The major championship season is officially underway and we start this week’s edition with some major changes to the PGA Tour schedule, the circuit’s attitude toward gambling and a curious new marketing campaign.
Bet on it. Although it was news this week that the Tour will embrace gambling on its competitions if the Supreme Court overturns a federal ban on betting, there really weren’t any other options.
Most experts agree that the Supreme Court will overturn the ban regardless of what the Tour or any other sports league thinks of it, but the circuit does deserve credit for making sure they at least have a seat at the table when states begin to draw up rules and regulations to govern gambling.
“It seemed to many that there is a possibility that the Supreme Court might determine that the law is unconstitutional,” said Andy Levinson, the PGA Tour’s senior vice president of tournament administration. “If that’s going to be the case then it’s in our best interest that our voices and our concerns are heard in that legislative process.”
The Tour has also been proactive in implementing programs to avoid even the hint of corruption and also sees the potential to engage fans in new ways via whatever gambling platforms might be created if the law is overturned.
But most of all the circuit sees a new reality, and that wasn’t worth fighting.
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Window dressing. Dustin Johnson returned to the RBC Heritage for the first time in nearly a decade this week, opening his tournament with a 69 on Thursday.
Having the world No. 1 in the field at Harbour Town is a boost for an event that sometimes struggles to attract star players the week after the Masters. It’s also another example of how the Tour has no problem turning a blind eye toward thinly-veiled appearance fees.
Earlier this year Johnson signed an endorsement deal with RBC and has been rather clear that his decision to play the Heritage for the first time since 2009, and just the third time in his career, was a byproduct of that relationship.
“I'm happy to be back here playing in the 50th Heritage,” Johnson said. “Obviously being an RBC ambassador and they sponsor this tournament, I'll be here for the next few years and excited about it.”
This is not a criticism of either Johnson or RBC, who are simply playing by the rules, but it’s time for the Tour to realize that an appearance fee by any other name ...
Settling dust. The overhauled Tour schedule appears to be coming together, with news this week that the circuit will bolt Akron, Ohio, for Memphis.
The WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, which has been played at Firestone (under various names) since 1976, will move to Memphis with FedEx as the sponsor. Given the Tour’s long relationship with FedEx the move makes sense, but it’s worth noting the flip is still a net loss with Bridgestone transitioning to the PGA Tour Champions to sponsor the Senior Players Championship.
Many lesser-known players counted on the St. Jude Classic as a valuable start during a time of year when most star players are taking breaks between marquee events. That playing opportunity may be gone now.
There’s also the issue of timing, with the new Memphis event likely to be played in August, when the average temperature is 91 degrees.
“We have its place, and it will be in and around the same position [August] that the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational has been in,” commissioner Jay Monahan said.
Most agree the new schedule will help the Tour avoid competing with college football and the NFL, but Akron’s exit is another indication that drastic change is never painless.
Silence speaks volumes. Sport is not a popularity contest. We applaud nice guys, but cheer champions. That is, unless your champion is Patrick Reed.
It was a surreal scene late last Sunday as Reed completed what was by all accounts an impressive final round at the Masters. The massive gallery surrounding the 18th green applauded, some even cheered, but the eventual champion’s reception was tame compared to that given to Rickie Fowler, who finished runner-up at Augusta National.
Even on the first tee when Reed teed off alongside Rory McIlroy, the Northern Irishman was cheered while the American, who attended college less than 5 miles from the course at Augusta State, received little more than a polite acknowledgement.
Perhaps stories from Reed’s past and his sometimes brash behavior had something to do with how the crowds, and the media, treated the six-time Tour winner; but it’s worth pointing out that he might not be the most popular player but he’s now a major champion, and that’s always worth cheering.
Tweet of the week:
As a rule, the rank-and-file don’t like change and when you’ve built a brand around a campaign that most agree was timeless – “These Guys Are Good” – the new stuff will always suffer by comparison.
Maybe the circuit’s new campaign, which was unveiled this week, just needs some time to sink in. But if you have to explain a slogan it’s probably not a great slogan.