What’s next for The Match franchise? An event insider dishes insights, predictions

Bryan Zuriff

Bryan Zuriff produced both Matches.

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This week in Bamberger Briefly, Michael Bamberger offers five quickies about where golf has been in this odd spring as we anticipate the PGA Tour’s return to action next week at the Colonial Country Club. 

John F. Kennedy, the most stylish of our golfing presidents, liked to say that “victory has a hundred fathers, but defeat is an orphan.” He wasn’t talking about Julius Boros winning the ’63 U.S. Open at The Country Club in JFK’s hometown of Brookline, Mass. (Arnold was in the three-man playoff.) And he wasn’t talking about The Match II, on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend at Medalist. But the insight applies.

Tom Brady, former New England Patriots quarterback, gets credit for getting Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods on the same page before the show and, during it, for handling his split pants with a certain élan. Justin Thomas, mic in hand, was droll. Charles Barkley, busting out of his plastic-walled workspace, conveyed the sense that none of it mattered, which let us figure out for ourselves why it did. I could go on. Tiger’s no-glove pitch shots in the rain. The cart cams. The gathering darkness. A tight match and Peyton Manning’s ease. Now’s as good a time as any to watch Manning’s old United Way SNL spot.

But among the hundred fathers-of-success for this made-for-TV charity event, there’s one name you may not know: Bryan Zuriff. He’s a 90-shooter at Riviera and the Madison Club (high-end desert hang) who will play you for anything, once he figures out the shots. He’s a friend of Phil’s. He was a producer on Ray Donovan and Escape from Dannemora. (Ben Stiller was its director.) He was a producer of the Tiger v. Phil Match I in Las Vegas in 2018. (Ben Stiller was in the gallery.) He was in a production truck during Match II, calling shots. Go to Chuck, cut to Tiger, with the umbrella, go to JT. Live TV. Good times, if you have the stomach for it. Bryan Zuriff has the stomach for it.

But the biggest contribution Zuriff made, as he explained it, was bringing in Brady this winter. “Tom was on the range at Riviera, and I went up to him,” Zuriff said.

“You went up to him?” I asked.

“Yeah.”

“You know him?”

“I know his father.”

Tom Brady Sr. is a member of the Madison Club in La Quinta, Calif. A producer has to know how to get in front of people.

Zuriff got in front of Tom Brady Jr., made his pitch, and a plan was hatched. There were a hundred problems, large and small, en route to airtime. Zuriff was in the middle of most of them. A producer fixes things.

The rain, in the end, was not a problem.

“It actually added to the whole thing,” Zuriff said. “It showed you how tough these people are, as athletes. Americans are tough. We raised $20 million for charity!”

The biggest lesson, going from Match I to Match II, Zuriff said, was that the viewers must be aware of, and care about, the charitable element of the show going in. Also, team play is vastly better than a mano-a-mano competition, because teammates bond and play off each other.

But once the show begins, Zuriff said, it becomes entirely about the competition, no matter how goofy the terms of it might be.

Zuriff expects a Match III, with Tiger and Phil, maybe even on the same team. The event would raise money for a good cause and be a payday for the participants and others. “They’re professional athletes, they should be paid,” Zuriff said. He imagines a second-day event that would not be televised, featuring the athletes, an event for which sponsors would pay large sums to participate. Zuriff’s tie is to Mickelson, “the best entertainer that golf has ever seen. He’s magic. He can do anything in front of a camera.”

“Bottom line,” Zuriff said, there is “something about Phil and Tiger that works. Chemistry. Movie magic.”

You’re tempted to scratch your head — could there be two star golfers with less chemistry? But, as they say at Graceland, 50 million Elvis fans can’t be wrong. Nearly six million people watched Match II. This show’s going on.

Michael Bamberger welcomes your comments at Michael_Bamberger@GOLF.com

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Michael Bamberger

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Michael Bamberger writes for GOLF Magazine and contributes to GOLF.com. He also participates in podcasts, primarily in tandem with Alan Shipnuck. Earlier in his career, he was a senior writer for Sports Illustrated for 23 years and a reporter on The Philadelphia Inquirer for nine years before that. He has written a half-dozen books about golf and other subjects. His magazine work has been featured in multiple editions of The Best American Sports Writing. He holds a U.S. patent on a utility golf club called the E-Club. In 2016, he was given the Donald Ross Award by the American Society of Golf Course Architects, the organization’s highest honor.