Like a solid majority of golfers on this planet, Aaron Rodgers spent a nice day golfing and dreading going back to an office he doesn’t particularly enjoy. That part is normal. Hell, that’s the point of golf. Unlike most people, Rodgers doesn’t ever have to leave the course. How soon he does, or whether he’ll return to his day job at all, is the most pressing question in football by a large margin. It controls the destinies of a handful of players and teams this year. Even after five and a half hours of golf, we are no closer to knowing the answer. But we did, crucially, learn that Rodgers is really good at golf. And that’s something.
I watched The Match because I enjoy these events. It is, at worst, a fun display of some mostly charismatic athletic personalities—Charles Barkley makes fun of some dudes, we get some nice drone shots of the course, and we get to see how much better pro golfers are than even elite athletes from other sports. But I also watched it to search for an answer to the most important story in football, which is Rodgers’s status as training camp looms. The matchup on Tuesday night—Rodgers and Bryson DeChambeau vs. Phil Mickelson and Tom Brady—was generally delightful, even though the foursome was not the best matchup possible. Brooks Koepka, obviously, would have been a buzzier opponent for DeChambeau, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about pitting Rodgers against the Packers front office. That’s maximum drama.
Rodgers, who did not attend Packers offseason activities amid reports he doesn’t want to return to the team, has so far refused to comment publicly on what he’ll do in three weeks when training camp begins, and he maintained that stance Tuesday. The broadcast, live from Montana, showed a handful of bears roaming the course, but the dominant animal of the evening was the elephant in the room. Stop me if you’re heard this one before: We don’t have any new information on Aaron Rodgers. And that’s exactly how he wants it.
Leaving aside the obvious joke that the bears couldn’t stop Rodgers from having a dominant performance (Rodgers and DeChambeau beat Brady and Mickelson in convincing fashion), the most relevant part of the evening in football terms came on the back nine, when the TNT broadcast team asked Rodgers in a handful of creative ways whether he would be the Packers quarterback this season. (Even Larry Fitzgerald gave it a try.) Rodgers said some combination of, “We’ll see,” and, “I don’t know,” until they stopped asking. Though he did joke that he’d tell Barkley soon. This, of course, is another golf tradition: being trapped in a conversation you can’t get out of because you’re out there for five hours with no place to go.
Will Aaron Rodgers be the QB for the Packers in Week 1?— PFF (@PFF) July 7, 2021
“I don’t know, we’ll see.”
The event—and the media obligations around it—were likely a preview of what the next few weeks will look like in the standoff between the Packers and Rodgers. He never engaged, even as Brady prodded him. During the event, Brady referred to Rodgers as the leader of the Packers, then said, “I think,” a joke Rodgers basically no-sold. In an earlier appearance, Brady was even more pointed and Rodgers even more evasive:
Starting at 0:32:— Lily Zhao (@LilySZhao) July 6, 2021
Tom Brady: “He’s unhappy with his boss and has no options. Who is Aaron Rodgers?”
Aaron Rodgers: “That’s a projection Tom. I never said I’m unhappy with my boss.”
Tom: “I said it not you.”
Both smile. pic.twitter.com/knRQ0HBjpR
Rodgers is as smart and media savvy as any NFL superstar ever has been. That is what makes this all unique: I have no idea how he will play it, nor does anyone else. Maybe he will tell Barkley. Maybe he simply won’t show up to training camp and won’t comment on it. There has never been a standoff like this one because there has never been an NFL star like Rodgers. If you tuned in on Tuesday, you got some good golf and some entertainment, but you did not get any news from Rodgers’s mouth. Rodgers allowed no room for interpretation. So it’s OK to not know what will happen, because only one person has any idea, and he’s not talking.
Last year, Brady, Mickelson, Peyton Manning, and Tiger Woods enthralled a nation starved for sports during the pandemic with their version of The Match. That had some built-in advantages, the first being that both the quarterbacks and the golfers were facing their biggest rivals. Each player was in the top two of his era at his sport. Rodgers and Brady have no such fierce rivalry—they hadn’t played in the same conference until last year. Rodgers was drafted after Brady had already won three Super Bowls and is six years younger than him. Mickelson and DeChambeau are likewise members of different generations and not exactly heated rivals. DeChambeau is known far more for his rivalry with Koepka, to the point that Koepka’s absence from the event became a running joke on social media for those involved. Without the natural tension of a rivalry, everything seemed a little stiff, as if the foursome were four singles paired up on the tee box. Rodgers seemed to keep his distance from DeChambeau—we might, too—and because of Brady’s struggles we didn’t even see any real competitive flareups in any direction. These events, at their best, demand a certain amount of chaos, and there wasn’t much of that Tuesday.
Brady had every golfer’s nightmare last time: He was playing horribly in front of people. Playing horribly in front of one person is traumatic enough, but he was doing so in front of millions and being made fun of by much better golfers. Major champion Justin Thomas roasted him. Koepka said he’d donate to charity if Brady stopped playing so poorly. This is worst-case-scenario stuff for a weekend hacker. Brady’s struggles on Tuesday made far less noise. Being really bad at golf, as Brady was for stretches at a time last year, can be very funny. Being only sorta bad is just sad. The recipe for chaos of some sort was present for Tuesday’s version of the competition. Three of these players are in a bit of a weird time in their careers. DeChambeau and his caddie had a strange and unexplained split last week just hours before a tournament began (that is not normal). Mickelson spent the past week complaining on Twitter about a Detroit journalist who reported recently about a gambling ring that Mickelson became ensnared in years ago. Rodgers is in the biggest standoff in recent football history. Brady, of course, is just his normal self: coming off a Super Bowl win and being mediocre at golf. We should all be so lucky.
Koepka and DeChambeau will almost certainly eventually face each other in a version of this type of match. They are now circling each other like two boxers hyping up a pay-per-view event—if there is no payoff it is a waste of a good feud. (The feud is so good, in fact, they should probably do the match without any other athletes involved.) DeChambeau gave us a preview of what he’s going to do at events like these, and results thus far are, uh, mixed:
Bryson showed up to The Match in style. pic.twitter.com/MMFQUdCcYd— Golf Digest (@GolfDigest) July 6, 2021
Rodgers’s golf game was a revelation, even if his comments on his status with the Packers were not. He’d made built-in excuses before the match that had most people assuming he’d come out and slice every shot into the mountains.
I’ve been reading Aaron Rodgers’ explanation for not playing much golf these days for about 10 minutes now, and let’s just say some life decisions are being revisited. pic.twitter.com/EGcY6AFuMG— Daniel Rapaport (@Daniel_Rapaport) July 5, 2021
Football, Brady said during the telecast, is easy. He said you can practice football so much you feel a confidence to just go out there and perform, a confidence you can’t feel in golf. He came back to the idea later in the round, when he said the Patriots’ overcoming the 28-3 deficit against the Falcons in the Super Bowl was far easier than trying to come back on the Rodgers-DeChambeau pairing. Easy. I gotta say, hanging out in the mountains and golfing, or going to the beach, seems easy, too. The biggest question in the sport is where Rodgers wants to be. Figuring that out, still, is not easy. Only football is.