday’s round bunting the ball around, taking three quarter swings and just trying to survive.

“I told my wife Friday, I don’t see him playing this weekend,” said Scheffler’s caddie Ted Scott. “He couldn’t move. He was 10 degrees, maybe, in mobility.”

Yet even the best Scheffler anecdotes aren’t going to convince anyone he’s going to be the next Tiger Woods. Scheffler knows that as well as anyone. On Sunday, after his victory, Scheffler shared a story about something a fan shouted at him at the Genesis Open last month that put his own accomplishments into perspective.

“I hit my tee ball and this guy yells out, like, Congrats on being No. 1 Scottie,” Scheffler said. “Eleven more years to go. Eleven more years to go.’ ”

That’s how many years Woods held that position.

“Anytime you can be compared to Tiger I think is really special, but, I mean, the guy stands alone I think in our game. He really does,” Scheffler said. “This is my eighth tournament win now out here, I've tied him in Players Championships. Outside of that, I got 14 more majors and 70-some PGA Tour events to catch up. So I think I'm going to stick to my routine and just continue to plot along, try and stay as even-keeled as I can.”

Woods, who was eligible to compete in this year’s tournament but chose not to enter, is not walking through that door any time soon, as Rick Pitino infamously once said. That initially must have felt like a blow to PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan, who took his share of arrows from the press and fans this week. The PGA Tour desperately needed some juice after an underwhelming start to the season, and Woods’ presence might have helped, particularly with the Tour celebrating the 50th edition of The Players.

But in the end, the tournament was a reminder that the Tour does have it in it to serve as a stage for the kind of drama that happens frequently in other sports. Clark spent much of his afternoon looking like a sports car about to throw an axle, but down the stretch he found an extra gear. He birdied 16 after a majestic second shot to the back of the green. He birdied 17 with a courageous wedge trickled to five feet. On 18, he fired a dart to the front of the green, twirling his club as he walked after it.

When Clark stood over his birdie putt with a chance to get into a playoff with Scheffler, it was the kind of moment that no amount of money could have made more interesting.

“I want to try to make the putt. I didn't really care about the second putt,” Clark said. “I wanted to be in a playoff, so I went for it.”

When the ball was halfway there, it looked like he’d made it.

When the ball dove into the cup, it still looked like he’d made it.

Clark even took a step forward and pulled his arm back, ready to unleash a euphoric roar.

When his putt spun around the back of the cup and popped out, you almost couldn’t believe it.

Clark pulled his hat down over his eyes in agony. Halfway across the property, Scheffler and Scott bearhugged in joy.

If you were sitting at home, on the edge of your couch, it was hard not to feel something too.

It feels worth stating, at least for the record: Can we sort out the bullshit and have more moments like this, please?

Kevin Van Valkenburg is the Editorial Director at No Laying Up

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