The Match 5.0 Goes Back to Its Roots and Shows Glimpse of Golf's Future

Adam Kramer@kegsneggsNational College Football Lead WriterNovember 27, 2021

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - NOVEMBER 26: Bryson DeChambeau plays his shot on the fifth hole as Brooks Koepka looks on during Capital One's The Match V: Bryson v Brooks at Wynn Golf Course on November 26, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images for The Match)
David Becker/Getty Images

In the shadow of colossal Las Vegas casinos, on a perfect fall day in the desert, the colossal golfers who don't much care for each other boomed drive after drive for 12 holes.

Well, slightly less. And we'll get to that shortly.

The fifth installment of Capital One's The Match didn't feature football players, former football players or basketball stars. It returned to its original roots, putting two of the biggest stars in golf against each other.

After all, this is how The Match was born. Before Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers or Stephen Curry teed it up, it was Tiger Woods taking on Phil Mickelson for $9 million.

This year, it was Bryson DeChambeau's and Brooks Koepka's turn for the spotlight at the lovely Wynn Golf Club in Las Vegas. 

Was there drama? That depends on who you root for. 

Koepka dominated the latest installment, winning the skins-style event 4&3. He didn't need all 12 holes. In fact, he needed only nine. As DeChambeau scrambled and struggled on and around the greens, Koepka was his normal rock-steady self.

In raising millions more for charity and donating many more meals along the way—something this event has done an extraordinary job of since its inception—the future of the sport was also on display. 

It begins with the golfers themselves. Not the feud between the two, although there were glimpses of this. But the physical makeup of two athletes whose statures look more suited for a football field than a clubhouse. 

DeChambeau's physical makeover and search for swing speed are well documented. After changing his body and growing his frame to 240-ish pounds, DeChambeau led the PGA Tour in driving distance in 2021 with an average drive of 323.7 yards. It was the second year in a row he led the Tour in driving distance. 

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - NOVEMBER 26: Bryson DeChambeau plays his shot from the 11th tee during a
David Becker/Getty Images

His swing now looks like that of a professional long driver, and that feels appropriate given recent developments. DeChambeau finished seventh at the Professional Long Drivers Association's World Championship earlier this year, showing just how his game translates.

Koepka might not possess the size or distance as DeChambeau, although he's not far behind. He finished 12th this past season in driving distance (310.7 yards), and his 6'0", 205-pound frame is that of a strong safety. 

In Vegas, their size and search for distance were often on display. The long drives weren't always straight, although the movement for extra yards, much like the NBA's movement to three-pointers, is likely to carry forward in 2022 and beyond.

And they don't care much for each other. They've shown their displeasure publicly and on social media. Heck, they've said as much. 

While they put aside those differences for the Ryder Cup—and the feud didn't really take shape Friday—the animosity was unquestionably one of the stories of the 2021 season.

To be clear, this is a wonderful direction the sport is headed in. Friction is good. Friction sells. 

Animosity, as long as it doesn't reach a certain point, adds character to the event. 

The PGA Tour doesn't need to become the WWE. But injecting more personality into golf—whether it's an event of this kind or a major—is where we're going. DeChambeau and Koepka showed how powerful this can be if toned just right, and it will hopefully become the norm. 

Like baseball's attempts to standardize bat flips, golf needs to embrace trash talk. 

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - NOVEMBER 26: Amanda Balionis presents Brooks Koepka (R) with a bracelet after beating Bryson DeChambeau during Capital One's The Match V: Bryson v Brooks at Wynn Golf Course on November 26, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by David Be
David Becker/Getty Images

"This thing is so great for golf," Charles Barkley, who did commentary for the event, said on the broadcast. "You have two of the best players in the world, and people want to call it a rivalry or animosity or whatever, but I think it's just great for the game. Rivalries and animosity are great for the sport, and I am loving it." 

The broadcast team was brilliant, which was to be expected. Barkley along with Phil Mickelson, who have plenty of history in this event, were charming and charismatic. They were lighthearted but also informative. They were thoughtful when they needed to be and delivered plenty of laughs along the way.

Like the trash talk, this should also become something networks inject into golf more. It doesn't mean the Masters has to become a stand-up comedy routine. But the looseness and creativity are something the sport, which can take itself too seriously at times, could really use. 

It could also use more Mickelson, who could be a star in the booth if he chooses to take that route in the coming years. Given his off-the-course earnings and interest, that part is unknown. But he makes a very complicated game incredibly easy to understand, and he has fun doing it. 

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - NOVEMBER 26: (L-R) Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau, and Brooks Koepka attend a press conference during Capital One's The Match V: Bryson v Brooks at Wynn Golf Course on November 26, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by David Becker/G
David Becker/Getty Images

As for Barkley, who spent the better part of the final hour lamenting his failed Nebraska football wager, he brings life to every event he does. That part isn't new. 

Speaking of wagering, The Match has brilliantly embraced what golf has to offer on the gambling front. The regular showcasing of live match odds really brought this event to life. And it's just the start.

As sports betting is legalized in more and more states, no sport is primed to benefit from it more than this one. It's no longer just about who will win a tournament. Every player, every hole and every shot will all be in play.  

As Koepka gradually pulled away from DeChambeau, the live odds shifted violently. And even when it became clear DeChambeau wasn't coming back, there was plenty of action to be had.

In time, this will become the norm on broadcasts for actual tournaments. As we've seen other sports slowly embrace odds, golf isn't far behind. And The Match showcased a glimpse into the future. 

Although it was a blowout, the event still delivered. The friction never bubbled over, even at the end when Koepka and DeChambeau stood side-by-side. But their faces told the story. So did their play.

Two of the biggest stars in the sport still in the primes of their careers went toe-to-toe. Along the way, we saw a 400-yard drive, precision irons and some spectacular moments (albeit largely one-sided). We saw the golfers with some accompanying pieces that could drastically improve the sport and the way it is presented in the future.

The question now, of course, is: Who's next?  

Here's to whatever lies ahead.