The PGA Tour requires members to play a minimum 15 tournaments each year. Els, to date, has played in 15 and plans to play two more before years end, making for a total of 17.
Apparently, the PGA Tour wants more than that. Els says the PGA Tour wants 20 (appearances) and nothing abroad. And that has Els a bit miffed, to say the least.
Els feels that he more than supports the PGA Tour and plays golf on a global scale supporting the game on many tours and many continents. And he isnt about to change his line of thinking.
No, why should I? he said. Ive been doing this all my life. You cant start telling me, 'Hey, come over here and leave the rest of the world.' Its not going to happen that way.
Here are the facts which Els will no doubt bring up in discussions he has planned with PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem: On the European Tour Order of Merit (which Els leads and has clinched the money title for the year), Ernie is listed as having played 15 events to date. Nine of those are strictly European Tour sanctioned events, the other six are events that count on both tours (four major championships and two World Golf Championship events.)
The PGA Tour allows a player three unconditional releases to play around the world. If another release is asked for and granted for a tournament that is played on the week of a PGA Tour event, the player must then play an additional PGA Tour event.
So by the numbers, according to a well-known agent, 15 events on the PGA Tour gives a player three chances to play overseas. After that, one additional release is granted for every five PGA Tour events played; i.e. 20 events equals four releases.
All of the rules and regulations aside, it seems quite clear to me that the PGA Tour has much more to lose here than it does to gain by attempting to strong-arm Els.
As a South African who has homes there, in England, the Bahamas and Orlando, and has membership on the South African, European and PGA Tours, he has always been about what is good for the game. If anything, Ernies been criticized for globetrotting a bit too much for his own good at the expense of proper preparation for major championships.
Take nothing from other superstars in the game, but Ernie Els is different than most. Sure, he gets his fair share of appearance money to play overseas, but money doesnt guarantee character. Hes a class act in nearly every way. Hes approachable, amicable to reasonable requests and quite personable in interview settings. He knows how to play to the sponsors as well.
Speaking strictly from my work with TGC and the Sprint Pre/Post Game shows and Golf Central, Els has made more on-set appearances than any big name player I can think of. And if choice A doesnt work for him, hell provide a choice B.
Ive watched him sign autographs, joke with fans and face the media when things are good and bad. Bottom line, Ernie Els gets it. And he gives the PGA Tour plenty when he does show up.
Since 1997, Els has competed in 141 PGA Tour events. Tiger Woods has played 155. And while tournament directors are left looking for other draws and other star appeal when Tiger doesnt show, youd have to believe they dont want chances of landing Ernie diminished.
In that phone conversation Thursday with the above-mentioned player agent, he made it fairly clear that this letter that Els received from the PGA Tour is all about trying to help the sponsors of PGA Tour events.
And keep in mind, the PGA Tours network television contract is set to be re-negotiated in the coming months and the tour wants every assurance it can deliver its top draws.
What confuses me so much is that both sides continually refer to this idea of tour pros being independent contractors. Well, are they or arent they?
The way I see this is simple. Its about money for the PGA Tour. Ernie Els makes them money. Happy sponsors makes for more money. Happy networks makes for more money.
For Ernie, theres money at stake too. as in appearance fees. But since 1995, hes always played at least the minimum 15 required events. Els has made it clear on more than one occasion to me that he simply likes to travel. He enjoys playing around the world, and he wants to keep it that way.
Id like to see Ernie play more in the U.S. too, but if you want the PGA Tour to attract the best players from around the world, then youd better keep things attractive to them.
Email your thoughts to Kraig Kann