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Rory McIlroy feeling the pressure to make Boston Common Golf, TGL appeal to broader sports audience

Rory McIlroy on how Boston Common Golf will connect with local sports fans
Rory McIlroy on how Boston Common Golf will connect with local sports fans 01:07

BOSTON -- When the LIV golf tour launched last year, it sought to revolutionize the golf experience and draw in more viewers and spectators who might otherwise not be invested in professional golf. While the LIV tour still has the seemingly endless cash flow to attract some of the top players in the world, the league has failed to catch on from a television ratings perspective, and it hasn't really entered the sports zeitgeist as a notable entity.

An even newer golf league -- TGL, a venture launched by Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, in partnership with the PGA Tour -- seeks to actually succeed in drawing in golf fans and casual sports fans when it begins its inaugural season in January.

The made-for-TV league will feature in-arena competitions every week, with teams representing cities (currently, five have been named) around the country. And as McIlroy prepares to tee it up for Boston Common Golf in January, he admits that as a league founder, he's feeling the pressure to make this work.

"As the days creep toward this thing actually happening instead of it just being a pipe dream three years ago, I feel like I'm feeling a little more pressure to make sure that it goes right and everything goes well," McIlroy said at a press event in Boston on Monday. "But at the same time, we've got the 24 best players in the world that -- or, basically most of the 24 best players in the world -- that have signed up to this and are committed to making this work." 

Part of the appeal of this league can come from a shift in behavior from golfers, according to McIlroy.

"Last year was the first time in golf where more golf shots were hit on non-green grass. So more golf shots were hit not on golf courses. So things like Topgolf and Popstroke -- there was more golf shots hit in those environments than there was on golf courses. So as we're trying to bring the game into the 21st century, I think it's important that these sort of ventures happen. And because golf is such a traditional sport, trying to break that mold and trying to bring it into the 21st century, I think is pretty important."

That comment begged the question: Where and why can TGL appeal to a broader audience, when LIV clearly hasn't caught on?

"I don't want to sit here and talk about LIV, but I think you could make the argument that they haven't innovated enough away from what traditional golf is, or they've innovated too much that they're not traditional golf," McIlroy said. "They're sort of caught in no-man's land, where this is so far removed from what we know golf to be."

Boston Common Golf

Monday marked the formal introduction of the league's first full team, Boston Common Golf. The roster is headlined by McIlroy, with Vermont native Keegan Bradley, Australian Adam Scott, and England native (and proud Liverpool supporter) Tyrrell Hatton making up the rest of the four-man team, which is owned by Fenway Sports Group.

The 37-year-old Bradley spoke at length about how honored he is to represent Boston in a professional sports setting.

"If anybody knows anything about me, my most proud aspect of my life is where I'm from, being from New England. I went to school 20 minutes from here, my family still lives here. I grew up as a kid wanting to play for the Boston Red Sox, the New England Patriots, the Boston Bruins. That was never in the cards for me, but I was better at golf than anything else. I never thought I would have the chance to play for my home city," Bradley said to start the press event, which was held in the music hall attached to Fenway Park. "And anybody that grows up in New England knows that Boston is the capital of New England, and Fenway Park is basically the cathedral of New England. And to be able to come here, go down to the locker room just now and feel the history of Fenway Park ... my wife's uncle is Carlton Fisk. So to see his name, his number retired up there, to walk by Fisk's pole in [left] field, just everything about this place is special to me. And playing for this city and this region is really something that I carry with me throughout the golf world. And I'm just really proud and really thankful for Fenway Sports Group and everyone that's here for the opportunity to do this. And these guys are gonna get to feel what it's like to have this city behind them playing sports and in my eyes, they're the best fans in the world and we really look forward to it."

Bradley had even more to say when asked about educating his teammates on the history of Fenway.

"I was talking to Tyrrell, and just the history of the ballpark. You know, some of my most fond memories from my family have happened in here. My family knew I was coming, and when they hear Fenway Park, they come out of the wilderness to come here. So I've got about 20 people coming later," Bradley said. "But I just think just in terms of Boston and New England, I think for us people that are from here, we think of Fenway. This is what we're proud of. I was proud to show Tyrrell Fenway Park today. It was cool for me that this is his first time. It's pretty nice when your first time is walking on the field with your picture on the grandstand Jumbotron. The ballpark and Fenway Sports Group and just the power of the Red Sox is heavy. And it's fun to be a part of the organization in any small, little way that we are here. And, like I said earlier, I carry around this Boston, New England in me wherever I go. And so it's really fun to have it on my shirt now, have it on my hat, have these guys share what that feels like."

How Will The Rest Of The Team Connect To Boston?

Clearly, Bradley is taking the Boston connection seriously. But for a league that will play its matches in Florida, how do the other three members -- all of whom hail from outside the United States -- make that connection with their "home fans"?

A native of Northern Ireland, McIlroy had one immediate thought.

"So, there's a lot of Irish in Boston," McIlroy said. "So for me, I feel like I've got a natural connection to the city in that way. We've all played tournaments in and around the city, whether it be at TPC Boston, obviously at Brookline last year in the U.S. Open. And as Keegan said, I think Boston sports fans are some of the best in the world and hopefully they all get behind us and they get behind this venture and obviously tune in on Monday nights and see what it's all about. I think whether it be the Red Sox or the Bruins or the Celtics, I mean, there's not a ton of Bostonians that are playing on those teams either. But obviously they're playing in this city. So I think, yeah, we have to make a really big effort to connect with the people of Boston and we're going to try to do that, whether it's coming up here to Fenway, whether it's trying to do that through a TV screen on a Monday night. But I think really just showing pride of who we're representing when we're playing. I think that's the important thing."

How Does It Work?

The key aspect of the league will of course be the competition, which is straightforward enough but not at all the type of professional competition anyone has ever seen.

The format -- dubbed "Modern Match Play" -- features 15-hole competitions. The first nine holes will involve three players from each teams alternating shots. The final six holes will feature traditional match play, with one player representing his team against a player from the other team on each hole. While teams will roster four players, only three will play on a given night.

As for how they will actually play inside a made-for-golf arena? Players will hit off real surfaces -- grass, tee boxes, fairway, rough, sand -- into a simulator for all tee shot and approach shots. Once they get within 50 yards of the hole, they'll play on the physical course in the arena. The green has "189 actuators and jacks that allow the slope of the green to change, creating new looks for each hole."

Competitions will have 40-second shot clocks, and teams will have four timeouts per match. A referee will be on hand to enforce the rules.

Four of the five teams will make the playoffs, with a win (in regulation or overtime) counting for two points and an overtime loss counting for one point.

Celtics star Jayson Tatum offered some advice on how the golfers can deal with the adjustment to the shot clock:

Julian Edelman has also posted about the league ...

... indicating that Fenway Sports Group has gotten to work at ingratiating itself into Boston sports culture as much as possible thus far.

Outside of the Boston team, the golfers participating include Tiger Woods, Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler, Collin Morikawa, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Justin Rose, Xander Schauffele, Max Homa, Billy Horschel, Tommy Fleetwood, Shane Lowry, Tom Kim, Sahith Theegala, Cameron Young, Patrick Cantlay, Wyndham Clark, Min Woo Lee, Kevin Kisner and Lucas Glover.

Prize Money

Professional golf is a rich, rich world, and TGL will of course offer prize money. The exact amount, though, has not been disclosed.

"I think what's most important to note is this is competition," Mark Lev, president of Fenway Sports Management, said Monday. "There will be prize money for sure. And we think that's a really important point to convey."

The Appeal

Back to the crux of the matter. Will fans tune in on Monday nights once football season is over? (The first two competitions will take place on Tuesdays, due to the college football national championship on Jan. 8, and a Monday night NFL playoff game on Jan. 15.)

"I think trying to appeal to a wider sports audience, we're sort of trying to bring that 'courtside at a basketball game' type of feel to golf in some way," McIlroy said. "Try to let the fans that are at least in the arena get closer to the action, I would say. And then for the people that are tuning in at home, having us mic'd up, having us be a little more interactive -- I mean, I feel like when you watch a regular PGA Tour event, you're a few steps removed from us in terms of you might pick up a couple of conversations here or there but you're not getting right in on the action. And I think that's important. I think that's, you know, maybe that speaks more to the traditional golf fan in some way, but I think what we're trying to really do here as I said is broaden the demographic. If we can get more people watching golf, and if that means that they'll go out and try to play the game, then we can increase participation. I sometimes struggle with the 'grow the game' phrase, but it really is that. It's trying to broaden the demographic as much as possible."

McIlroy mentioned the success of the Netflix series "Full Swing" in bringing in new fans to the world of golf, and he believes this venture could further add to that growth.

"It's a cool thing, and I think if we can just sort of broaden that view and I think as well give people a different perspective in terms of who we are, and it humanizes us and gets people closer to us, and we can start to tell stories around it," McIlroy said. "I think that that's important."

You can email Michael Hurley or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.

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