The coolest thing about the moonlit Match IX wasn’t its star power

Charles Barkley and Rory McIlroy hitting tee shot during Capital One's The Match IX at The Park West Palm

Rory McIlroy letting one fly Monday night.

getty images

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Maybe the coolest thing was that the golf was played under the light of a February moon, one tick past full, aided and abetted by a hundred floodlights. Monday Night Golf, people, Match IX, live on TNT Sports, 12 holes of holiday golf featuring (no surnames needed!) Max and Rory and Lexi and Rose. Golf at night. We need more golf at night.

Or was the coolest thing the venue, the old West Palm Beach public course, now rebranded as The Park? There’s the centerpiece, the 18-hole public course, a giant playfield of semi-flat, firm turf where you can play line-drive golf from start to finish and never lose a ball. But wait, there’s more public fun to come! The Park also has a spectacular, free-to-all public practice putting green, heaving and vast, that is hugely fun. And an open-to-the-public driving range. And an open-to-the public lighted par-3 course. Count ‘em up people: six sentences, one public per sentenceWe need more public golf.

Or maybe the coolest thing was Charles Barkley’s old-school, itty-bitty lined yellow pad that he scribbled on while working the gig for TNT, alongside Christina Kim, Trevor Immelman and Ernie Johnson? From what I could observe, Sir Charles was taking his assignment semi-seriously, but you’ll have to tell me. I could see him. I couldn’t hear him. I know he takes his golf seriously. Have you seen his swing lately? It’s no longer a chapter book.

Charles Barkley and Christina Kim during Capital One's The Match IX at The Park West Palm
Christina Kim and Charles Barkley calling the action. getty images

In any event, it was huge fun, this ninth Match, the first played at The Park at night. Did you play mini golf on cool summer evenings as kid, with pizza as your pre-game meal and closing the day out with ice cream? This Monday night at The Park was that, pretty much. I should have stopped at Lynora’s on Dixie Highway on the way in, which serves one of the best wood-burning pies in South Florida. The nearby Carvel was closed by the time the final putts were holed. Bad planning, Michael. Bad planning!

I hope you’re not looking for any play-by-play game-story stuff here. I don’t have any. It was bedlam out there and a sea of misinformation. I had people tell me it was guys against the gals. (Nope.) Others said it was a mixed-team competition. (Not so.) One person insisted that The Match was a match-play event and therefore a headache for the TV producers, as it would be impossible to predict when the thing would conclude. (Wrong again.) It was a simple skins game, the first time The Match was played this way, with carryovers, every golfer for her or his own self. Although, late in the proceedings, I had the distinct impression that Rory and Max were drag racing their souped-up golf carts with their powerful headlights. There were no caddies, and every time I looked at Homa he was handling the flagstick.

It is possible that not even the super-smart Rose Zhang understood the format. When Lexi Thompson, putting last on the 2nd hole, made a bomb for an eagle and a win, Rose raised her arms in celebration. Rose, Lexi was not on your team!

Rose Zhang, Lexi Thompson, Max Homa and Rory McIlroy all played in the Match IX.
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“Maybe she’s just a good sport,” the gent next to me said. Absolutely, a good sport. Rose headed back to Stanford, where she’s taking five classes, when the event was over.

The kids carrying the running tallies (is it time to write an obit for the old golfy term standard bearer?) had the information with which nobody was preoccupied. By the end of the night, Rose and Max were skinless, Lexi had that one eagle worth $200,000 and Rory won 10, which was worth $2.4 million. It wasn’t prize money. The winnings went to all manner of good causes, including the American Red Cross and the Boys and Girls Club of America. Rory did get a Tiffany bracelet, which he opened at the prize giving, which concluded with enough time to make the local 11 o’clock news programs.

The old Honda event, now called the Cognizant, is being played this week up the road at PGA National. This Monday, the annual pro-member will be played at Seminole, and if you had a dime for every Seminole logo you saw at Match IX, you would have made way more than Homa received for his caddying duties. The conversion of the West Palm Beach muni into The Park was a beloved pet project for a wide range of prominent civic-minded South Florida golf people, many of whom have visited the Seminole pro shop. The golf analyst Dory Faxon, wife of Brad, made the best early-evening observation, while standing on the practice putting green: “Being here is like being under the tree at Augusta.”

Rose Zhang, Lexi Thompson, Max Homa and Rory McIlroy talk on the fist tee during Capital One's The Match IX at The Park West Palm
Gang’s all here. getty images

Yes, except at Augusta, play is not halted when a freight train is coming through. Augusta is not hard by I-95. You can’t roll up to Augusta and play its par-3 course.

Augusta is some course and the Masters is some tournament and golf is lucky to have both. As the saying goes, the road to Augusta begins at the Cognizant!

But public golf (as the man once sang) is where it’s at. The Delray Beach muni, down the road from here, is getting a makeover. So is the Augusta muni, aka The Patch. Ditto for Cobbs Creek in Philadelphia and courses in Chicago and Washington, D.C., and anywhere else you throw a dart.

“Golf needs more of this,” Homa said at the end of the night. He wasn’t talking about his scoreboard total or his souped-up cart. He was talking about the thing that makes the game the game. A course, and a path to it. That’s what Match IX was all about. Lighting up a course, and the path to it. The coolest thing of all.

Michael Bamberger welcomes your comments at

Michael Bamberger

Michael Bamberger Contributor

Michael Bamberger writes for GOLF Magazine and Before that, he spent nearly 23 years as senior writer for Sports Illustrated. After college, he worked as a newspaper reporter, first for the (Martha’s) Vineyard Gazette, later for The Philadelphia Inquirer. He has written a variety of books about golf and other subjects, the most recent of which is The Second Life of Tiger Woods. His magazine work has been featured in multiple editions of The Best American Sports Writing. He holds a U.S. patent on The E-Club, a utility golf club. In 2016, he was given the Donald Ross Award by the American Society of Golf Course Architects, the organization’s highest honor.