Major Battle to Secure Strong Fields


This is John Deere Classic week, a gray period in time for the games better players.
The weather is good, the course is better than average, the amenities are good and the purse is certainly OK. But the John Deere still struggles to get the games elite.
No fault of John Deere, certainly. But the British Open is next week, and the trip across the Atlantic takes a time adjustment. John Deere is unfortunate to fall into a time slot where many of the top players are going overseas. The tournament just moved into this spot, but the event has been saddled with a less-than-desirable date since its beginning.
So, how do the biggies pick their schedules? Money doesnt have much to do with it. The purse, a tournament director once told me, is down about fourth or fifth on the list. Much more important is your location on the schedule.
Somewhere behind that is your course. Then the amenities you are able to give ' child care, things for wives, and outside activities ' thats pretty important. But the purse ' all of the tournaments pay so much money nowadays that there are no bad purses. Theyre all in the neighborhood of $5 million, so regardless of where you play, if you make the cut, you know you are going to make some real money.
But where does your tournament fall on the schedule? You can strike off 10 or 12 tournaments that, through no fault of their own, have the misfortune of wrong timing. That means Honda, Houston, FedEx St. Jude, Booz Allen, John Deere, Milwaukee, the International, Hartford, and just about any tournament in September and October. Those events are either adjacent to majors, fall directly in front or directly behind key stretches during the year.
Sometimes your tournament is opposite an event elsewhere that pays big bucks in appearance fees. The Ford Classic at Doral goes up against an event in Dubai that, because of the cash, is always going to get the worlds top players.
Another thing that riles some players is having to play during the tournament with amateurs. That eliminates the Bob Hope, the AT&T and the Funai at Walt Disney. AT&T has the added disadvantage of having terrible weather almost every year.
The courses? Some have found Doral to have too much sand, Colonel to be too short, the International to be too long and hilly. Some courses are very good ' this week at John Deere, the Chrysler near Tampa, Pebble Beach, the 84 Lumber Classic in Pennsylvania, to name a few ' but their placement on the schedule dooms them.
In September and October, the big names have put it on cruise control and gone on vacation, aiming for two or three big events ' the Ryder Cup, the WCG-American Express, the Tour Championship. That means tournaments such as the Bell Canadian, the Valero Texas Open, 84 Lumber, Greensboro and the Chrysler in the Tampa area are going to fight it.
Purses, like the tournament director said, are already so lucrative that most of the biggies have already made their two million by September, leaving the small fish to battle over the end-of-the-year events.
Nick Price is one who showed up this week for the John Deere. He, like most of the big names, hasnt come in several years. But this year he has returned.
More than anything else, it was the golf course that got me back here, said Price, because, like most guys on tour, I like to play good golf courses. And you can see it's been designed by a golfer (D.A. Weibring), which is - he's done a great job, he really has.

Price doesnt mind playing in the States the week before the British Open ' the reason most of the top 10 has passed this up.
I've toyed with the idea of going over to play in Scotland the week before, he said, but the problem is that if the weather is poor, it really ruins your practice going in there. And there's really no better practice than playing a week before, I don't think.
Price has tried it both ways ' playing the week before a major, and resting the week before a major. Now - he has his own plane, which makes flying to Royal Troon decidedly less complicated. But he has decided that it doesnt make any difference ' playing or resting.

You've just got to go with what you feel best, and the way my scheduling worked out this year, it was a perfect fit for me, he said.

I sort of balk at going to play overseas this time of year because if the weather conditions - we're almost guaranteed good weather here. We may have a few rain delays, but that's not anything uncommon this time of year to play in the States. But I want to get a good solid four rounds in. There's nothing better than getting a win under your belt and going to the British Open.
So Price will be at the John Deere, along with a lot of solid, very capable players who just havent made a name for themselves yet. But tournament organizers live the life of the unfortunates on the PGA Tour. They are obliged to have this date. It doesnt mean the John Deere isnt a great tournament. It only means that a lot of the big names wont ever have the chance of knowing about it first-hand.
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