Fixing Whats Not Broken


Phil Mickelson’s missed cut at Colonial last week cost the tournament its lone star headliner, a guy who can nudge a television rating in the right direction, produce a little mainstream buzz (if he’s in the hunt) and impart a certain amount of relevance at any PGA Tour gathering. There aren’t many such players in the Tiger Woods era – pro golf is a star-driven enterprise dominated by one man for close to 15 years, which has made the game almost totally reliant on that singular presence when it comes to crossing the American public’s radar.

When the Player Advisory Council meets at the Memorial Tournament this week to discuss the Tour’s most pressing issues, the poor health of its weak-field events will be at the top of the list. Why doesn’t Woods ever play in Memphis? Can’t something be done to improve the product in key markets such as New Orleans and Dallas? Despite cutting the number of regular-season events from 47 to 41 in a dubiously schemed attempt to repackage itself under the FedEx Cup banner (2007), the Tour continues to deal with reality pangs.

The Tigers and Phils show up only half the time. Take away the four majors, which are run by other governing bodies, and the separation between the Haves and Have-Nots becomes far too obvious. How to fix? Well, uh, you can’t. The PAC’s latest plan is to designate five third-tier tourneys each year as “special” and make everybody in the top 50 play at least one of the five. This is an offshoot of the previous bright idea, which would mandate Joe Tour Pro to appear at every Tour stop over a five-year period.

By theory or application, neither proposal would work. Both rules are designed for – and aimed at – one guy, fostered by a mentality that reflects the downside of the Tiger Effect. Woods is the Only Player Who Matters? How dare he skip the Honda Classic every year! Besides, you can’t call them independent contractors one minute, then tell them where to stick their peg in the ground the next. Not the player who spends every fall fighting for his card, not the guy who makes $2.5 million for a pile of T-8s, and most certainly, not the Hand That Feeds, the one holding 14 major titles.

Since winning the Masters by a dozen strokes in 1997, Woods clearly has held up his end of the deal. He still doubles the size of a TV audience and vaults the Tour into the first block of the 11 p.m. SportsCenter. Is some contrived, play-‘em-all provision a real solution, or is it actually a penalty imposed on the world’s best golfer? We’re talking about potential legislation that could do a lot more harm than good.

Do you really care whether Trevor Immelman plays in the Shell Houston Open? After Woods and Mickelson, which Tour stars move the proverbial needle even a tiny bit? The problem isn’t how often the superstars play, but how poorly the would-be stars have performed. Sergio Garcia and Adam Scott head the ample list of post-Tiger phenoms who haven’t done enough to secure the mainstream public’s attention, and thus, remain largely incapable of carrying a tournament’s promotional campaign, selling tickets or getting people to drop what they’re doing to watch CBS on a Saturday afternoon.

Yes, it would be nice if Woods altered his schedule to include a few Have-Nots. It would be nice if Mickelson committed to the Travelers Championship near Hartford, an event he won in 2001 and 2002 but hasn’t played in since ’03. “The hard thing is figuring out how to do it without pushing too hard,” PAC member Paul Goydos said last week. Of course, perfect-world scenarios are hard to come by, if there is such a thing as a perfect world at all. In the NBA, teams play an 82-game schedule, more than half of which can seem almost meaningless.

Major League Baseball deals with lengthy stretches of insignificance over the course of a six-month season – only in the NFL does every game matter. The PGA Tour? There are the four majors and The Players, three WGC tournaments and the FedEx Cup Playoffs – those 12 weeks stand out above all the rest. Add another half-dozen or so strong fields and you come up with what amounts to four solid months of premium competition. That sounds about right for a niche sport, a niche in which the landscape has barely changed since April 1997.