'The PGA Tour was life and death,' Bruce Lietzke, a 13-time winner on the PGA Tour, said Thursday. 'The Champions Tour is not. It makes this tour pretty attractive.'
For the fans as well as the players.
The Champions Tour players have to work a little harder to promote their circuit, without the publicity and star power of players like Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. They are required to play in two pro-ams leading up to each tournament compared to one for PGA Tour players. They willingly meet-and-greet with corporate types and media and attend various functions leading up to the tournaments -- including the Bruno's Memorial Classic, which starts Friday.
'I was blown away when I started going back to the PGA Tour to see what players don't give over there,' said Tom Kite, who won 19 PGA Tour titles.
'What the players give out here is so far beyond what the guys on the PGA Tour give, it's not even funny.'
Players and president Rick George discussed the present and future of the tour Thursday at Greystone Golf & Country Club, including a rule change banning carts during competition starting in 2005.
George said the feedback from players has been 'all over the map' on the cart issue.
'Some are adamantly against it, some are in the middle and some are for it,' he said.
Lietzke favors walking at tournaments himself, but worries that the change might force popular older golfers like Chi Chi Rodriguez out of tournaments.
'Chi Chi's not going to win this tournament this week, but he will have the first- or second-biggest gallery,' Lietzke said.
The $1.5 million tournament on the 6,992-yard, par-72 course in suburban Birmingham is a perfect example of the tour's parity, with 12 different winners in 12 years. Tom Jenkins won last year.
Still, as Kite emphasized, it's not the PGA Tour. Many of the older players are already established and financially secure and not so burdened by the overwhelming pressure to win.
'We can't emphasize competition as much as the PGA Tour does,' Lietzke said. 'The PGA Tour is probably 80 percent competition and 20 percent entertainment.
'You can almost flip-flop that number for us. We have to emphasize entertainment more, because the PGA Tour doesn't. That's where we can find our part in this crazy sports world market.'
The next challenge is convincing marquee players like Greg Norman and Curtis Strange -- who turn 50 next year -- to play on the Champions Tour.
George said he has spoken with Norman on the phone recently and plans a face-to-face meeting in the 'very near future' with that objective in mind. Former U.S. Open winner Jerry Pate and Jay Haas are among the newcomers this year.
Gary Koch has seen both sides, as a player and as a TV analyst trying to scramble for interviews with PGA Tour players, waiting hours for interviews with players who might or might not oblige.
He said it boils down to one thing -- attitude.
'They can be pretty unapproachable at times, very unapproachable,' Koch said of PGA Tour players. 'You won't find that out here on the Champions Tour.'
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