Sony Open benefiting from participation rule


HONOLULU – Some have dismissed the need, if not the implication, of the PGA Tour’s new rule that requires players to diversify their schedules if they didn’t play 25 events the previous year.

In fact, some Tour types have suggested they will pay a fine, which can be $20,000 or more, instead of adding an event to their dance cards.

It’s easier, the thinking goes, for a player who made over $1 million on the course last year to dole out $20,000 than it is to rework a schedule that, to be fair, many have spent years fine-tuning.

What’s missing from that line of thought, other than the obvious “independent contractor” rebuttal, is why the new rule, which was dubbed the strength of field requirement, was needed.

For decades the Tour has wrestled with a growing gap between the circuit’s “haves” – top-tier stops that annually draw the game’s best – and “have nots;” and while the new rule isn’t perfect it is the best of many bad options.

Other plans to help boost fields at lesser events proved to be unworkable and threatened to create an even bigger gulf by labeling some stops as wanting, but under the new regulation players have the luxury of picking from what is for most a lengthy list of events that they haven’t played the last four seasons.

Early in this season, the impact of the new rule has already been felt.

Sony Open in Hawaii: Articles, photos and videos

“This is a home run, this is sweet. Take care of the rules so [the Tour] doesn’t get all over me,” Paul Casey said last fall at the Safeway Open, which he added to his schedule to fulfill the new requirement.

An even better example of why the new rule is at the very least a step in the right direction found himself on Friday’s leaderboard at the Sony Open. After opening with a 66, Justin Rose needed just 27 putts on his way to a second-round 64 that left him in a tie for second place early in Round 2.

Lost in those statistics is the fact that Rose hasn’t played the Sony Open since 2011, instead starting his Tour season at Torrey Pines the last two years.

Rose said it was the new requirement that led him to play this week at Waialae Country Club, but that his decision was more complicated than simply adding a random event.

“As I looked at the schedule, the longer the year went on the harder it was to fit that in,” Rose said. “But it’s Hawaii, it’s a long way but what a wonderful place to be. It’s a nice soft opener, you’re guaranteed good weather and you can get a good read on your game. And this course suits me, you have to hit the ball well to keep it in the fairway and I think that suits me.”

For most players, fulfilling the new requirement is a relatively straightforward decision based on personal preference and scheduling options, but for tournaments like the Sony Open it’s an encouraging step that was long overdue.