It probably isn’t a heated competition, but Brendan Porath might be the Internet’s most vocal supporter of the Sanderson Farms Championship. As a golf writer for SB Nation and co-host of the thrice-weekly podcast The Shotgun Start, Porath has frequently held up the Sanderson as a model small-market PGA Tour event. The tournament’s sudden growth this year — the purse is going up more than $2 million, and the traditionally opposite-field event is getting its own spot on the calendar — might signal disruption to the Sanderson’s small profile, but Porath remains bullish on the tournament. “Jackson’s not a small town,” Porath said. “It’s probably perfectly suited for an event like this, and I wish we had more of them. I feel like if some people running the PGA Tour were running the NFL, they’d try to relocate the Packers to San Jose, where they could get more corporate sponsorships.”
. . .
LYING FOUR: It’s probably fair to say that the Sanderson Farms Championship has occasionally been a lovably forgettable tournament — but in more recent years, I’ve found myself trending more toward the “lovable” part of that than the “forgettable” part. How would you describe your view of the Sanderson Farms?
BRENDAN PORATH: I think it’s one of those events that’s the guts of the PGA Tour’s origin story. And maybe the Sanderson wasn’t there in the beginning, but it’s out of a time and place of where the Tour came to be: markets creating, supporting, upholding events. It’s not the only game in town, but it’s probably one of the biggest games in town, and it kind of evokes this era of guys getting in their car and traveling from one stop to the next. The Tour came out of the dirt. Like, take Colonial — I think I tweeted once that you might as well not have a PGA Tour if Colonial goes away. Money and growth are good, but so are nostalgia and authenticity and community. And I think a lot of that’s been lost. It’s a natural progression, I guess, but as a hardcore golf fan it’s been fascinating to watch some of these smaller events, like the John Deere. I talked to a guy at the John Deere who said, “This event would go away if we didn’t title-sponsor it, and it’s too important to the community for it to go away.” I’ve never been to Mississippi in my life, but my fascination is with an event really becoming part of the community.
LYING FOUR: The tournament began in Hattiesburg, and Rick Cleveland — a longtime sports writer here in Mississippi — grew up in Hattiesburg. So he caddied in the pro-am in the event’s first year and covered it for the Hattiesburg American. He has so many stories about it, and it really did sound like one of those small, true “tour” stops.
BRENDAN PORATH: Jackson’s not a small town. It’s probably perfectly suited for an event like this, and I wish we had more of them. I feel like if some people running the PGA Tour were running the NFL, they’d try to relocate the Packers to San Jose, where they could get more corporate sponsorships. Sometimes it’s good to try to build an organic event in a community that embraces it.
LYING FOUR: Broadly speaking, what makes a good Tour event?
BRENDAN PORATH: I think it’s a combination of venue, history, market — I don’t want to say the “party” around it, but the scene and vibe around it. I think a lot of them have a forced air of contrivance around them, and the ones that don’t have that are nice. The standard is probably Riviera, right? You have the venue, you have history, the market is amazing — it’s not a small market, but it adds to the vibe being in Los Angeles. Sometimes an event catches lightning in a bottle for four or five years in a row, and it’s amazing, but you can’t control that — it’s that stuff you can control that matters: history, venue, market.
LYING FOUR: Does the arms race among Tour events make it harder to maintain that spirit of being uncontrived? I mean, the Sanderson Farms purse is going up 50 percent in one year. Five years ago, a $6.6 million purse would’ve been bigger than Torrey and the Arnold Palmer; now, it won’t even be the biggest event of the fall.
BRENDAN PORATH: Compare that to the European Tour, too — or the Web Tour, or the LPGA. Think what they’d do for a $6.6 million purse. That’s accelerated significantly since about 2013. I think it kind of all started when the PGA and the Players did that joint statement when they announced that they were gonna have $10 million purses. They did a press conference around it, just to announce it together that their purses were going to $10 million. It became an event. And I think that really accelerated things, trickling down to the other majors, Playoff events, and now every single PGA Tour event. I think it’s a necessary evil now. There are some events where the money is kind of secondary — like, whatever purse Riviera was at, they’d still get a great field. But there aren’t many Rivieras out there, right? The Sanderson should embrace its identity as this awesome, first look. You know how NBA Summer League has this whole culture around it? And maybe it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison, because those games aren’t real competitions, but building a whole culture around getting that first look at all these new rookies and young guys who just realized a lifelong dream of getting a Tour card — playing for status, playing as a rookie, that should be the identity separate and apart from the purse. Even if the purse grows to $8 million, $9 million in a few years, they could still keep the non-contrivance if that’s its identity.
LYING FOUR: I do wonder whether you risk shutting out the Norman Xiongs and Maverick McNealys of the world in an event that big, though.
BRENDAN PORATH: I think that becomes a risk, for sure. But based on where it is on the schedule, and based on it being in that kind of market, I think that sort of inhibits that risk. The last thing you want to do is see them lose that quirky identity and become another run-of-the-mill TPC thing. It’s almost an advantage of being in the fall, rather than being in the middle of July or something like that. There’s a lot of fatigue and overcrowding in the normal golf season, but being in the fall — that tends to be where the biggest events aren’t on the schedule, and that can be an advantage for the Sanderson.
LYING FOUR: On the other hand, from the event’s perspective, I totally get it. If you have an opportunity to grow your purse by 50 percent with the snap of some executive’s fingers, then you do it.
BRENDAN PORATH: Would you rather it be an opposite-field event?
LYING FOUR: No, it’s not that. I love that it’s not gonna be opposite-field. But the smaller profile allows for an intimacy out on the grounds. Last year, I followed Norman Xiong for maybe nine holes, and at times I was the only person following him. Even by the time Cam Champ established himself as a freak show, the crowd around him never got so big that you couldn’t be two-deep if you wanted to be. I’d hate to lose that intimacy just to attract Matt Kuchar.
. . .
LYING FOUR: I want to ask you about The Shotgun Start. Getting three blog posts up in a week is lot of work; getting three podcasts out seems insane.
BRENDAN PORATH: We talked about it for a long time. Andy and I met at the 2017 Players Championship, and we texted a ton coming out of it — not necessarily about doing anything together, but just about golf in general. I threw it out there as a way to separate ourselves; obviously podcasts are everywhere now, but I’ve always wanted to do one. I started listening to them in 2008 or 2009, but I just never jumped in and did it. We thought, “It’s really crowded now, so how do we differentiate ourselves?” The one thing that bothers me about podcasts is that I don’t necessarily know when they’re coming or how long they’re gonna be. I just wanted to know when I was getting it. And I thought we could differentiate ourselves a little bit by doing that. I don’t know what we expected. We’re both hardcore golf nuts, and we finished it would be more servicey: “here’s 20 minutes in the middle of September that you need to know,” or news. We thought it’d be servicey, and not necessarily entertainment. I don’t think either of us intended it to go the direction it’s gone. We still have amateur production; we’re still doing it all on our own — mostly Andy. And we thought we could try to build a little community around it. We’ve been happy with that.
LYING FOUR: You’re about a year in now. What do you think? Are you happy with it or tired of it?
BRENDAN PORATH: Both of us text each other all the time with ideas all the time. And every day, we wake up, and both our mentions and DMs and e-mails just crack us up. We’re not tired of it, mostly because of the fun community that’s grown up around it, and that’s what we wanted. I’ve become a little disenchanted with golf media; so many people are on this misbegotten chase to collect these big buckets of impressions or views. I’ve operated like that in the past and almost built different websites that way. But what does that even mean? Is that even real? What is the value of that number? I see all these companies buying each other up, or combine, and it’s all on this chase to collect impressions — and I don’t even know what the value of those is. What I love about this is that we’re very happy with the size of the audience. It’s growing a lot, and it’s bigger than either of us ever anticipated, and quicker — but we really don’t look at those numbers very often. So the opposite of that chase — collecting those buckets of impressions — is building this community, which I think has real value. We love hearing all these random suggestions and jokes and nicknames, and I hope people who are listening aren’t just listening out of habit but also feel like they have a real connection to us and the other listeners. It just feels like there’s a real audience there, with real people on the side of it instead of just a bucket of impressions.
LYING FOUR: Is that what you were going for?
BRENDAN PORATH: Neither of us anticipated it going in that direction at all. We knew we had a good relationship and good chemistry, but we didn’t expect it to be this irreverent and…funny, I guess? I don’t think we expected to laugh as much as we do.
LYING FOUR: Give yourself credit. It’s nothing if not funny.
BRENDAN PORATH: I’m not writing as much. I’m hoping I get back to that and get a normal cadence around that. But we’re not tired of it. There are sometimes days where it feels like it’s hanging over your head — like it’s a Tuesday, and you know you have that at night. But as soon as we start recording, it’s fun every time. It’s never a drag. I think we’re probably gonna keep doing it forever. We have no plans to quit. We’re pretty happy with the format, the frequency, the audience. We get a lot of feedback, and the feedback has been almost universally good — which kind of scares me. I kinda want people to say that it sucks, or “You need to do this better,” and I’ve gotten a few of those, and I’m happy to get those. We’re both really energized by it, to be honest with you.
LYING FOUR: I have a group text with some guys, and we talk a lot about golf — and at least once a week, there’s a Shotgun Start reference. People love it.
BRENDAN PORATH: We want to do more with it. We both have full-time jobs and families, and this is becoming a job, and we’re making not a ton of money off it. But we have ideas that we want to do more of, and hopefully one day we’ll be able to spend a lot more time on it.