HSBC impressive even without Americans


HSBC ChampionshipSHANGHAI – The field for a World Golf Championship is never as strong when Americans require a passport.

The HSBC Champions is no exception.

Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, the best two players in the world, are competing at the same tournament in Asia for the first time. That alone is enough to give the HSBC Champions the appearance of a world-class event, just as it would any tournament at home.

Even so, it is difficult to ignore the number of Americans who chose to stay home.

And it’s equally difficult to ignore the sarcastic, yet caustic comment from Stuart Appleby at the start of the decade when a dozen Americans decided against going to Spain to close out the PGA Tour season.

“They’re like a bag of prawns on a hot Sunday,” he said in 2000 at Valderrama. “They don’t travel well.”

The PGA Tour isn’t helping the cause in this case.

It did the right thing by converting a tournament with only four years of history into a World Golf Championship. At the very least, that ensures at least one “world” event is played outside the boundaries of the United States, and that’s important.

The next step is to give more Americans a reason to go.

Because it is played so late in the year – and partly because the HSBC Champions did not become a WGC until six months ago – it will not count as an official event on the PGA Tour.

Earnings from the $7 million purse won’t count toward the PGA Tour money list.

The winner will not get a three-year exemption.

For PGA Tour members, it is little more than an exhibition except for the world ranking points. The Tour did make one exception by granting the winner a spot in the season-opening SBS Championship at Kapalua.

Instead of asking why 10 Americans didn’t come to China, perhaps the better question is why any of them came at all.

“Why wouldn’t I be here?” Steve Marino said. “I’ve never competed in one of these.”

Jason Dufner feels the same way. Ditto for Brian Gay, who last played in China when he was just out of college trying to earn a living.

“I’m in no position to skip free money,” Jerry Kelly said with a laugh.

Sean O’Hair doesn’t get a chance to travel much with three children. Pat Perez won for the first time at the Bob Hope Classic this year and wants to enjoy the rewards that come with winning. “It’s cool to be in these things,” he said.

Not so cool is that it doesn’t count.

“I can’t believe it’s not official,” Perez said. “It’s a world event. Tiger and Phil are here. It should count on the money list.”

Rod Pampling, the Australian living in Dallas, said he spoke to the Tour not long after the HSBC Champions became a WGC and asked why it wouldn’t be treated like the other WGC events held in America during the heart of the PGA Tour season.

“They said, ‘We’ll get back to you on that.’ Typical answer,” Pampling said. “It’s a world event. How does this not count?”

Those who stayed home had their reasons, and some are tough to argue.

U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover is a no-show, yet his schedule should not be subject to criticism. After winning a career-defining major at the U.S. Open, and enduring the crush of publicity that followed, Glover played the next four weeks on the PGA Tour because he made a commitment he refused to break.

Kenny Perry played the Presidents Cup a few days after his mother died. This is time to be home with his family.

Steve Stricker? Even if a WGC were played within a car drive of his home in Wisconsin, he probably wouldn’t leave the deer stand. Stricker hardly ever plays after September.

British Open champion Stewart Cink understands why the PGA Tour treats the HSBC Champions differently from other WGC events. He is on the policy board and recalls the concerns of some players that it might give an unfair advantage to international players.

“We thought it might have an impact on the top 125 this time of the year,” Cink said.

The 78-man field doesn’t include anyone outside the top 100 on the U.S. money list. Still, there has been grumbling from the lower end of the food chain that international players have too many shortcuts to a PGA Tour card, and this would be another one.

“You get a World Golf Championship outside America, it doesn’t sit well with people outside the top 50,” Cink said. “But I fully expect it to be official very soon.”

It can’t happen soon enough.

Whoever wins this week, is that not worthy of the same three-year exemption from winning at Doral or Firestone or in match play in the Arizona desert? He will have beaten a field that includes Woods, Mickelson, Padraig Harrington, Sergio Garcia, Geoff Ogilvy, Henrik Stenson and others who comprise 15 of the top 20 in the world.

Why shouldn’t the money apply? The PGA Tour season doesn’t end until next week at Disney. No one in the field is going to keep anyone from finishing in the top 125 on the money list required to earn a card for next year.

If the PGA Tour wants this to be a World Golf Championship, it’s time to treat it like one.