Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.
The Sentry Tournament of Champions produced some record low numbers including three players who scored better than 30-under par over four rounds. As one player said, “Lift, clean and place for two days, wide fairways, soft greens, a relatively short course and no wind – what did you expect?” So, after all was said and done, were we entertained by the birdie-fest or turned off by how easy it played?
Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): I have this terrible suspicion that I’ve turned into a cranky old man, but I was appalled at the scores from Hawaii. I didn’t watch any of it, and have no interest in watching any tournament that makes such a mockery of par. I salute the players and their ability, but an average of more than eight birdies per day? C’mon. That’s mini-putt, not golf.
Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Hall of Fame Member, PGA of Canada: I love everything to do with golf at the highest level. I like the US Open when +1 or 2 wins and I enjoyed this week. As much as I monitor the score, I monitor the difference between the scores of the top 10. I just love competition. I love watching events that mean something. The best part of the next two events is the topography of the courses. The ‘tracer’ makes a huge difference now when you can see a guy at 180 or so with the ball 2″ below his feet hit a high, soft draw to a back left pin with a ‘dead’ shot 30 ft on the left. Or ball above his feet on the next hole and a downhill lie hit a high cut short iron to a front pin and back the ball up.
Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: After the annus horribilis here on the Coast with wildfires and floods and atmospheric rivers and massive snow and weeks of rain and oh ya, the plague, watched the Tourney of Champs Thursday and Friday for the first time in a very long time. Don’t like the course, having played it a few times, and don’t like golf in Hawaii in general. My first round in the Trade Winds hit a 235-yard 6-iron and a 130-yard three-wood. Not fun, not golf. But, battered and bruised, for a couple of days enjoyed watching the sun drenched ill-designed layout, the whales breaching, and tolerated Rolfing doing hour after hour of Chamber of Commerce drivel. The weekend? That was for the NFL baby, so the birdie-fest was fine with me. Morning paper didn’t even mention who won. The season starts after Hawaii.
Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): I have to admit I was hugely entertained. Usually, I’m not a fan of such low scoring but this one played out like match play with Smith and Rahm matching each other for two days. Too bad Jones wasn’t in the final group too. That would have been a battle. One of these birdie-fests is ok every now and again but I prefer it when the course can put up more of a defense.
Before Christmas, a battle was looming between the PGA Tour and some players wanting a release from the Tour’s scheduled event at Pebble Beach to play in the Asian Tour’s Saudi International. The PGA Tour “solved” the problem by granting releases on condition that the players commit to play in the Pebble Beach event a number of times in future years. Is this a workable solution moving forward? It was announced as a one-off, but the day is coming when some players will want complete freedom to play when and where they want.
Deeks: I suppose it’s a workable solution for now, but this may well be the calm before the storm, as you suggest. I worry that the Asian Tour and the Euro (DP World) Tour will be cherry-picking the top players to the point that NO Tour will have enough big names to go around to attract big TV audiences… therefore diluting the appeal… and ultimately resulting in the big money drying up. But where will it dry up the most? It’ll be very interesting to see which Tour survives, five years from now… or how or if they all end up cooperating with each other.
Schurman: This is a ‘catch-your-breath’ action. The big money from new sources is only talking so far. If there’s a serious threat all groups are going to have to have a meeting and discuss how to survive when there are only about 175 players in the world anybody is interested in paying to see. Nice time to be a player but it is also about time when compared to the guaranteed salaries of other sports. As I said once before “fasten your seat belts, this is going to be some ride.”
Quinn: If the R&A, PGA, USGA, and the PGA Tour wanted to send Norman home and stymie the Saudis, they could simply agree that the guys taking massive appearance fees and playing in the Saudi events would be ineligible for the Majors. Done and done. That would clearly and finally separate the boys who care only about the money, and those who care about the golf. Band aids are not going to solve this.
Mumford: I don’t think Commissioner Monahan had much alternative. He doesn’t have a lot of leverage here. If he suspends a group of players for playing without a release, he risks having them jump to the rival league. So, he has to accommodate them and placate the sponsors with vague commitments for future attendance. This isn’t about money as much as it’s about work. If a player needs to play 25 PGA Tour events to make a couple of million versus a handful of overseas events where he’s guaranteed to make the same amount, most will choose the guarantee and shorter work requirements. Ultimately, as Quinn suggests, this may come down to the majors. If Monahan can convince the majors to only accept members in good standing from the PGA Tour or DP World Tour, he will have the leverage he needs to shut the door on rival leagues. The best players won’t easily abandon the majors.
The USGA has announced a huge purse increase to $10 million for the U.S. Women’s Open and a rota of future host courses that will rival the men’s venues. The LPGA is touting this as a great move for its Tour as it will attract more eyeballs to the women’s game and have ripple effects throughout the golf world. Do you agree?
Deeks: Yes, I do. And that’s good, I suppose. But the (cranky, old) purist in me wishes that the powers that be would just stop throwing bags of money at professional golf when there are so many other problems and people in the world that could use it far more readily and obviously.
Schurman: Absolutely! The LPGA has put on a great show for a long time. The ladies are far more global than the men coming from more countries. They can really play, and the depth of the fields is increasing. At least someone in America recognizes the value of the product and they have acted before a competitive entity appears on the scene. Let’s face it, if there was someone lurking like in the men’s game and they were from Korea, they could completely gut the LPGA Tour overnight with very little effort or money.
Quinn: The days when sports fans were impressed by salaries and purses are long gone. Adding zeroes doesn’t make even the most casual fan give a fig, and obscene payouts don’t attract any eyeballs to the screen which is the only measure that matters. Golf fans watch good golf, and exciting players with personalities. That the women may now be able to financially fend for their future grandchildren — as the boys can — is okay, however undeserved.
Mumford: This is good for the players and the overall business of women’s professional golf. It should have ripple effects with sponsors and minor league tours too. As to whether it has ripple effects for growth of the amateur game, that’s hard to say. Lots of women try golf and lots leave the game too for a lot of reasons – time, cost, families, difficulty, other leisure pursuits. I’ve never heard anybody say they were leaving because the pros didn’t get paid enough. Which is to say that growth of the amateur game for both men and women has a lot of issues to resolve that don’t relate to how much the pros make.