Drive to Attract Top Stars Still a Hot Topic
But what seems to count more than who wins is who plays.
Maybe that's why the document generating the biggest buzz these days is a letter from IMG that smacks of appearance money and projects a sense of desperation among PGA Tour events to attract a good field.
The Bay Hill Invitational has no such problems.
It has a beloved tournament host in Arnold Palmer, a favorable spot on the schedule with The Players Championship and Masters around the corner, and Tiger Woods lives just down the street.
Woods, Ernie Els and Retief Goosen are not only playing in the same tournament, they'll be in the same group the first two rounds at Bay Hill.
Not every PGA Tour event is so fortunate.
That's one reason IMG sent a proposal to various sponsors aimed at beefing up the field.
The proposal includes a menu of players and their price range for a Monday outing the week of the tournament. There was no guarantee they would stick around for the tournament because that would constitute an appearance fee, which is not allowed on the PGA Tour. Instead, there was a pledge they would 'look favorably upon staying.'
It worked for the Ford Championship at Doral two weeks ago. It paid a reported $600,000 for the foursome of Goosen, Vijay Singh, Sergio Garcia and Padraig Harrington to play golf with top customers. Sure enough, all found it in their best interests to tee it up three days later on the Blue Monster.
The push for a strong field is nothing new. Tournaments long have clamored for the big names of the era, whether it was Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Curtis Strange, Greg Norman, Fred Couples or Woods.
'Unfortunately, it's show business,' said Larry Thiel, tournament director at the International. 'We're driven by the marquee value of the players in the field.'
Appearance money in disguise is nothing new, either.
Some 20 years ago, sponsors used to meet with IMG to figure out which players would be invited to a corporate outing in Canada called the 'Chairman's Days.' Lo and behold, these players inevitably stuck around for the Canadian Open. And just last year, the 84 Lumber Classic offered six first-class seats on a charter to the World Golf Championship in Ireland for those who played in its tournament. The value was estimated at close to $50,000.
That must have looked like chump change compared to the menu IMG served up.
The rate was between $100,000 and $200,000 for players like Singh, Garcia, Goosen and Ernie Els. The price range was between $50,000 and $100,000 for the likes of David Duval, Mike Weir, Fred Couples and Jim Furyk.
But conspicuously missing was the one guy who sells tickets and spikes TV ratings.
Why wasn't he on the menu?
'Don't even go there,' Woods said Tuesday, sensing no way out of the impending question.
While Ford paid $600,000 for its star foursome, that money wouldn't even get Woods for nine holes. Woods commands about $3 million to play overseas, where appearance money is allowed. Industry insiders say he would get at least $1 million for a one-day corporate outing like the one at Doral.
That Woods can get that much money raises questions about what constitutes a strong field. It's hard to imagine the 'Ford Foursome' generated ticket sales. All they did was give the tournament strength in numbers.
Give tournament directors this choice: Only one of the top 10 in the world with that one being Woods, or eight of the top 10 without Woods?
Steve Wilmot of the MCI Heritage opted for eight out of 10, only because Harbourtown can't accommodate many more fans than it already gets. Thiel also would prefer eight of 10 at the International, but that's the purist in him.
The realistic side tells him differently.
'In this world today of satisfying sponsors and ad agencies, and with the return on investments that only can be measured by ratings, that in itself says to everybody, 'You better get Tiger in your field if you want to end up having ratings that are meaningful,'' Thiel said.
'Golf is all about Tiger. He's the engine that is driving television, and television is the engine that drives the tour.'
Woods doesn't find fault with Ford or any other tournament willing to shell out money for a good field, especially during his campaign for a shorter season.
'There are 48 events, and with the economy the way it is right now, the players aren't going to be playing 38 events,' Woods said. 'So it's tough to get all of the guys. And that's one way of getting the guys. You've seen what they did up in Nemacolin (84 Lumber Classic), down at Doral. They do perks, and that's one way of getting around it to make sure you get a quality field.'
The issue will be sorted out this weekend when tournament sponsors have their annual meeting at PGA Tour headquarters. Maybe then, the focus can return to some phenomenal golf being played this year, even at the tournaments that don't have the strongest fields.
Ogilvy urges distance rollback of ball
Add Geoff Ogilvy to the chorus of voices calling for a distance rollback of the golf ball.
In an interview before the start of the Emirates Australian Open, Ogilvy said a "time-out" is needed for governing bodies to deal with the issue.
"It's complete nonsense," he said, according to an Australian website. "In my career, it’s gone from 300 yards was a massive hit to you’re a shorter hitter on tour now, legitimately short. It’s changed the way we play great golf courses and that is the crime. It isn’t that the ball goes 400, that’s neither here nor there. It’s the fact the ball going 400 doesn’t makes Augusta work properly, it functions completely wrong.’’
Ogilvy used an example from American baseball to help get his point across to an Australian audience.
“Major League Baseball in America, they use wooden bats, and everywhere else in baseball they use aluminium bats,’’ he said. “And when the major leaguers use aluminium bats they don’t even have to touch it and it completely destroys their stadiums. It’s just comedy.
“That’s kind of what’s happened to us at least with the drivers of these big hitters; We’ve completely outgrown the stadiums. So do you rebuild every stadium in the world? That’s expensive. Or make the ball go shorter? It seems relatively simple from that perspective.’’
Ogilvy, an Australian who won the 2006 U.S. Open, said he believes there will be a rollback, but admitted it would be a "challenge" for manufacturers to produce a ball that flies shorter for pros but does not lose distance when struck by recreational players.
The golf world celebrates Thanksgiving
Here's a look, through social media, at how the golf world celebrates Thanksgiving.
The major championships I'm certainly proud of, but Barbara, the kids and my grandkids are the best things to ever happen to me. From our family to yours, Happy Thanksgiving! pic.twitter.com/wkma1Q9LlK— Jack Nicklaus (@jacknicklaus) November 23, 2017
GC Tiger Tracker:
Mixing Thanksgiving and waiting for a week from today. pic.twitter.com/u9m9WxQNYx— GC Tiger Tracker (@GCTigerTracker) November 23, 2017
Happy thanksgiving to everyone! Hope you have a wonderful day with family and friends. #Thankful— Steve Stricker (@stevestricker) November 23, 2017
Was reading about Thanksgiving. Originally they ate waterfowl, venison, ham, lobster, clams, berries, fruit, pumpkin, and squash. Seems a bit tastier than Turkey!— Frank Nobilo (@FrankNobiloGC) November 23, 2017
Literally food for thought.
Tyrone Van Aswegen:
Happy Thanksgiving: Biggest turkeys of 2017
Thanksgiving brings us golf's biggest turkeys of the year. Donald Trump, Grayson Murray and a certain (now-former) tournament director headline the list. Click here or on the image below to check out all the turkeys.
Tributes pour in for legendary caddie Sheridan
Tributes are pouring in as golf celebrates the life of Greg Sheridan after receiving news of his passing.
Sheridan, a long-time LPGA caddie who worked for some of the game’s all-time greats, including Kathy Whitworth and Beth Daniel, died Wednesday in Indian Rocks Beach, Fla., at 63. He was diagnosed in July 2016 with brain and lung cancer.
Sheridan worked the last dozen years or so with Natalie Gulbis, who expressed her grief in an Instagram post on Wednesday:
“Greg…I miss you so much already and it hasn’t even been a day. 15+ seasons traveling the world you carried me & my bag through the highs and lows of golf and life. You were so much more than my teammate on the course…Thank you.”
Sheridan was on Whitworth’s bag for the last of her LPGA-record 88 titles.
“When I first came on tour, I would try to find out how many times Greg won,” Gulbis told Golfweek. “It’s a crazy number, like 50.”
Matthew Galloway, a caddie and friend to Sheridan, summed up Sheridan’s impressive reach after caddying with him one year at the LPGA Founders Cup, where the game’s pioneers are honored.
“Best Greg story,” Galloway tweeted on Thanksgiving morning, “coming up 18 at PHX all the founders were in their chairs. Greg goes, `Yep, caddied for her, her and her.’ Legend.”
Best Greg story: coming up 18 at PHX all the founders were in their chairs. Greg goes “Yep, caddied for her, her, her and her” Legend— Matthew Galloway (@matthewgalloway) November 23, 2017
In a first-person column for Golf Magazine last year, Gulbis focused on Sheridan while writing about the special bond between players and caddies. She wrote that she won the “looper lottery” when she first hired Sheridan in ’04.
“Greg and I have traveled the world, and today he is like family,” Gulbis wrote. “Sometimes, he’s a psychologist. Last year, my mom got sick and it was a distraction, but he was great. When I used to have boyfriend issues and breakup issues, he was my confidant. In a world where caddies sometimes spill secrets, Greg has kept a respectful silence, and I can’t thank him enough for that. He’s an extension of me.”
Four months after Gulbis wrote the column, Sheridan was diagnosed with cancer.
“The LPGA family is saddened to hear of the loss of long-time tour caddie, Greg Sheridan,” the LPGA tweeted. “Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and players he walked with down the fairways. #RIP.”
The LPGA family is saddened to hear of the loss of long-time Tour caddie, Greg Sheridan. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and players he walked with down the fairways. #RIP pic.twitter.com/QKy0YdK249— LPGA (@LPGA) November 22, 2017
Dean Herden was among the legion of caddies saddened by the news.
“Greg was a great guy who I respected a lot and taught me some great things over the years,” Herden texted to GolfChannel.com.
Here are some of heartfelt messages that are rolling across Twitter:
Retired LPGA great Annika Sorenstam:
Sad to hear the passning of Greg Sheridan. This photo brings back many memories. Always respected his caddy skills and devotion to womens golf. @natalie_gulbis @LPGA #RIPGreg pic.twitter.com/lHU3Ixz9Vk— Annika Sorenstam (@ANNIKA59) November 23, 2017
LPGA commissioner Mike Whan in a retweet of Gulbis:
Golf Channel reporter and former tour player Jerry Foltz:
Professional caddies are often overlooked and underrated. But they're just as often the unsung MVP of a player's success. We just lost a great one. RIP Greg Sheridan. He was the 1st to welcome me to my LPGA assignment years ago. He will be missed eternally.— Jerry Foltz (@JerryFoltzGC) November 22, 2017
Rest with the Angels now, Greg Sheridan. ❤️— Christina Kim (@TheChristinaKim) November 22, 2017
LPGA caddie Shaun Clews:
RIP Greg Sheridan. One of the most successful and great caddies of World Golf, period.— Shaun Clews (@shaunclews1973) November 22, 2017
LPGA caddie Jonny Scott:
Sad to here that long time tour caddy Greg Sheridan has passed away! RIP Greg, you will be missed. — Jonny Scott (@stixy76) November 22, 2017
LPGA caddie Kevin Casas:
The world is a sadder place today without our buddy Greg Sheridan, a caddy and a friend for lifetimes...Godspeed buddy— Kevin Casas (@TheKevinCasas) November 23, 2017
LPGA pro Jennie Lee:
So sad to hear the news of long time LPGA caddie Greg Sheridan. I️ remember sitting next to him on the plane from Walmart to the US Open one year and he gave me the best words of wisdom on player/caddie chemistry. He will be missed greatly. Thinking of you @natalie_gulbis ❤️— Jennie Lee (@JennieLeeGolf) November 23, 2017