Marketing Ploy Greg Should be Thankful

RSS

Greg Normans comments brought it up again, two weeks after Michelle Wies appearance at the Sony Open caused the golf world to erupt in an awful ruckus. Because shes female, because shes 14, a line was drawn in the sand and everyone got on one side or the other. Either Sony was correct in giving her an exemption, or it was a shameful act which some tsk-tsked all the way back to the Honolulu school where Michelle attends in the ninth grade.
 
Norman lined up solidly with the antis this week, calling Wies appearance a marketing ploy. Tuesday night on the Golf Channel, Rich Lerner interviewed a couple of tournament directors for their views on sponsors exemptions, in light of the firestorm which has occurred. And he also got the opinion of 39-year-old tour veteran Scott Verplank.
 
Verplank started by saying he watched the Sony closely on Thursday and Friday, but hardly at all on Saturday and Sunday after Wie missed the cut by one stroke.
 
I dont care ' man, woman or child, if youre good enough to play out here, come on! If youre not, I dont think a man, woman or child or anything (should be given an exemption). But if you can play ' and she (Wie) proved she can play
 
His voice trailed off as he realized he was saying something not widely favored by a lot of PGA Tour fans. But his meaning was as clear as if he had stepped right up and said it like this: I know shes a female and shes only 14, but she just came within one stroke of making the cut in a PGA Tour event. I say, Let her play!
 
The truth is ' it WAS a marketing ploy when Wie was invited. But the truth also is, that certainly doesnt make the Sony Open unique. Remember when the old Kemper Open gave one to NFL quarterback Mark Rypien? And remember that he didnt come within a country mile of making the cut? Marketing ploys are used every day in the business world, and theres not one thing wrong with most of them.
 
In a way, the players have no one but themselves to blame if they dont like the women invading their turf. The purses have become so huge that it routinely costs $6 million for a company to become a title sponsor, with the accompanying ad buys on television that is foisted upon the business. And companies have begun demanding a little something extra for that huge outlay.
 
The Sony Open got a 27 percent boost in television audience when it invited Wie. That, people, is a gigantic hike for the Sony corporation. Bank of America got a similar increase in television ratings last year when it invited Annika Sorenstam to the Colonial.
 
And rarely has anyone benefited from the increased sponsors purses like Norman has. He has taken home $14 million during his career in purse money. He has planes, a yacht, several expensive cars ' and he more than anyone except Tiger Woods should be humbly thanking tournament sponsors for their largesse.

Marketing ploy? Last week, the FBR Open in Phoenix utilized a marketing ploy when it invited Ricky Barnes to play. Barnes was a U.S. Amateur champion, and the sponsor knew it made good business sense to have the former University of Arizona golfer to tee it up in the tournament. FBR received a huge bonus when Barnes played well enough to finish in a tie for 11th.
 
We want field, and we want buzz, conceded FBR tournament director Greg Hoyt. And, we got it. I mean, Ricky Barnes, near the lead, was following Phil Mickelson. Thats huge ' I mean, I feel pretty good about that pick.
 
Mark McGwire, the former baseball player, is being bantered around as a plum sponsors pick this year, says the Golf Channels Brian Hewitt. You think that isnt a marketing ploy? Cmon, get serious! But ' lets hear it for astute marketing!
 
Kym Houghton freely admits he made one of those marketing ploy picks in 1996 when he was the tournament director of the John Deere Classic. I gave one to Tiger, and it revitalized the golf tournament, he flatly states.
 
Houghton is now the tournament director for the Wachovia Championships, a second-year event played in Charlotte, N.C. While the Wachovia probably could not use Wies help ' We got 115 exemption letters last year ' there are a number of tournaments that certainly could.
 
Theres certain tournaments that have less than a marquee field that she could make a real difference in the gate and the TV ratings ' and the bottom line for charity, says Houghton. And there are a lot of events that would use her.
 
Oh course, a lot of people say they are opposed to Wie playing in an adults tournament solely because of her age. Now, Im sure that she is thankful that so many people are concerned about her welfare as a 14-year-old. But come on now, did you hear anyone say anything when Tiger Woods played in the Los Angeles Open when he was a 16-year-old? Or when Ted Oh played in the same tournament when he was the same age? Or did you hear a great groundswell of racket when Ty Tryon was appearing in the Honda Classic as a 16-year-old?
 
No, Im sure you didnt. Lets face it, its not Michelles age that bothers so many males. Her parents have accompanied her every step of the way, and if it gets to be too much for her, theyll sit her down for a couple of years. Its Michelles call ' she chooses her schedule. And if neither her, nor her parents, nor her teachers object, then she must be doing something right.
 
If people are honest, theyll tell you its because Wie is female. Thats OK if they feel that way. But unfortunately for them, the PGA Tour has no prohibitions against females. So all this fuss is just so much hot air.
 
And Norman is way out in left field on this one. The sponsors have got to have a little sizzle to go with their steak, and Wie certainly has given them that. As Hoyt says, We want field, and we want buzz. The sponsors demand a little something for the $6 million, and apparently they feel that Michelle Wie gives them just that.
 
Email your thoughts to George White