Nobody fires up the establishment quite like Greg Norman, who recently used the word “disgraceful” to characterize the Tour’s drug-testing procedure in an interview with an Australian newspaper. If some have grown weary of Norman’s frequent rants, a significant number of today’s Tour pros privately agree with his assessments. They just don’t want to ruffle any Finchem feathers.
Two months have passed since the commissioner told a national TV audience that the Vijay Singh/deer antler issue would be investigated – and that any subsequent disciplinary action would be made public. Two months? By the time Singh is suspended, he’ll be too old to play golf.
When I contacted the Tour a couple of days ago to ask where the matter stood, an official told me, “It’s still a pending situation.” I didn’t expect an answer and I certainly didn’t get one, but my sense is that something is likely to happen this week, and that Singh will miss a considerable amount of time, perhaps 60 days.
The most logical explanation for the lengthy delay on an announcement comes from my partner in grime, Jason Sobel. Basically, the Tour couldn’t suspend Singh before the Masters because he won the tournament in 2000. Augusta National wouldn’t want a past champion sidelined because he used an illegal substance – and the green jackets definitely don’t want to get into the business of overriding a Tour sanction.
It’s a classic case of multiple governing bodies generating bureaucratic clutter, sort of like the anchored-putter issue that appears destined to linger for the next couple of years. One thing about pro golf: It has a lot of chefs standing over the broth.
No sports league is more taciturn than the Tour when it comes to dealing with such matters, but I do believe Finchem will come down hard on Singh – and honor his commitment to make the decision public. I don’t agree with the guy on a lot of things, but he’s a very smart man who understands the seriousness of the situation.
The Tour is extremely proud of its no-bad-apples image. This is an opportunity for Finchem to send a very clear message. Not just to the rest of the golf community, but every sport that has to deal with illegal-substance ramifications.
SPRING. AN EXCELLENT time to drop a few pounds, shave a few strokes and stop to smell the dandelions. Until recently, the post-Masters stretch was a soft spot on the PGA Tour schedule, a collection of weak-field tournaments my longtime colleague, Tim Rosaforte, commonly referred to as the “dead zone.” Basically, you spent a month ignoring the pro game to golf your own ball, realized you were still lousy, and then returned to the TV to see how it’s supposed to be done.
Two significant changes would ultimately shrink the dead zone. Moving The Players Championship to May in 2007 hasn’t done much to silence or substantiate that fifth-major gibberish, but it has given the season more balance. And the swift emergence of Quail Hollow as a premium Tour stop is a rare example of how a smallish market can hit it big if it goes about things the right way.
Losing Tiger Woods from your field is never a good thing, but this week won’t be the first time Red Shirt has skipped the trip to Charlotte. The tournament always has relevance, but what makes it special is more than just an abundance of top-tier players. Quail Hollow is a superb golf course – nothing fancy, just a stern and unfailingly fair test for the world’s best.
The clubhouse is one of the coolest and most elegant buildings you’ll ever visit. You could spend months in the locker room and never get bored, but to me, Charlotte is about the atmosphere. Big crowds, generally very well-behaved, and an army of tournament volunteers that is unlike any I’ve ever encountered – good-natured; polite; anything but pushy.
If you don’t think that makes a difference, you haven’t spent much time at Tour events. The volunteers are the true backbone of the operation, governing the grounds during play, which makes it easy for some to get carried away with the responsibility. Westchester was the worst – you give some New Yorker a job marshaling a tee box and he instantly turns into Serpico.
Before pro golf returned to Charlotte in 2004, the Byron Nelson Championship was the first big tournament after the Masters. Woods headlined numerous strong gatherings at TPC Las Colinas, where the resort and on-site hotel probably lured more big names than the golf course. Nelson’s death in 2006 was the biggest reason the stars stopped showing. Without Lord Byron around as the primary selling point, Dallas became just another Tour event held on a mediocre TPC.
The reality of the situation is fairly obvious. There are four major championships and The Players, three U.S.-based WGCs and four FedEx Cup playoff tilts. Those 12 tournaments are virtual locks to draw premium fields. Since most of the top guys make roughly 20 starts per year, we’ve got perhaps two-dozen events fighting for the other seven or eight slots on the elite players’ schedules.
Is that a problem? Some would say yes, but that doesn’t mean it makes sense to invoke a rule requiring Tour pros to play in every event over a four- or five-year period. It’s a mandate aimed at one guy: Woods. He’s the only golfer who propels TV ratings, sells tickets and generates mainstream buzz on a regular basis. You don’t bite the hand that feeds when it’s stuffing your pockets with millions in revenue.
When a corporation signs on as a title sponsor for a tournament that gets three of the top 50 players in the world, it should know what it’s getting into. In a sense, the PGA Tour is almost too healthy for its own good. Everybody’s getting rich, there are twice as many big events than there were 15 years ago – and Quail Hollow has proven that there’s still room for the little guy. Not a lot, but some.
TOO BAD ABOUT Tiger bailing on Wells Fargo, but it certainly makes sense. The tournament has had more names (three) than Woods has victories (one) in his six Charlotte starts. His last two trips there have been disastrous – missed cuts in 2010 and '12. No other Tour stop can say it has slayed the Dude in the Red Shirt on back-to-back occasions, which testifies to the stout nature of the golf course more than any characteristic of the design.
Hey, Quail Hollow might be joining some elite company. Woods couldn’t conquer Riviera, so he quit playing in Los Angeles, his hometown. He never did figure out the aforementioned Westchester, so he ducked out of that one pretty quickly, even when it was sponsored by Buick, one of his corporate partners.
Honestly? Woods would probably pull the plug on The Players if his absence wouldn’t cause such a stink. With just one triumph (as a pro) at TPC Sawgrass over the duration of his stellar career, it’s the type of position-golf venue that has given him fits over the years. Then again, I was pretty sure he’d never get anything done at Southern Hills, at least before he picked up major No. 13 at the 2007 PGA.
Think there’s any chance he’ll stop playing the Masters?
At this point, seriously, Eldrick Almighty is probably better off saving his strength. Those big-game trophies aren’t getting any easier to come by, and Merion, site of the upcoming U.S. Open, isn’t exactly the kind of smash-and-dash ballpark he has bludgeoned so many times in the past. The Big Fella gives you only so many golf swings. No matter how many swing coaches you hire.