On the PGA Tour, It’s Time To Spread the Wealth

Commissioner’s plan to make top players — aka Woods and Mickelson — mix up their schedules is a wise one.

Thrash TalkThere’s a new idea floating around the PGA Tour that would essentially require the game’s biggest stars to participate in some of the season’s lower-tier events. Detach the idea from the world of golf and I’d be standing here screaming about “free market” and “survival of the fittest.”

But when it comes to a collective entity like the PGA Tour, I’m going to say that guys like Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson owe it to the Tour and to the sponsors to suck it up a week or two a year and spread the wealth.

Look at this week as an example. It’s Memorial week. There’s Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, and Phil Mickelson yukking it up at a Wednesday skins game. Nine of the top 10 players in the world are in the field. There’s prestige. There’s a premier golf course. There’s juice.

Rewind a couple weeks to the HP Byron Nelson Classic, where you could wander the range for a week and have a hard time finding enough Ryder Cuppers to make up a fourball.

There are now three tiers of events in the minds of today’s Tour elite. You’ve got the four majors. They’re no-brainers, always have been, always will be. We measure our golfers by their majors, and success and failure is amplified these four weeks of the year.

Then there are the World Golf Championships, which although I’d consider them manufactured events, and despite no real history or tradition, all the top players fill the fields. These four annual tournaments have a lot of support from Tour brass, and tout massive purses (they each match or exceed the prize money of the majors), so it’s easy to see why they succeed. But ask a typical golf fan if they counted down the days to the CA Championship at Doral in February, or if they’re pumped for the Bridgestone Invitational in August. I don’t, maybe you do. Doesn’t matter, the commissioner won’t need to twist Tiger’s arm to be at Firestone. Not when he’ll take home $1.4 million and a bucketful of World Ranking and FedExCup points for a win.

In this second tier of events, toss in the Players Championship, as well as the FedExCup playoffs at the end of the year. Then there are the “legend” tournaments. You’ve got Arnie’s Bay Hill Invitational and Jack’s Memorial. Toss in Tiger’s AT&T National, player-friendly (and amenity rich) Quail Hollow, and maybe one or two more, like Pebble Beach.

Break it down, and you realize there are about 16 events a year that don’t need a hand filling their fields with world top 10 players. Actually, who are we kidding? Commissioner Tim Finchem isn’t putting these rules in place to make sure world number four Steve Stricker is showing up at the John Deere Classic.

Finchem is trying to find a way to compel Woods and Mickelson to tee it up in the rest of the year’s events. The truth is, that both players have helped bolster spots they always play. For years, Tiger personally propped up any tournament with the word Buick in the title. It didn’t hurt that Buick was also one of this primary sponsors. Phil’s long played in Phoenix, where he was a college star.

The PGA Tour lists 40 events on its 2010 schedule. Toss out a few that coincide with the British Open and WGCs and there are about three dozen legit weeks of PGA Tour competition. You won’t have a hard time picking out the ones that need a hand. Turning Stone anyone? Transitions Championship? Valero Texas Open? Who’s showing up for the Travelers in Connecticut?

It’s certainly a chicken-egg argument. If these events offered the purses and prestige of the big boys, the game’s best would find them. But without the top-tier fields, how can they become top-tier events? This is where Finchem comes in. Much like other sports that share revenue, it’s his responsibility to make sure the entire Tour is healthy, not just a dozen stops. Obviously Woods has elevated purses across the board, and that means the Wyndham winner of a year ago (Ryan Moore) cashed a check for $918,000.

But if you ask me, he and Phil can do more.

The same way teams across the majors lick their chops and open their coffers when the Yankees and Dodgers come to town, it is up to the big guys to suck it up and make a trek to Memphis every couple years. The buzz Tiger could create with one week at the St. Jude would give them something to build around for years, and inject life into the event, sponsorship sales, and fundraising efforts.

Given the economy, the events in the danger zone are essentially the Milwaukee Brewers of golf. Speaking of Milwaukee, that’s where Tiger debuted as a pro. It’s no longer a Tour stop. Don’t think the commish hasn’t noticed.

Skins For Sure
I wrote a few weeks ago that the Masters par-3 tournament felt been-there, done-that this year. I can’t say the same for this week’s skins game at Memorial. Watching some of the game’s best playing fast and loose, gunning at all the pins, and flashing some personality made for a good day of TV. It’s a nice change of pace and had an All-Star Game feel to it, without the forced “isn’t this special” vibe the Masters Wednesday unfortunately offered.

Since You Asked …
I was blown away by the response to last week’s Thrash Talk and I appreciate all the feedback. It probably seemed like I was just hoping for justification to shell out $500 for a putter that I may or may not ever play. Well, I was certainly on the fence, but in the end, it was your support that made me decide, “what the heck,” and spurred me to place the order. They don’t expect to ship it until July, but I’ll be sure to post updates and photos once I’ve got the putter in hand. That is, if I don’t chicken out and cancel the order before they send it.

17 thoughts on “On the PGA Tour, It’s Time To Spread the Wealth”

  1. but then the normal pro’s on the PGA tour who are trying to keep their cards won’t stand a chance.

    Does Tiger really want to beat a field of nobody’s?

    Leave the lesser events to the lesser pro’s, no point putting the big players in there too.

  2. James. I’m sure the other Pros will take your comments on board.

    Phil may be a worry but I’m not sure TW can beat an omelette just now.

  3. Push will eventually come to shove. The Commissioner can implement mandatory participation now or he can wait until one of the lower tier tournaments fails to get a sponsor because no one in the top 20 plays it.

    As mentioned in the original post, however, this is hard to do with so many manufactured events on the schedule.

  4. From the opinion piece: “Actually, who are we kidding? Commissioner Tim Finchem isn’t putting these rules in place to make sure world number four Steve Stricker is showing up at the John Deere Classic.

    Finchem is trying to find a way to compel Woods and Mickelson to tee it up in the rest of the year’s events.”

    There lies the problem. It is morally incorrect to write laws or rules to target individuals.

  5. I don’t like it…

    Theres nothing wrong with Finchem making it more enticing… but I do not agree with a mandatory appearence for any player on tour. It just makes it all the more special when these “big dawgs” do play a tourny!

    Mickelson made a suprise appearence last year at the St. Jude in Memphis, Tn… my home course… and it was awsome! I really appreciated him coming, but I understood that it might never happen again. It is the players decision to enter a tournament and it should stay that way.

  6. I dont like this. Its pretty obvious that this idea is aimed at Phil and Tiger only. Like the blog said, nobody cares if steve stricker or Sergio Garcia shows up at the Las Vegas open.

    It takes away from the rank and file tour pro who actually needs to make a living from playing golf. Its basically telling them, “youre not good enough”

    The tour might want Tiger, Phil, or whatever 20 something flavor of the week to win every tourney, but i sure dont.

  7. Doesn’t the LPGA have a policy in place, that could serve as a blueprint? How many how often is the rub.

  8. This is an odd call to make without seeing how these guys live day to day, week to week. They have so many obligations, including practice, that going to every tourney is all but impossible. The top guy’s economics also dictates they only need to play the majors.

    We forget about travel days, meet and greet, sponsor dinners, handshakes, and all the rest. We forget about their “charitable” efforts, the appearances they need to do due to contractual obligations. We forget they have to have a life that isn’t about serving the all mighty PGA – friends, watching their sports etc. And we forget that burnout is a thing folks need to contend with in all walks of life. All the folks on this board have to do is watch and backseat drive, while these guys have to fly, and fly, and hotel up, and hotel up, and talk, and talk, and shake hands, and shake hands, and spread this out over a 10-15 year career at best all the while worrying if their game is gone due to injury, burnout or just failure – what will they do then? We see clips of their efforts, in manufactured montages, staged in beautiful arenas and we forget that this is theater and the players are real folks, who freak out about all the same things we freak out about. To make them perform nonstop might be unreasonable.

    They play what they can, and it makes those appearances interesting.

  9. In the 1970s, the PGA tour had the same problem with Jack Nicklaus. Unless, there are rules (e.g., PGA tour members must play minimum of X PGA tour events/year and must play every event on the PGA tour at least once every Y years, and there are no sponsor exemption loopholes to get around being a tour member) that the PGA tour members must meet to stay on tour, getting the best players to the lesser tournaments will always be a problem. In the olden days, the PGA tour members played a lot to make a little money. For the past few decades, the best PGA tour members play a little to make a lot of money.

  10. Personally, I like the way it is. I don’t care for or care to watch Tiger or Phil. Requiring the players to compete in more events would, however, be better for the tour and local economies.

  11. I hope this does not come to pass. I enjoy tournaments where you get to see the guys that are playing well and get to see more players. I get sick seeing Tiger playing badly, Phil playing stupidly, while getting to hear about someone else playing well.

  12. Mandatory visits will never happen, I’m afraid. What should happen is for sponsors to be able to pay appearance money. While that might never happen, either, it wouldn’t matter if it did until a few golfers besides Tiger and Phil came along who people would pay to see – someone who wins regularly and who also has some star power. Right now, that’s no one.

  13. I disagree with the plan. The top players should be able to pick and choose where they want to play, and if they only want to play 16 events a year then that’s on them. They aren’t workhorses out there to fill the PGA purses (or Golf Channel’s). What’s more, when none of the top 10 show up at the Texas Open it gives the young guys a better shot at breaking through, and allows for the development of new talent. I for one don’t want to see Phil or Tiger trotting begrudgingly out to the first tee just because it’s mandatory that they play what heretofore has been a not-too-exciting entree. And then what do you do with guys who split there time between the US and European tour? Or the few who like (Jeev Milkha Singh) who play on the PGA, Asian, and European Tour?

  14. I’m no fan of this kind of this idea. Tiger and Phil have no problems keeping there tour card and that alone earns them the chance to play in any event they want even if it’s the same one. At what point is a line crossed where now the commissioner of a sport tells the athlete when and where he’ll play. As some others have commented it’s obvious that he is targeting specific individuals which is always a bone head idea. Are they going to tell Angel Cabrera and Sergio Garcia what events to play in as well. Nooooooo!!!

    What we should all be interested in… is what is behind this. I imagine with the tough economic times many event sponsors are banging the commissioner heavy to bring the big players to there events so they can rake in some more cheese or enough to cover the purse money they put up. The only way that would happen is if somehow an unhappy Tiger or Phil showed up to the events they never had any intention of going to and sending ticket prices through the roof. (I.E. Happier sponsors = less stress on the Commish)

    My final advice… Tough it up Commish, that’s why you where the big pants.

  15. The comments I see leave out one point. The top golfers benefit from the tournaments they don’t play in. Marketing, endorsements the health of the tour all depend to some extent on there being a long schedule. If tournament sponsers back off, this adversely impacts the tour. As I often told my children, with rights come responsiblities. The top golfers receive the greatest benefits from the tour. Certainly they should recognize that this may mean they have some additonal obligation to ensure the tour stays healthy..

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *