ATLANTA, GA—This is the first time since the FedEx Playoffs commenced in 2007 that both Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson will not be in the final event—the TOUR Championship.
The issue is a simple one: the PGA Tour does not have ownership of any of the recognized four majors in golf. This includes The Ryder Cup Matches. In recognition of this, the PGA Tour created The Players Championship—annually held in May at the TPC/Sawgrass. The event has grown in stature each year but likely will never be seen as a major event to rival the main four.
The same holds true with The Presidents Cup Matches. Again, the Tour braintrust sought to create a team event in order to piggyback on the whirlwind success of The Ryder Cup Matches. Thus far, the Presidents Cup has been rather dull and uneventful.
The FedEx Playoffs were created to build an end-of-season conclusion to the long golf season. It was also done so that the PGA Tour could have center stage in having a series of events under their control to showcase the top players with large purses and committed sponsors—Barclays, Deutsche Bank, BMW and Coca Cola.
This year’s events were bound to create rumblings. There’s been little break in the schedule since the playing of the PGA Championship in early August.
The playoffs conclude in September and frankly it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that once college and professional football begin their respective seasons, it does little good for golf to still think it can gain more than a small audience watching.
Phil Mickelson withdrew during the playing of the BMW event last week in Denver citing the need to prepare for The Ryder Cup Matches coming up in Scotland at the end of this month. Lefty is 44 and the 2014 season wasn’t a good one—save for his performance during the PGA in Kentucky.
Tiger Woods essentially ended his golf season after missing the cut at the PGA.
Various players this week at East Lake have expressed concerns that too much golf makes little sense for them and the sponsors. The Tour has said that in 2015 there will be at least a one week break between the Playoff events but the issue of having to play in a number of tournaments over a compressed time frame remains.
The Tour has tried to entice players with large purses and end of the process rainbow bonuses that are awarded to the players who have persevered. For the mid-to-lower echelon players on the PGA Tour, the playoffs have been a golden opportunity to jumpstart their overall standings. Simply ask Chris Kirk and Bill Horschel and you will hear not one complaint. Should either win this week’s event, they gain not only a first place check but a $10 million bonus.
The elite players can only play at the highest of levels when given sufficient rest. No question they have the means to fly first class or on their own jets, but there is a point when even the most energetic and physically fit players will need to break off from the tournament grind.
Rory McIlroy, the world’s number one rated player, has said his 2015 season will be limited to 20 events. This isn’t a new item. Players such as Jack Nicklaus routinely limited their playing schedules to be completely fresh and ready for the game’s four major events. It is those events that remain the ultimate litmus and measuring stick for any player.
The PGA Tour will need to rethink the calendar because it seems unlikely that in future years the top players—the one the public wants to see—will be playing endless events just because the events are the domain of the PGA Tour. The world’s best players are independent contractors and they have the leverage to decide where and how much they play.
The Tour could eliminate one of the present FedEx playoff events—reducing from the present four to three. The Tour can also commence the playoffs with a far lesser number of players than 125, as is done now. Going to 75 would put more incentive for regular Tour events. The Tour could also increase point allotments for victories and less so for those who simply make cuts and finish in the middle of the pack. The Tour needs to realize that its devotion to the journeyman player is laudable but the paying public and sponsors want to see the top tier players at their competitive best—not limping along as afterthoughts.
The reality is that golf is a global game played by players from a wide variety of countries. The PGA Tour needs to better understand the dynamics because those facts are not changing. Placing their head in the sand and thinking they can cajole players with hefty checks—the elite players already have hefty bank balances—will not suffice.
Golf needs a sabbatical during a certain point in the calendar. The 2015 golf season will actually start in October of 2014. What’s wrong in waiting till the new year? Allowing the players a bit of time away only makes the fans eager for the season to start. The old adage applies—less is more.
M. James Ward, a member of Golf Writer’s Association of America (GWAA) and past member of Met Golf Writer’s Association (MGWA), has reported on golf’s grandest events since 1980 in a variety of forums.