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PGA/Ryder Cup snub of fall events creates divide

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Political gridlock has arrived on the PGA Tour.

It’s not the debilitating congestion that’s crippled our lawmakers in Washington, D.C., but the gulf between ideologies is every bit as wide as the divide that has wedged itself between both sides of the aisle on Capitol Hill.

It’s not health care or foreign policy that has polarized the Tour; it’s the PGA of America’s decision last month to overhaul the Ryder Cup selection process.

The PGA’s task force, which included eight former or current Tour players, voted to exclude the six events on the fall portion of the Tour schedule from the Ryder Cup selection process.

Points in “off” years will only be given for finishes in the four major championships, The Players and the World Golf Championships events, with the rest of the Tour schedule being included starting on Jan. 1, not in October when the circuit begins its wrap-around season.

Tour commissioner Tim Finchem, who worked as an advisor to Jimmy Carter, said he “kind of whiffed” on the decision that some say robs the fall events of hard-fought legitimacy; while Phil Mickelson, who once caused a stir when he said California’s high taxes might make him leave his home state, suggested the move was best for the game’s top players.

“We’ve been trying, the last two years, to have a wrap-around schedule and I’m not really a big fan of it. It’s hard for spectators to understand it. I can’t understand it,” Mickelson said earlier this month.

“After playing eight out of 10 or eight out of 11 weeks the guys are going to take time off and from the Ryder Cup standpoint it doesn’t make sense to have points assessed on those events when none of the top players, or few of the top players, are playing and maybe the FedEx Cup should look at it as well. Maybe that’s not the best place to start [the season].”

But the debate over the nip/tucked Ryder Cup selection process goes well beyond Lefty and left-leaning Finchem and it appears a showdown is looming.

Finchem said he planned to speak with the PGA about the move and the change has become a talking point for some of the circuit’s decision makers.

“I think it was a mistake that needs to be rectified,” said Jason Bohn, one of four player directors on the Tour’s policy board.

The policy board met last week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational but didn’t address the exclusion of the fall events from the Ryder Cup process. The discussion must begin with the player advisory council, which is scheduled to meet next at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans.

Although there seems to be a growing amount of opposition to the PGA’s decision to circumvent the fall events, it remains unclear what influence the Tour would have to reverse the decision.

While PGA of America president Derek Sprague is among the nine policy board members, and the newly-minted Ryder Cup committee – which was created to advise the PGA on future captains and other Ryder Cup matters – includes three Tour players, change, at least in the short term, is unlikely.

“My logic on not starting the points with the start of the season is it would be hard to justify to the [FedEx Cup] playoff events, which are just a few weeks before the Ryder Cup, and they have the best players and all the pressure, those are the guys who are playing really well,” said Davis Love III, a member of the task force and, along with Mickelson and Tiger Woods, is one of the three Tour players on the Ryder Cup committee.

If anything, Love said he would not have included the World Golf Championships events in the points process the year before the matches “if you let me do it 100 percent my way.”

Love was in a particularly unique position during the debate to include the fall events. He hosts the McGladrey Classic, which is the third fall event, and will captain the next American team.

“It sounds good to fall events [to be included in the Ryder Cup selection process], but is it really going to affect their fields? I don’t think so,” Love said. “It isn’t going to make Webb Simpson come play to make points.

“Plus, people will say, well, Zach Johnson won the McGladrey Classic and it doesn’t count. Well, it matters to me because I can pick [as the U.S. captain].”

For Love, the question the issue has created is about missing the point, not missing points.

“They say the fields aren’t as good [in the fall],” Love said. “They are good. McGladrey consistently gets a field as good or better than a lot of FedEx Cup events. That’s not the argument to me. The argument is whether these events are too far away from the Ryder Cup to make a difference.”

In 2014, the winner of the Open received as many or more world ranking points (36) as six events that will be included in next year’s Ryder Cup selection process, and the average purse for the six fall events ($5.82 million) was more than nine events that will count toward next year’s U.S. team.

The fundamental question, however, will ultimately be where the debate turns. Should the players, who now enjoy a voice in the Ryder Cup process, focus on what’s best for the U.S. team or the U.S. tour?

And, like all politics, that’s personal.