On a well-worn plaque in the board room at TPC Sawgrass is a list of 62 names. Some are household names, like Jack Nicklaus and Tom Kite, while others require a healthy Google search (How many PGA Tour titles did Bert Yancey win?), but what they all have in common is that at one point during their careers they served on the PGA Tour’s policy board.
The policy board includes four player directors along with four independent directors and the president of the PGA of America, and while the inner-workings of the Tour are about as exciting as watching Bryson DeChambeau calculate air density on every approach shot , it is an apropos topic at the moment.
Of those 62 past and present player directors not a single one was born outside the United States. The current board includes Charley Hoffman, Kevin Streelman, Johnson Wagner and Jordan Spieth, who are about as red, white and blue as they come. But that legacy, which some might call jingoistic, but is simply the byproduct of the circuit’s roots, may have reached a tipping point.
Ballots have been sent out for this year’s co-chairmen election for the Player Advisory Council, and that lineup features Justin Thomas, Kevin Kisner, James Hahn and England’s Paul Casey. The top two players in balloting will serve a year as PAC co-chairmen and ascend to the policy board in 2020 to each serve three-year terms.
“There has not been one international player on the board,” Hahn said. “Looking at Paul Casey, I’d think he’d be a great addition to the board. That would be huge. But guys tend to vote for their friends. I’d like to see Justin Thomas and Paul Casey. I’m not good at campaigning, I’m just being honest. I’d be a great third [choice].”
It’s time for an international voice in the Tour’s board room and there’s not a better choice than Casey, who joined the circuit in 2002 and has held dual membership in the United States and on the European Tour for nearly his entire career.
Of the 46 events on the 2018-19 schedule, nine will be played outside the United States (nearly 20 percent), and there are 88 international players with Tour status this season from 25 different countries.
The Tour continues to look beyond the U.S. borders for expansion opportunities, like the new ZoZo Championship that will be played in Japan this fall. Talent also continues to emerge from nearly every corner of the globe (currently half of the top 10 players in the Official World Golf Ranking are not from the United States), which means an accent in the circuit’s board room has moved beyond the curiosity phase.
Hahn’s point is valid on both fronts. An international voice is less about appropriate representation, and more about expanding the worldview.
“I’ve always wanted to be in a position where our voices are heard and I feel like a lot of our voices, depending on how you came up to the PGA Tour – if you’ve played any other tours, if you’ve played college golf, if you’ve played international golf – it could always be better,” Hahn said. “Having friends who are international players, guys from Korea, guys from New Zealand, guys from Australia, their views are a little bit different than the typical American view and they bring new ideas. Me being Korean American I can see it from both views.”
For Casey, that experience casts an even wider net. The four-time Ryder Cup player has served multiple stints on the European Tour’s tournament committee, the Continent’s version of a policy board, and is now in his third year serving on the 16-member PAC, which advises the policy board on Tour issues and proposals.
“I saw that all the way back when I started on the committee on the European Tour. For a long time I was the only guy with cards on both tours and having that angle was useful for them,” Casey said. “A lot of decisions were very insular and how to protect the European Tour. But what about the guys who have the dual memberships? It was important to have that angle and view point.”
Casey has brought that unique perspective to the PGA Tour as well, particularly in recent years, as the circuit has wrestled with a host of new issues from testing for performance-enhancing drugs to the inevitable onset of legalized gambling.
“Look at other countries like France. Before golf was in the Olympics, players were getting [drug] tested at certain venues [on the European Tour]. It was just part of their sport culture,” Casey said. “The gaming point of view. It’s legal in most of Europe. When we had to bring in a policy over here I think it was useful to give guys an insight into how it goes down.”
But Hahn’s most salient point is the notion that when it comes to Tour players all politics are local. Voting for friends when it comes to Tour elections is the path of least resistance for players who are justifiably insular. Players are understandably focused on perfecting their craft not a 30,000-foot understanding of the circuit’s inner workings.
But as the Feb. 6 voting deadline for PAC co-chairmen looms it might be time to break out of the shell and consider what’s truly best for the Tour and finally add a name to that plaque in the TPC Sawgrass clubhouse that can’t be found in a U.S. passport.