In my decade at Global Golf Post, I’ve harbored a very poorly kept secret: I didn’t grow up a golf fan, have never played a round and, until my early teens, I knew Arnold Palmer solely as my hometown’s premier hospitalier. To paraphrase a line from GGP’s very first issue: When I heard “Hogan,” I thought Hulk.
But my dad and brothers (there are two of them, they are awful, you would love them) adored golf, so I picked up knowledge through osmosis. I knew of Tiger and Phil ... I had seen Happy Gilmore ... Fred Couples hit my dad in the chest with a drive at the 1996 Open Championship – that sort of thing.
But it was an unexpected source that turned me into a golf fan: video games.
EA Sports started producing the PGA Tour Golf series in 1990, but it was in 1999 that they paired with Tiger Woods as presenting athlete. And it was in 2003 when the game came to Xbox and changed my life for the better.
After countless hours spent tweaking my Create-A-Golfer to look as much like 15-year-old me as possible, I would spend even more time guiding my avatar around the virtual links. The video game gave me a new appreciation for the 17th at TPC Sawgrass; in 2012 it let me play countless rounds at a richly rendered Augusta National; and it served as my introduction to golf’s best companion – gambling.
My brothers and I would play skins matches for dollar bills, battling it out inside the virtual ropes while honing our trash talk. Did you know that poor performance in a video game can net you an award for worst haircut? If so, you’re my younger brother who took home that prestigious title multiple times.
The game served as a keystone in our bonding. Games like Tiger Woods PGA Tour Golf, GoldenEye 007, NCAA Football and Halo sat on a Mount Rushmore with Popeye’s Fried Chicken, Mel Gibson’s The Patriot and Florida Gators football as foundational aspects of my relationship with my brothers.
EA’s PGA Tour series hasn’t had a new iteration since a 2015 version that saw Rory McIlroy replace Woods as the title athlete, but hope springs for fans of video game golf with the announcement of 2K Sports’ upcoming PGA Tour 2K21.
Cover boy Justin Thomas joins 11 other announced PGA Tour stars including Bryson DeChambeau, Sergio García and Tony Finau in taking on courses like TPC Sawgrass, East Lake Golf Club and the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook.
The PGA Tour series was my ersatz entry into the camaraderie of golf: having a few drinks, talking some trash and losing a little bit of money. Maybe the new 2K games will serve that role for a kid out there or stoke some nostalgia flames for people who played before. While my heroics in real life are limited to the 19th hole, I was able to find the game another way and I’m all the better for that.