The PGA U.S. Open was held at the Chambers Bay Golf Club in my hometown of University Place, Wash., in 2015. The tournament featured veterans such as Phil Mickelson and new, upcoming players like Jordan Spieth. When the four-day tournament ended, the 21-year-old Spieth became the youngest U.S. Open champion in 92 years.
At the time, I didn’t know much about the sport. The only reason I cared about the U.S. Open was that it ended school early for me due to the amount of people that were expected to arrive for the tournament.
I wasn’t able to attend the Open, but I got a glimpse of just how popular golf really was. The fact that people from all over the world traveled to attend the tournament amazed me. I thought the sport was mostly played recreationally — I never expected this level of passion.
Just like tennis, golf has four major tournaments: the Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship. Nearly 1,000 golfers make up the official golf rankings. But apart from the most popular names such as Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson, most people aren’t that familiar with many golfers.
It’s not as though golf is entirely dead, however. One of the most well-known golfers of all time is Tiger Woods. Woods, tied for the most PGA Tour wins ever, formerly held the No. 1 ranking for an unprecedented 683 weeks. Woods helped keep golf alive in a country dominated by sports like basketball and football.
Luckily for the sport, its popularity is trending slightly upward. Masters Sunday this year was the most-watched golf broadcast in history with more than 18 million viewers in the final round. Much of this improvement can be attributed to the recent success of Woods — who won his fifth green jacket that day — after being MIA from golf for much of this decade, but its popularity is still a surprise.
Furthermore, around 6% of athletes who play golf in high school go on to play golf in college — almost double the conversion mark in basketball. Still, in terms of numbers, there are more than 500,000 male high school basketball players, compared to 144,000 male golfers.
So as popular as golf is becoming, there are still not that many participants. This may be because golf is an expensive sport to pick up and not as easy to get involved in as other sports, but the main reason is where golf is played.
It’s easy to practice hitting a golf ball against a net, but the best practice is actually going to a golf course and hitting a ball in real conditions. This alone can often be expensive and time-consuming, so people have to go well out of their way to play even a single round of golf.
For example, USC’s golf teams have recently been quite successful. Last season, however, the men’s team placed seventh in the Pac-12 Men’s Golf Championship. Though it was not the finish the team was hoping for, former Trojan Justin Suh placed fourth individually and was named to his third consecutive All-Pac-12 team.
The women’s team, on the other hand, exceeded all expectations last season when they won the Pac-12 Women’s Golf Championship, its fifth in the last 12 years. Junior Gabriela Ruffels was one of the main reasons for the team’s success. The reigning U.S. Women’s Amateur champion is ranked No. 20 coming into this season.
But it’s still a challenge for the golf teams at USC to practice. Since there is not a golf course on or near campus, the McKay Center features a state-of-the-art golf facility. Players can practice their skills on an interactive screen that imitates an actual golf course.
This is possible for a large university like USC, but for smaller colleges that don’t have as many resources, obtaining a virtual golf simulation is just not possible. Because of this, it’s not surprising to see that there are many more athletes involved in sports such as football and basketball, which can be played almost anywhere.
In spite of this, people who want to pursue golf should not let obstacles like price or location stop them. I remember “playing golf” on my Wii and imagining how cool it would be to play in real life.
Some of today’s greatest athletes have come from golf, and it’s unfortunate that not many people realize this due to its reputation for featuring out of shape, unathletic players. Luckily for the sport, people who do like to play and watch golf are generally quite passionate about it. Golf is an entertaining sport that should not be forgotten — and in my opinion, it will only continue to rise.
Nathan Hyun is a sophomore writing about underrepresentation in sports. His column, “Hyun-derrated,” runs every other Wednesday.