Do players really try when they’re already getting appearance fees?

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.

An intriguing duel between Lydia Ko and Danielle Kang dominated coverage of the Gainbridge LPGA at Boca Rio tournament last weekend which Ko eventually won for her 17th LPGA victory. While the telecast was enjoyable to watch, it seemed to go out of its way to avoid showing Canadians Brooke Henderson and Maude-Aimee Leblanc, both of whom were in the Top 10, and Henderson in particular put on a Sunday charge before falling back a bit to finish T8. Many Canadian fans complain that both coverage of the PGA Tour and LPGA have a negative “Canadian bias.” Do you agree or is this just rampant nationalism on our part?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): I sure do agree, and in fact emailed some friends that Brooke was nowhere to be seen at the tournament BEFORE the Gainbridge, even though she was in contention there, too.  I just don’t understand NBC and Golf Channel… their coverage is very uninspired and pro-American, in my view.  Yet Brooke is such a part of the top echelon, so telegenic, and such a good sport, it boggles my mind that they don’t make her more of a star.  Mind you, the Korda girls, Danielle Kang, J-Y Ko and Lydia Ko are dominating, and they’re all telegenic too.  So, maybe we are just being rampant nationalists.

Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Hall of Fame Member, PGA of Canada: This isn’t new. Al Balding told me that he frequently arrived in town towing his little trailer with a car full of his wife and kids only to find his motel reservation cancelled. Americans and Canadians both complained about dirty tricks played off the ice during hockey matches played in Russia. Things like the hot water turned off, either no heat or excessive heat, mix-ups with food, phone calls cut-off. I actually thought Brooke was becoming adopted by USA media because of her quality of play and camera appeal but she doesn’t win quite as often as the US media would like. Wayne Gretzky experienced a similar treatment until he played for US teams and then when married an American the US media adopted him as one of their own. Our (Canadians) problem is we think life is fair and everyone is treated equally and according to the current situation. It isn’t! In regard to USA TV, two things matter most. Americans first and whatever generates the most advertising revenue.

TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): A couple of years ago, it seemed like Brooke was a bit of a media darling and I thought they had her on the coverage more than the average player.  However, that seems to have changed. The fact that they weren’t showing her on Sunday is unacceptable.  She’s one of the top players in the world and was making a charge on the front nine, so it just doesn’t make sense.  As for Maude-Aimee, it was fantastic to see her play so well in her return to the LPGA. I would want to see her just to see how far she hits it!  But given she is a relative unknown to most fans, it’s not as much of a surprise that she wasn’t a focus for the broadcast.

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: Over the past couple of seasons the LPGA Tour TV crew have been very enthusiastic and supportive of Henderson. It’s all about the drama, the celebrity. When Eldrick was wearing red on Sunday, we didn’t see anyone else. On the rare occasions when a Canuck has had a chance at the Canadian Open — before CTV-CBC had to accept the US feed — we got flag waving. Next time Henderson is in the final group, it will be wall to wall. Good on Leblanc. Met her years ago as she was just starting. Very nice person, hope this is the kick start she has been working for.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@Fairwaysmag): There’s definitely something to it but it’s very hard to quantify. The U.S. networks are very pro-American, and all other nationalities get shortchanged. Airtime is one thing, but the bias is demonstrated by the announcers too. On the men’s side, Paul Azinger is the worst (Biggest Homer?). A five-foot putt is an easy tap-in for an American, but the same putt is very missable for a foreigner, as if his biased opinion will affect the outcome. At least the LPGA features a much broader range of nationalities so it’s hard to be all-American all the time.

Last week the PGA Tour featured a rare Wednesday start for the Farmers Insurance Open with a finish on Saturday afternoon. The reason was to avoid a conflict with Sunday playoffs in the NFL. Did you like the revised schedule and does it make sense to use alternative scheduling for other events too?

Deeks: I found it kind of disorienting, to be honest.  And while it made it possible to watch the women’s golf exclusively on Sunday, I missed the channel-hopping I usually do.  So, no, I’d rather see all tournaments end on Sunday.

Schurman: The NFL has finally recognized how best to serve the sports world. At one time, the Sat & Sun surrounding Christmas was Wild Card Weekend. The people preparing the family dinner couldn’t figure out why the 2 Minute Warning allowed for 45 more minutes of game time. Then came the ‘bye’ week which pushed the schedule into January and now the additional teams to extend the season again. What could be more brilliant than Wild Card Weekend being played on Sat, Sun and a Monday Night game in the middle of January when they have zero competition? I wouldn’t mind seeing the Hawaii and West Coast TOUR events played during the week with a Sat finish. With the time change, these would make great evening entertainment. The only remaining issue I have is what is called the ‘wrap around’ season. Hockey, basketball, football all have part of their season in two calendar years, and they aren’t called ‘wrap around’. Either drop the name or drop the fall portion of the tour and start in January.

Rule: It certainly made sense last weekend so that it doesn’t conflict with NFL playoff games in the early afternoon, but generally I like the Thursday to Sunday routine.  It allows me to watch a bit more golf on the weekends for one thing.

Quinn: Used to enjoy watching these guys play courses I’d played — well, from the blues not the blacks but some were fairly close — and Torrey Pines South was one. Then the graphic appeared on the screen Saturday — mute well and firmly on — that Rahm in three rounds had averaged 325 yards off the tee. Okay. But next line — for some reason known only to TV producers in the truck commanding talking heads to read what is clearly on the screen, I’m guessing they must think the audience is illiterate, begging the question, why would we want this audience — listed Rahm as 5th (FIFTH) in driving distance. Ya, that changed my perspective on my fun round at Torrey South, took some of the fun out of it.  But, to the question, the Tour has been bobbing and weaving and finally admits nothing can compete with the NFL. Best two couch weekends ever.

Mumford: I much prefer the Sunday finish. Changing the schedule is a sure way to lose fans – just ask the CFL. Does the PGA Tour think we’re stupid? Most of us can channel surf or use a PVR.

Rory McIlroy was asked about appearance fees on the eve of the Saudi International which is purportedly paying millions to stars like Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Tony Finau, Xander Schauffele and many others to skip the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro Am for the guaranteed payouts in Saudi Arabia. McIlroy commented that appearance fees rob an event of its competitive integrity, adding that he wonders how hard players really try when they know they’re going to get a big payday regardless of where they finish. Does McIlroy have a point?

Deeks: Totally.  And this is coming from a guy who used to pay huge appearance fees to players to come and play in the Canadian Skins Game.  Back then, the players would still try to put on a competitive show, but you knew darn well that any money they made from winning skins was just icing on a yummy cake they’d already received prior to arrival.  But we never pretended the Skins Game was a serious golf competition; it was an exhibition, and no one would’ve showed up for free.  I think paying big names appearance fees to play in so-called “official” tournaments is wrong.  But then if the Saudis didn’t, the players wouldn’t show up, and TV wouldn’t be interested.  Is there an answer or a solution to this issue?  Nope.

Schurman: Rory can’t have it both ways. His performance can be traced to his huge contract with sponsors. He was a winner of majors and regular events but all that is slowly grinding down after his big pay-day and his marriage. He is entitled to these things, but they do come at a cost. What’s the incentive for any professional athlete once they get the multi-year deal for $millions? Golf Fans were spoiled with Tiger. Tiger signed for approximately $100M before he hit a shot professionally. With $$$$$ out of the way, he had nothing to challenge him but win. He is the rare exception. Some of us also saw Jack, Arnie, Faldo, Watson and Floyd who all were motivated by winning instead of money. If you have a favourite player who won quickly upon joining the TOUR and then fell off search their net worth. The two ‘lines’ will explain a lot. As I have said, “Fasten your seat belt, this is going to get good”.

Rule: He may have a point, but ultimately these guys are competitors and want to win.  Perhaps if they struggle on day one, they won’t grind as much to make the cut or try to get back into contention, I can see that being the case. But when push comes to shove on the weekend, they all want to win.

Quinn: The point has been made time and freakin’ time again. No appearance fees on the PGA Tour? Verboten! Hmmm, the guys signed by Buick used to show up at that event, to name just one of many offenders. RBC couldn’t see the national market in sponsoring the Vancouver Open but preferred an arena in Raleigh and a Carolina event, while the so-called Canadian Open, that everyone outside of the GTA thinks of as the GTA Open, gets a lot of “stars” wearing that awful RBC logo that goes with no shirt ever manufactured. Ya, no appearance fees on the pristine non-disclosure Tour. Rory, of course, has a point. A little late. Reality has well and truly bitten, long ago, and Rory has cashed a few cheques too.

Mumford: Appearance fees aren’t new. The PGA Tour has been using them for years disguised as part of a sponsorship deal. Maybe I’m being naïve, but I think every player believes he can win and tries his hardest regardless of other incentives that may be guaranteed. Perhaps if he’s dead last starting out on Sunday morning, he doesn’t grind as hard as he might but if he’s got a chance to win, then that’s all he’s thinking about. None of these guys are starving so money isn’t the only factor. Pride, legacy, ego all weigh on performance too.

The Round Table
The Round Table is a panel of golf writers, PGA members and industry experts.

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