PGA Tour Tells Golfers Where They Must Play, Sort Of
“We are individual, independent businessmen – independent contractors as it were. We spend our own money on expenses to, at and from an event. We pay our money in entrance fees. This is the way we make our living.
“As independents, we can’t be forced to play in an event we don’t want to play. It simply isn’t fair to try to dictate to us where and how we make a living.
“Some players play certain courses better than others for one reason or another. Maybe other courses aren’t suited to them. So you can’t tell them you have to be able to play here. They have to be able to play where they think they’ve got the best chance of making money.”
In light of the recent PGA edict that requires players to participate in at least one tournament every year that they haven’t played in the previous four years, whose words are those? Jordan Spieth? Bubba Watson? Rory McIlroy? Phil Mickelson?
No, actually that’s Jack Nicklaus speaking – from 1973.
An Age Old Dance
Since Arnold Palmer first walked his golf spikes onto the course and charged up a leaderboard in the 1950s, the bigwigs in the PGA Tour offices have been forced to deal with tournament sponsors who all want the top players at their events, and professional golfers who are, in fact, independent contractors. Nicklaus was speaking in 1973 to a proposal put forth by tournament sponsors that a certain percentage of the leading money winners be required in every tournament field, and that every member of the Professional Golfers’ Association be required to play every tour stop at least once every three years.
Four decades later, the Tour continues to grapple with the issue. The new policy announced for the upcoming 2016 season by Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem, offers a small fix with a far less restrictive mandate – schedules must be tweaked just one week every year by every player. The LPGA already requires its players to appear at every event at least once every four years.
Who is Really Affected by this New Rule?
Clearly the grinders on Tour who play the majority of the 37-week regular-season schedule will likely not even notice the new policy. And frankly, those aren’t the players sponsors are hounding Finchem to show up at their events. It’s the stars who pursue limited schedules and sell tickets that the PGA Tour wants to encourage to make appearances once in a while at minor tournaments.
This isn’t the first time Finchem has run up against the headache of trying to get players not under contract to “support” the Tour with their presence. For years Tiger Woods maintained a schedule barely above the minimum 15 events required to remain a PGA Tour member, and lobbied to get that number reduced even further. McIlroy has also made remarks about his distaste for playing multiple events in a row, and looks to limit the number to no more than three.
Since this is a policy aimed at the stars of the show, how much “stick” can Finchem use in enforcing it? He has promised a “major penalty” of $20,000 and the threat of suspension for violations, although his definition of major might not sway the Jordan Spieths and Rory McIlroys of the world. And who wins if a young star like Spieth is suspended from the tour for any period of time? Not the fans, not the sponsors, and certainly not golf.
Players Try to Do the Right Thing – Usually
For the most part, Tour stars take their responsibility to play seriously. Jack Nicklaus tried to bring his golf bag to every PGA tournament every three years so that golf fans could see him in his prime. But there were some tournaments he just wouldn’t enter because he considered the courses so easy that the event was little more than a putting contest.
With the emphasis on major tournaments in modern golf, it’s not realistic to require top players to enter regular tour stops that may affect their preparation for the biggies. And there’s always the problem of forcing players to enter tournaments on courses where they aren’t likely to perform well – costing them money. Players also need time off to rehabilitate from injuries and to recharge their competitive batteries as they see fit.
For the most part, sponsors are frustrated by less-than-optimal fields but understand the touring pros’ side of the equation. But in an increasingly international golfing landscape, unsightly conflicts occasionally arise. In 2009, Tiger Woods picked up $3 million in appearance fees to play in the Australian Masters, rather than compete on his own dime and promised nothing at a PGA tour stop. He isn’t the only one to benefit from such overseas largesse.
Golf’s stars have traditionally taken their obligation to the game seriously. And Finchem knows he can’t dictate schedules to them – lifetime PGA Tour members with 20 career victories (read, Woods and Mickelson) are exempt from this rule. But the commissioner sees the exciting current crop of fresh young stars who might not be focusing on that duty quite yet. This little ask – one week a year – will serve as a gentle reminder of the need to keep an eye out for the overall health of the Tour.