No Strike Deadline No Problem
As I write this piece, the Major League Baseball Players Association is setting August 30 as the date on which its members will strike. Even if the players and team owners surprise us and avert a strike, we baseball fans know its just a matter of time, this season or the next or the next, before baseball shoots itself in whatever might be left of its foot.
Thanks to a little luck and a nice job of foresight, professional golf has no such headaches.
The luck is that golf is not a team sport. Professional golfers are little industries unto themselves; the National Labor Relations Act does not allow an organization vote for a union of one.
The foresight shows in the PGA Tours practice of dealing with its players as independent contractors. The last two words of the last sentence have enormous legal ' and economic ' significance.
Dont worry; I wont give you the full law school version (trust me; you dont want it), and none of this will be on the exam. Suffice to say that if someone is your employee, you can direct his work pretty closely ' but you have to deduct his payroll taxes, adhere to all kinds of benefits rules, buy insurance against damage from his actions ' and live with it if he and his pals organize into a union. Oh, and by the bye, if youre a sports league, you might lose your antitrust exemption.
The PGA Tour has used good business judgment to make sure its tournaments are co-sponsored with a local organization ' for instance, the Thunderbirds, who organize the Phoenix Open. That way, the Tour handles the inside-the-ropes stuff to assure a top-quality golf competition that is essentially licensed under the PGA Tour brand. It has also had the good sense to keep each of its players a little one-man company. The players handle their own taxes, travel expenses, and a million other details. The Tour makes sure they have good places to compete, and that theyre comfortable. So far, the system has worked great.
But its a fine line. It came up during the Casey Martin matter, when Martins lawyers tried to attribute to the Tour responsibility for making an accessible workplace inside the ropes. If Tour players were employees under the law, that would be one more way the Americans With Disabilities Act would apply. As it turned out, that issue wasnt necessary to decide the case.
Good thing for the Tour. Theres a long list of factors judges look at when they decide if someone is an employee or an independent contractor. The first thing they do is ignore what the people involved call themselves.
For instance: The Tour cant tell players which events to enter. Independent contractor. But it can tell them they have to play a minimum number if they want to stay members. Employee. Or not?
So far, thanks to that foresight and a lot of care by wise, Congress-savvy heads in Ponte Vedra Beach, the Tour has done a lot better than baseball at managing relations with its performers. Could anything on the order of labor problems derail the Tours admirable growth in sports?
Not much. The Tour has quietly used its political clout and its solid record of providing a comfortable life for its players to put down any efforts at organization (such as the Tournament Players Association a few years back). And even when he was the most recognized player on the planet, Greg Norman couldnt get his plan for a world tour past the PGA Tours gatekeepers. (Word is Norman still seethes about the fact that the idea he advanced in the mid-1990s turned up as the World Golf Championships a few years later.)
Not labor, but one particular laborer, could cause problems. Tiger Woods will not have the same problems Norman did. Last time Tiger let slip the slightest consternation over his relationship with commissioner Finchem, the latter made sure fences were mended ' and strengthened ' without delay.
What if Tiger decides he wants to split his schedule between official games and Tiger-centered exhibitions? International Management Group, for whom Tiger is the star client, essentially invented the big-money exhibition. It could happen, as I discussed recently on Golf Central with Curt Sampson, author of the new book Chasing Tiger, in which he examines Woods effect on golf, sports, and American culture.
Rest assured, Finchem is thinking way ahead ' if only to make sure Seligs first call of the morning isnt to him.
Els: Tiger playing well validates his generation
AUSTIN, Texas – Tiger Woods has come close to looking like the player who ruled golf for the better part of 15 years, and Ernie Els is happy to see it.
Never mind that Els was on the losing end to Woods more than any other player.
He speaks for his generation of Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh and others. Els keeps hearing about the depth of talent being greater than ever, and he has seen it. But he gets weary listening to suggestions that Woods might not have 79 PGA Tour victories if he had to face this group.
''I'm just glad he's playing like I know he can play to validate me – validate me, Phil and Vijay,'' Els said. ''We weren't bad players. This guy was a special player. To see him back, playing special stuff again ... is great for the game.''
Generational debates are nothing new.
Every generation was better than the next one. Then again, Jack Nicklaus used to lament that Woods was lacking competition from players who had more experience winning majors, such as Arnold Palmer and Gary Player, Tom Watson and Lee Trevino, Nick Faldo and Seve Ballesteros.
Mickelson, Els and Singh combined to win 12 majors. Els says Woods won 14 on his own because he was that much better.
Does it get under his skin to hear fans rave about this generation's players?
''It doesn't (tick) me off. Can you imagine how it must (tick) Tiger off?'' he said. ''He was leaps and bounds the best player. People forget very quickly, and then you see special players like we have now, the younger generation. But I know what I played against. You can't take anything away from anybody.''
Doug Ferguson is a golf writer for The Associated Press
Recovering Thomas thinks Match Play could help cause
AUSTIN, Texas – It’s been a tough couple of days for Justin Thomas, and he hasn’t played an event in three weeks.
The world’s second-ranked player had his wisdom teeth removed on March 7 following the WGC-Mexico Championship and has been recovering ever since.
“I'm feeling OK. As funny as it is, as soon as I got over my wisdom teeth, I got a little strep throat,” Thomas said on Tuesday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. “I was pretty worried yesterday, to be honest, how I was going to be doing, but I feel a lot better today and just keep taking medicine and hopefully it will be good.”
Thomas, who is listed in the Tour media guide as 5-foot-10, 145 pounds, said he lost about 6 pounds when he had his wisdom teeth removed and has struggled to put that weight back on because of his bout with strep throat.
As a result, his energy levels are low, which is a particular concern considering the marathon nature of the Match Play, which could include as many as seven rounds if he were to advance to Sunday’s championship match. Thomas, however, said the format could actually make things easier this week.
“I told my dad, I only have to beat one person each day. I don't have to beat the whole field,” said Thomas, who has won just one match in two starts at the Match Play. “If it was stroke play then I may have a little harder time. But hopefully each day I'll get better and better. Who knows, maybe that will help me win a match in this golf tournament, because I've had a pretty hard time in the past.”
Spieth thought Mickelson blew him off as a kid
AUSTIN, Texas – Phil Mickelson is widely recognized as one of the PGA Tour’s most accommodating players when it comes to the fans and signing autographs.
Lefty will famously spend hours after rounds signing autographs, but sometimes perception can deviate from reality, as evidenced by Jordan Spieth’s encounter with Mickelson years ago when he was a junior golfer.
“I think I was at the [AT&T] Byron Nelson with my dad and Phil Mickelson and Davis Love were on the putting green. I was yelling at them, as I now get annoyed while I'm practicing when I'm getting yelled at, and they were talking,” Spieth recalled. “When they finished, Phil was pulled off in a different direction and Davis came and signed for me. And I thought for the longest time that Phil just blew me off. And Davis was like the nicest guy. And Phil, I didn't care for as much for a little while because of that.”
Entering his sixth full season on Tour, Spieth now has a drastically different perspective on that day.
“[Mickelson] could have been late for media. He could have been having a sponsor obligation. He could have been going over to sign for a kid’s area where there was a hundred of them,” Spieth said. “There's certainly been kids that probably think I've blown them off, too, which was never my intention. It would have never been Phil's intention either.”
Spieth said he has spoken with Mickelson about the incident since joining the Tour.
“He probably responded with a Phil-like, ‘Yeah, I knew who you were, and I didn't want to go over there and sign it,’ something like that,” Spieth laughed. “I’ve gotten to see him in person and really see how genuine he is with everybody he comes in contact with. Doesn't matter who it is. And he's a tremendous role model and I just wasn't aware back then.”
This week, let the games(manship) begin
AUSTIN, Texas – The gentleman’s game is almost entirely devoid of anything even approaching trash talk or gamesmanship.
What’s considered the norm in other sports is strictly taboo in golf - at least that’s the standard for 51 weeks out of the year. That anomaly, however, can be wildly entertaining.
During Monday’s blind draw to determine this week’s 16 pods, Pat Perez was the first to suggest that this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play is the exception to the stoic rule on the PGA Tour.
“Me and Branden [Grace] played a nine-hole match today and were chirping at each other the entire time,” Perez laughed. “Stuff like, ‘go in the trees.’ We were laughing about it, I didn’t get mad, I hit it in the trees.”
Although Perez and Grace may have been on the extreme end of the trash-talk spectrum, it’s widely understood that unlike the steady diet of stroke-play stops in professional golf, the Match Play and the Ryder Cup are both chances to test some of the game’s boundaries.
“There’s been a couple of different instances, both in the Ryder Cup. I can't share them with you, I'm sorry,” laughed Jordan Spieth, before adding. “I think they [the comments] were indifferent to me and helped [U.S. partner Patrick Reed].
Often the gamesmanship is subtle, so much so an opponent probably doesn’t even realize what’s happening.
Jason Day, for example, is a two-time winner of this event and although he was reluctant to go into details about all of his “tricks,” he did explain his mindset if he finds himself trailing in a match.
“Always walk forward in front of the person that you're playing against, just so you're letting them know that you're pushing forward and you're also letting them know that you're still hanging around,” Day explained. “People feed off body language. If I'm looking across and the guy's got his shoulders slumped and his head is down, you can tell he's getting frustrated, that's when you push a little bit harder.”
Some moments are not so innocent, as evidenced by a story from Paul Casey from a match during his junior days growing up in England.
“I remember a player’s ball was very close to my line, as his coin was very close to my line and we were still both about 10 feet away and he kind of looked at me,” Casey recalled. “I assumed he looked at me to confirm whether his marker was in my line and it needed to be moved. I said, ‘That's OK there.’ So he picked [his coin] up. And then of course he lost his ability to understand English all of a sudden.”
While the exploits this week won’t be nearly as egregious, there have been a handful of heated encounters at the Match Play. In 2015 when this event was played at Harding Park in San Francisco, Keegan Bradley and Miguel Angel Jimenez went nose to nose when the Spaniard attempted to intervene in a ruling that Bradley was taking and the incident even spilled over into the locker room after the match.
But if those types of encounters are rare, there’s no shortage of mind games that will take place over the next few days at Austin Country Club.
“It's part of it. It should be fun,” Spieth said. “There should be some gamesmanship. That's the way it is in every other sport, we just never play one-on-one or team versus team like other sports do. That's why at times it might seem way out of the ordinary. If every tournament were match play, I don't think that would be unusual.”
It also helps heat things up if opponents have some history together. On Tuesday, Rory McIlroy was asked if he’s run across any gamesmanship at the Match Play. While the Northern Irishman didn’t think there would be much trash talking going on this week, he did add with a wry smile, “Patrick Reed isn’t in my bracket.”
McIlroy and Reed went head-to-head in an epic singles duel at the 2016 Ryder Cup, which the American won 1 up. The duo traded plenty of clutch shots during the match, with Reed wagging his finger at McIlroy following a particularly lengthy birdie putt and McIlroy spurring the crowd with roars of, “I can’t hear you.”
It was an example of how chippy things can get at the Match Play that when McIlroy was asked if he had any advice for Spieth, who drew Reed in his pod this week, his answer had a bit of a sharp edge.
“Don't ask for any drops,” laughed McIlroy, a not-so-subtle reference to Reed’s comment last week at Bay Hill after being denied free relief by a rules official, “I guess my name needs to be Jordan Spieth, guys,” Reed said on Sunday.
Put another way, this is not your grandfather’s game. This is the Match Play where trash talking and gamesmanship are not only acceptable, but can also be extremely entertaining.