PALM HARBOR, Fla. – Maybe Greg Norman was right. Maybe the World Golf Championships experiment was little more than a stalling tactic to the inevitable – a true world circuit.
At least that was the second sentence to Sunday’s sit-down at Doral between PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem and his European counterpart George O’Grady. Insular types need read no further, because if body language is any indication, Norman’s outrageous concept of a world tour may be closer than the “Great White Prognosticator” could have ever envisioned.
Not that Finchem or O’Grady seemed anywhere near ready to sign off on a global tour, but they are talking about it and that’s a start.
On Sunday at Doral, Finchem said he wouldn’t expect a world tour for at least 10 or 20 years. O’Grady was a tad more optimistic. Reality, as it always is, is probably somewhere in between.
“George and I have talked about this I think a fair amount, it may develop over the years that golf just becomes integrated,” Finchem said.
“We clearly recognize that the global presentation of the sport and the broadcast that's tied to that has changed and evolved over the last 15 years, and to leverage that properly, at some point in the future, at least in my view, integration will become a very viable alternative.”
Interesting, but then “integration” doesn’t feel two decades away and Finchem’s view from 30,000 feet doesn’t dovetail with the reality down in the weeds.
At the moment, the world Nos. 1, 2 and 8 players in the world are not PGA Tour members. Two of those non-members – second-ranked Lee Westwood and eighth-ranked Rory McIlroy – have already said they will not play this year’s Players Championship. Conversely, there aren’t a lot of Americans heading over to play the BMW PGA Championship, the European Tour’s flagship event.
Ernie Els, and probably other top South Africans, will have to decide between their national championship, the South African Open, and the Presidents Cup, scheduled the same week in November on the other side of the world in Australia.
As the game continues its global growth, expect more fragmentation and turf tussles unless golf’s power brokers can find some middle ground.
Not that consensus, or a global tour, will come easily.
“The idea (of a global circuit) sent a chill up my spine,” said one tournament official this week in Tampa. “Where does that leave us?”
But Chubby Chandler – whose International Sport Management team represents Westwood, McIlroy and Louis Oosthuizen, among others – doesn’t envision a 30-event global schedule. Instead he suggested last week at Doral that a global tour consist of as few as 10 events.
Consider a world docket that would include the four major championships, four World Golf Championships, The Players, BMW PGA and two or three others – with a keen eye toward Asia and the Middle East.
Years ago a Tour player was driving through Palm Springs, Calif., and noticed a yacht dealership. When he asked his swing coach why they would have such an establishment in the middle of a desert the response was, “You don’t sell a boat where the water is. You sell a boat where the money is.”
And the money, at least right now, is trending toward Asia and the Middle East.
Imagine a 15-event international schedule spread across the calendar that would guarantee the game’s best on the grandest scale.
The concept is not without problems. Entry into these events would be based on the World Golf Ranking, theoretically, and that arithmetic is not without its problems. A global tour also runs the risk of becoming a closed shop, a self-perpetuating system that leaves little room for up-and-coming players.
Nor have the top American players shown much interest in globe-trotting, but a money and ranking-points rich circuit may be what finally draws them out of the Lower 48.
“For us, I think it doesn’t really change a lot because we are travelling anyways, a lot,” world No. 1 Martin Kaymer said this week when asked about a possible world tour. “It will be difficult for the American players, especially the ones with families. At the moment it’s pretty easy for them to travel only inside the country, but if they have to travel overseas . . . that’s going to be difficult.”
And, of course, there is the concern of what will come of the dozens of other events that would be left out of the global picture. The PGA Tour calendar is checkered with plenty of events that don’t draw “top” fields but are successful nonetheless. Would those events, with fields that would likely change little, still be considered viable if they were suddenly reduced to Triple-A status?
At the highest level perception is reality, and if the game suddenly became a world circuit followed by everything else it could be catastrophic for stops like the Honda Classic or Waste Management Phoenix Open, which have both carved out a healthy niche without the marquee of a Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson.
At the moment the devil outnumbers the details, but the tumblers continue to fall in the direction of a world tour. It may be 20 years away, it may be closer. What seems certain is it is coming.
“I don't think it's as simple as somebody writing out, here is a new world tour and it's all done with a blueprint tomorrow,” O’Grady said. “It evolves to avoid some of the clashes that are going on at the moment, which are not really in anybody's best interests.”
Follow Rex Hoggard on Twitter @RexHoggard