Riding Down the Wrong Road

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Here we go! The off-season for the Champions Tour is upon us. And what a great season 2004 was. Stadler's dominance, Irwin's continued high level of play, Jacobsen's energetic impact, and the great late finish by Mark McNulty.

With names like Haas, Roberts, Strange and maybe even Norman set to make their marks in the coming years, the future of the tour has some added promise.

But the issue of carts has come up again. Since the inception of the Champions Tour, carts have been available to those 'in need.' It should also be known that not only have the tour's biggest stars taken a pass on the carts, but they've also tried to pass a 'law' that carts find a place somewhere else.

The Champions Tour has taken notice. And Rick George, who heads the tour, and has designs on taking the tour to a higher level of competition and also a higher level of respect, appears ready once and for all to send carts into the sunset.
 
Boy, oh boy! The rumblings are louder than ever from a select few who say the cart is the only thing keeping them competitive, and the only thing allowing them to maintain a living.

Ed Fiori, who's made a nice living on both tours with multiple victories, has a bad back, and now a bad vibe about what might be coming down the Champions Tour pike.

'Arrogant, that's what they are,' Fiori said in this week's GolfWorld. 'My doctor told me, 'Eddie, you keep walking, you're going to have to have major surgery, and it's going to be career-ending.''

Tom Purtzer is on Fiori's side. 'They (Champions Tour brass) couldn't care less about our opinion,' Purtzer said. 'We thought logic would take over. But there doesn't seem to be any logic to the leadership of this tour.'

Champions Tour pro Kermit Zarley, a 63 year-old who says he's fighting an 'advancing, degenerative hip' has gone as far as writing a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice saying that the Champions Tour has discriminated against him under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The same act, by the way, that Casey Martin challenged on his way to earning a cart. Zarley's earnings this year were less than $25,000 in 10 events.

For his part, George knew that there would be some publicity that went against his wishes for a more attractive product in what he and PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem realize is a 'crowded sports marketplace.'

Here's my take: I think Fiori and Purtzer are nice guys. No bull. They've had nice careers. But times change. Even one's body. Those who succeed in sports today are usually the fittest of the fit and the healthiest of healthy.

Mark Lye's been with me at the Chrysler Championship this week as our analyst on the Sprint Pre/Post Game shows. And after playing much of this year's Champions Tour schedule and spending the rest as an on-course announcer he believes that carts shouldn't take the place of fitness and endurance. He's on my side.

Golf is about competition. And competition at the highest levels that golf has to offer has to have a degree of fitness to it. I've said it before when this issue first came up earlier this season - go ahead and keep the carts for the Super Seniors. As for the younger set - allow carts ONLY Monday - Thursday during the three-round events. I have no issue with giving them carts for the pro-ams so their bodies are fresh for the competition we see on television. And to take it a step further, when carts are around for pro-am days, make the tour professional take one of his paying amateur partners along for the ride and a great experience. Sure couldn't hurt the Champions Tour image as a whole now could it?

When television lights go on for Round 1 it should be about hoofing it, hitting shots, holing putts and holding trophies.

If the back's going out or the hip's acting up or the feet are hurting, so be it. Maybe it's time to count the money that's been made during the healthy days of tour golf and call it a career.
 
And in writing this, I'm sure those of you over the age of 50 will have your say about the problems with advancing age. No problem. I've got my issues as well. And I know the topic of getting older is unsettling. This, though, is about competition and the perception of a tour with tremendous star appeal. I just want it to be a walk toward late career glory, not a ride into a pot of money that should be 'earned' in every sense of the word.

Rick George is the president of the Champions Tour with a job to do. The mission is about competition, not corruption. Nothing is forever. Weren't we all told that at one time or another?
 
Email your thoughts to Kraig Kann