There'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.