PGA Tour 2K21: A disappointing return to the world of golf video games

NORTON, MASSACHUSETTS - AUGUST 22: Justin Thomas of the United States reacts to his shot from the ninth tee during the third round of The Northern Trust at TPC Boston on August 22, 2020 in Norton, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
NORTON, MASSACHUSETTS - AUGUST 22: Justin Thomas of the United States reacts to his shot from the ninth tee during the third round of The Northern Trust at TPC Boston on August 22, 2020 in Norton, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /

PGA Tour 2K21 came out last week and after the initial sheen wore off, it’s a bit disappointing.

I’ve played golf video games for over 25 years. I can’t remember the name of the original ones I played, but I can remember sitting in front of my grandma’s computer as a little boy playing them. When I heard PGA Tour 2K21 was going to come out, I knew that I was going to get it. There was no question.

After putting in a decent amount of time into it, I’m left wondering… should I have waited a year and gone after next year’s version?

Sure, the game looks pretty good. It should. We are at the back end of the current generation of consoles, and the tech is available to any studio that wants it to make your game look as realistic as possible. With the PGA’s backing for the first time since 2015, you would expect them to pour a lot into it and help revitalize the golf video game landscape.

Like the landscapes in the game, you are left disappointed with PGA Tour 2K21.

First off, the players look alright, facial expressions, although lacking, don’t look too bad. It seems like hands/arms are always an issue though, and the player’s hands seem massive. Like Boban massive. You aren’t given much of an option for changing how your player looks, and they max out at 6’5″. Meaning tall fellas like myself are left wanting more.

A big part of golf is the weather. If you have ever played on a windy day, as almost everyone who has played golf has done at some point, you can see it everywhere you look. The grass, the trees, bushes, even the flagstick and items around the course. None of that is reflected in the game though. 15 MPH wind? Everything is standing still.

The distances and clubs are a bit messed up as well. They let you unleash with the driver, and you are consistently able to clear 300 with relative ease. Good luck hitting over 240 on your approach with the three wood though. They even stick you with a hybrid for your 195 range. Don’t give me a realistic driver in the professional world, and then handicap me with an amateur club, when professionals routinely hit their 4-iron 225 plus.

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Speaking of distance, one of the best things about some of the old Tiger Woods games was upgrading your clubs, playing better and better in events to earn more virtual currency, so that you could slowly increase distance and control on your clubs in order to feel like one of the pros.

Not so in PGA Tour 2K21. The first tee shot you see, you can blast 300 yards. So much for clubs mattering.

Yes, it will and does matter on higher difficulties, as there are clubs you can purchase in the game with differing levels of control, but it just doesn’t hold that much impact.

If you are going to look through those clubs, you better set some time aside. Your player’s career is constantly connected to the internet, meaning that everything you do has to take a minute to talk to the server. I don’t know if it is just early hiccups with the game, but it is much slower than any other online sports game I have played. I have closed out or gave up on trying to get new clubs a handful of times, as they take a long time to load if they even load correctly.

The same goes for clothing. As you complete sponsor contracts, you unlock new clothing, which is quite neat. I’m decked out in full on America gear right now, rocking the red, white, and blue. Again, there isn’t anything other than aesthetics concerning the purchase of new gear. Might as well leave your player in the standard starting polo and slacks.

Rivals, as a concept, seems like a great idea. There was an old Tiger Woods game, right around 2010, that would have you occasionally take on challenges from Tiger and others. I thought maybe they would try and do something similar. Instead, you get a notice of who your current rival is, and need to outplay them in seven different areas. Once you beat them, you get some currency and an item. That’s it. There isn’t actually anything that happens.

There are a ton of player names listed, although they can be hard to find. You can’t search your scorecard after an event, nor can you scroll the leaderboard. You are able to do it during a round, or go through the tabs once you are at the menu to try and find player names, but that is about it. It leaves a lot lacking, especially immediately after a round when you are interested to see how everyone did.

It seems like the players that are in the rivals system are the only ones that really play well. At one point, Sergio Garcia had 28 of 29 finishes in the top 20. Tony Finau had 24 of 29 in the top ten. It’s like they just pick one of the players eligible to be a rival, and have them play well during the season.

Hopefully, you aren’t interested in playing skins, because it’s a broken game mode, at least against the computer. Normally, you would need to beat your opponent on a hole to get the skin. He misses his birdie putt and you make yours? You get the skin.

Not so in PGA 2K21. If he misses his birdie putt and you make yours, the game has it down that you have both hit three shots, so the hole is a draw. That’s an enormous oversite. The only way to actually win is to make your ball, not just in fewer shots, but fewer actually hit shots. This means you need to stick your approach to a few feet and hope that their missed putt or chip is further out so that they have to knock in their par before you knock in your birdie.

OH! Don’t plan on using a strategy based on where your opponent hits either. Nearly every approach shot they hit ends up nowhere close to what the game is showing you. There were multiple times the computer would hit an approach shot into a bunker, only to be facing a ten-foot putt for birdie when it was once again their turn. It would go the opposite way too, as a fifteen-foot putt would somehow turn into a 45-yard chip from the rough.

Say you are coming down to the 18th hole, and you are the only one on the leaderboard with a chance left at getting the win. It’s a tie, so you need a birdie to win. You par the 18th, and get ready to head to a playoff.

Or, you know, you would if the game had any idea what it was doing.

Instead, you just get the trophy for winning the event, and they split the FedEx Cup points amongst you and whoever you are tied with.

It’s almost like Madden made this game, knowing they could release their game just because it’s a sport, and not really care about what it plays like.

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The game plays pretty nice, it’s just everything else about it that kinda stinks. Sure, I’ll play it a bunch, because it’s a golf game. Would I have bought it if I knew what it was going to be like though? That’s a hard no. It’s like an adult having a kiddie pool in the summer. You can lay in it and stay cool, but there isn’t really anything else that you can do. Be better PGA Tour 2K21. Please.