As it currently stands, beginning next year only players who are qualified under the Americans with Disabilities Act will have the use of a golf cart during tournament play. And as the story goes, many of the Champions Tour's finest are more than a bit grouchy about the possibility that come January 1, 2005 the 'free ride,' if you will, is over.
Before I go any further let me set the record straight. I think the Champions Tour is seeing some of its finest days. Forget the fact that The Golf Channel is the home of the Champions Tour - I think things are really in 'overdrive.'
Actually, I don't see any way things could be much better when looking at what's out there for the taking. Unless my recently lasiked eyes are suddenly blurred, I saw where a 7-way tie for 19th at Aprils Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf paid a paltry $27,928. Darned the luck! That alone has to be worth a few years in the slammer for thievery, unless this cart issue goes away and players fall in line with what I can't help but think is best for the Tour's image.
Tom Purtzer is among the most vocal of the disgruntled cart-riding cavalry whose mission is to keep things 'status quo.' And believe it or not, amidst this exhaustion of fumes, lawsuits are being threatened if things go against the group.
I have nothing against Purtzer personally. Far from it. He's always come across as approachable and more than willing to share his thoughts. In short, a good soldier to say the least. But I bring him up for the sake of this argument 'for or against the use of a cart in competition' because of his current physical status.
The sweet-swinging Purtzer amassed five PGA Tour wins in a very respectable career before turning 50. But now, he's saddled with a very bad back. He claims that without the use of a cart he simply cant compete on the Champions Tour week to week. And in fairness to Tom, hes not alone by any means. But the 52 year-old Purtzer, who won the Toshiba Senior Classic this year and has now amassed more than $2.4 million in his brief Champions Tour career is the guy who seems willing to put pedal to the floorboard on this issue.
Youre messing with my livelihood, Purtzer gassed. And it just isnt right.
And thats where I slam on the brakes. Maybe I'm wrong, but I just don't seem to be able to 'come around' to that side of thinking.
As I view it, this game at the highest of levels should be about the walk. A man or woman who wants respect as an athlete, and wants to reap the generous rewards that this game provides to its most skilled players, should be able to see the grass below his or her feet and not out of the rear view mirror.
Endurance, as well as shot making ability, should be a must in determining each weeks Champion. Shouldnt it? If taking a cart away from the professional is taking away from the players livelihood, then maybe it's just not the best livelihood.
Im not trying to make Purtzer out to be the bad guy. In looking at his Champions Tour earnings, his take of $2.4 million in little more than two years is a darned good livelihood. And you can see where you'd agree with his line of thinking if the vehicle needed to reach that livelihood is taken away. And again, he's hardly alone in this drive to let the good times continue to roll.
But, if its good for the truest of Champions, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, to walk given their ailments over the years or the likes of Gil Morgan (No. 1 on the 2004 money list), Bruce Fleisher (No. 2), Craig Stadler (No. 4), Larry Nelson (No. 5) or Hale Irwin (No. 6) to hoof it as well, then shouldn't it be good enough for cart-riding caballeros like Purtzer (No. 3 with $634,735) or Tom Jenkins ($451,497) or Ed Fiori ($431,820)?
Ill never forget the line I was once told: Some times people dont realize how good they have it, until they dont have it anymore. I suggest some of those fighting this fight step out of the cart and step back a bit to consider the great thing they have going. Heck, when it comes to the money available these days, some would term the Champions Tour as the 'hotbed for looting!'
Sorry fellas, I must applaud Commissioner Tim Finchem for apparently standing firm on a decision that might just serve to increase the level of fan-player interaction and decrease the number of critics who say this tour is too much of a 'free ride.'
But, here's a suggestion. If, and only if, a compromise is necessary to avoid another cart-court controversy then I propose the following rule to go into effect in 2005. It's not what the players currently have, but it might decrease the level of 'wear and tear' for players who compete on a Tour driven by weekly Pro-Ams in addition to weekly competition.
Use of a cart is prohibited during official Champions Tour tournament competition - with the exception of those qualified under the Americans with Disabilities Act. A cart is allowable to all professionals during Pro-Ams. However, if a player chooses to use the cart on Pro-Am days, then the Champions Tour professional must allow one of his amateur partners to ride along.
Fair? I think so.
Please guys, dont put the cart before the competition. Casey Martin is a completely different scenario. So, dont act spoiled. Enjoy the good walk that others like Martin wish they could.
Purtzer, for all his talent, might just win himself a Champions Tour major or two this year and end up as Player of theYear. But here's a final note to Tom (whose back issue causes disks to slip out of place, causing spasm) and others who've taken advantage of the four-wheelin' fun on a free-wheelin' Tour filled with cash. Ive actually dealt and suffered with two herniated disks (low back) myself. And aside from understanding the fact that its tough enough to swing, let alone shake hands with a few spectators along the way, each and every doctor I saw told me to walk as much as possible. Sitting was not advised.
Im sorry to say, but somebody needs to convince me otherwise on this issue. Because the way I feel, 'Champion Driver' status belongs to guys like Mario Andretti. If the carts must go, and if a group of 'Champions' feels like it then must go too, then packing a travel bag with all the money already earned and riding off into the sunset doesn't seem like the worst thing in the world.
Email your thoughts to Kraig Kann