That e-mail, Im afraid, has become all too common to those who look into this space from time to time. The Champions Tour has come to a crossroads. This is not necessarily my opinion ' judging by the majority of comments of you the sporting public, its YOUR opinion.
The regular tour would be in the same situation if there were no Tiger Woods, by the way. So its not just the seniors who are being met with a vast chorus of who cares And the women, who started the year with all kinds of interest ' theyve slipped back somewhat on the wow meter with the second-half winners. This is not by any means the golfers fault ' it is the fault of the golf equipment manufacturers who have largely removed skill from the game, who have largely reduced it to a sport of bash-it ball. And it is the fault of teachers who have told their students that to succeed, you have to have a grim, no-nonsense attitude with no room for personality.
Which brings us to the seniors ' I still have not grown comfortable calling it the Champions Tour. And the seniors are currently in the midst of an identity crises. The PGA TOUR ' the Champions Tour governing body ' seems to insist that it be an association of the most skilled senior golfers. And the people seem to insist that they want their Arnies and their Chi Chis and Gary Players, scores be damned.
In their place, the tour has instituted players such as Dana Quigley and Allen Doyle , Tom Jenkins and Bruce Fleisher and David Eger. These guys might be real crowd-pleasers, but the sad reality is the people wont buy a ticket to see them if Trevino or Nicklaus or Arnie isnt around. Some are getting too old to participate (Palmer), some are too banged up (Trevino), some simply no longer have an interest (Nicklaus, and to a lesser extent Tom Watson). Slowly but surely, the Champions Tour is running out of Peoples Champions.
A mini-generation was bypassed when Greg Norman declined to play in no more than two or three events and Fuzzy Zoeller proved to be simply too hamstrung by injuries to be more than an also-ran player. The best players this year were Jay Haas and Loren Roberts, and both are great people and extremely capable players for their age. But neither is going to get people excited about hopping in the family sedan and hanging out at the golf course for six or seven hours.
The tour may get some help from next years class of rookies. Nick Faldo and Nick Price will turn 50, and so will Seve Ballesteros. Ian Woosnam and Bernhard Langer join this group, as does Mark OMeara and John Cook. For that matter, so does Italys Costantino Rocca, a real crowd-pleaser in Europe for a period of about five years.
But alas, Faldo probably wont play more than four or five events because of his TV obligations. Ballesteros would like to play, but his spine simply wont let him. Woosnam simply does not enjoy playing outside of the UK. Sam Torrance, who has great crowd presence, played the Champions for half a year and then retreated back to Scotland. And Rocca probably wont survive the stringent Champions rules for players who didnt make much money on the PGA TOUR.
How do you make this tour relevant again? Well, the answer is apparent that you dont do it by selling great golf. You do it by selling great names.
How do you do that? Ill confess, I dont know. But I would somehow arrange to get Chi Chi into the mix, and I would arrange to get Seve out to the tournaments, and I would have Arnold show up at every possible event. Norman has a beef with the commissioner, Tim Finchem, and probably wouldnt be interested in playing more often. But something has to be done to incorporate more of the big names, and that can only be done by acknowledging that all the big names dont necessarily play the best golf. Some are of great public interest by simply being who they are.
Keep the Haass and the Roberts and the Brad Bryants, by all means. But something has to be done to make this tour what it once was. If there isnt, it will one day just pass away, no one interested enough to come out and watch a Bobby Wadkins or a Gil Morgan or a David Edwards.
Is there a way to integrate the names people recognize with the names of the people who play the best golf? For the sake of the Champions Tour, I do hope so.
Email your thoughts to George White