No-shows and controversy highlight exciting event in Hawaii

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 has been around for over 60 years under a variety of sponsors but has always been the first tournament of the new year. In the past, it was like an All-Star Game, where every tournament winner wanted to be there to be recognized for his accomplishments, to get their season started and pocket a lot of cash with a no-cut field. This year, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose, Rory McIlroy and Francesco Molinari all took a pass on a week in Hawaii, while Brooks Koepka also skipped the event to rehab an injury. With so many top names missing, does the T of C need to do something more to restore its lustre and get all the big names or are we past the point where we should expect full attendance at anything except the majors?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): Y’know, I should probably be kicked off the Round Table for Blasphemous Apathy, or sent out for coffee (permanently), but I find after 65 years of watching and caring about professional golf, that I just don’t watch and care anymore.  Evidently, from the list of no-shows in the question, I’m not alone.  Between that sentence and this, I had to look up who won the TofC… waytago, JT!  Anyone who beats Patrick Reed is okay in my book.  To answer your question, yes, the TofC needs to think of something, but the problem is the PGA Tour which has too many “culminating events” (e.g., TPC, the whole damn FedUp series, and the TofC) that it all seems meaningless.  Increasingly, for me, the Masters and the Open Championship are the only events that really count, and I will watch.

Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): It’s a good concept for the event. I just think it’s a long way to travel for one or possibly two events (especially for anyone based on the East coast, which from the list of players only Mickelson is west coast based). Obviously, its a beautiful spot, and the majority of Champions play, but it will always be hard to get 100% participation. The Tour could mandate it and levy severe fines if an absence is due to anything other than an injury/personal issue. I think it would get more attendance and attention if the venue switched to Florida (Streamsong) or Southern California. I’m not sure you would get them all though, December/January is the time of year superstars take time off. It’s clear they focus on Majors, so I think that’s the only place we can expect full attendance (and The Players Championship).

Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Life Member, PGA of Canada: The Tour Organizing Committees at the various events labour long and hard over the problem ‘how to make their event distinctive’. Of course, there is always money as an incentive but for the most part, the qualifiers of the Tournament of Champions have earned such vast amounts in their lifetime that money is like water off a duck’s back. As someone very old, I recall when Stan Leonard won the event, he was presented with a wheelbarrow of silver coins in the amount of $10,000. Maybe that’s because it was played in Las Vegas and the Organizers would do anything to tempt the winner to pump their winnings into slot machines. Where the TOUR is headed is much where “the Roman Empire failed when the richest senatorial families, immune from most taxation, engrossed more and more of the available wealth and income,[38][39] while also becoming divorced from any tradition of military excellence” (Wikipedia). As the players attain vast wealth and riches, the best of them will cease to play and the over-all product will decline.

Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): We are past that point and the PGA Tour has no one to blame but itself. As you mentioned, this event used to be something to look forward to; a reprieve from winter’s early terrors and the monotony of the wrap-around of the season. But with the relentless structure of the current PGA Tour schedule, it has become just another tournament with essentially no bearing on the rest of the season. If the powers that be want to revitalize this event, they might want to consider integrating champions on the women’s side of the game into some sort of team format. Either way, I’m watching NFL playoffs this time of the year.

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: We are well past it. This event was magical back in the day when getting to an exotic place like Hawaii was beyond the imagination of most North American families. Those cranked upped Polarized views of palms and sea were what people watched, not the pot-bellied guys hitting 2-irons into the Trade Winds. On offer this past weekend was a four pack of NFL Wild Card games, the World Junior Hockey Championship, NHL tilts (nod to Foster Hewitt), and NBA practice games. So, when the Mark Rolfing Pimping My Neighbourhood Event came on Golf Channel out here on the Wet Coast, everyone was tuned to Ricky Gervais carving up Hollywood.  The real stuff starts at The Players.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): I love the Tournament of Champions because it’s all about winners. Being a “PGA Tour winner” may not be as important as green jackets or Claret Jugs but it’s a distinction that should be celebrated more. You can’t be one by amassing a boatload of FedEx Cup points or top 10 finishes. Short of an extremely debilitating injury, competing in the T of C should be an honour and privilege few would want to miss. The Tour should do more to make it special.

In sports broadcasting, the off-season presents an opportunity to re-tool, innovate and change people and formats, then present fans with the new look at the start of a new season. Given that the PGA Tour doesn’t really have an off-season, maybe we shouldn’t expect anything new from NBC/Golf Channel and CBS, but the coverage of the Sentry seemed even less inspired than usual despite an exciting finish. What was your take on the coverage?

Deeks: See above.  I just don’t watch or care anymore, and on Sunday, the World Junior Hockey Championship took absolute priority in my household.  Boring, over-analytical television golf coverage is also one of the culprits in my apathy.  Younger announcers, more feature vignettes (on players’ lives, courses, developments in the game), instead of endless shots of players preparing to miss putts… just the application of some IMAGINATION… would improve coverage and bring back viewers. But the networks just don’t seem to care, either.

Loughry: Coverage is what it has always been, just meh. That includes everything from the broadcasters to the camera work. Its just OK. I wouldn’t say it’s innovative or great. Seemed to be missing some of the bells and whistles, the only thing I can attribute that too is that its Hawaii, and they probably don’t send their full equipment over to add those touch up details on the coverage. As much as Fox has gotten ripped over their coverage, I do like they are trying new things, especially camera work (drones in particular) and camera’s in ground/beside tees and in bunkers). NBC/GC and CBS…. not so much, they seem stuck in their own (traditional) ways.

Schurman: There are tremendous advantages to the Tour season including a playoff format and the start-up in the Fall, but the downside is there is no end or off-season. As things go, we are headed more and more toward the Greg Norman vision of a world tour with $10M purses. BTW I am an Azinger fan but this week he was quite flat as were the numbers of spectators.

Kaplan: I didn’t see it because I spent the vast majority of the weekend watching football to see who would end up playing my 49ers this weekend (turned out to be the Minnesota Vikings), but I’m not surprised that the broadcasters weren’t into it. The Sentry is essentially an exhibition tournament and it’s almost impossible to get excited about the golf season until the Farmers, at the very earliest. As a rule of thumb, golf broadcasters are generally among the dullest, but I can’t possibly blame them for their lack of enthusiasm in this instance.

Quinn: When you already have a Paul Azinger capable of saying, out loud; “he has to legislate this putt,” and a Gary Koch constantly interrupting so he can talk over everyone, and a Nick Faldo making silly Dickensian references to remind all us commoners that he be a ‘Sir’ from over the pond, how do you improve on that? Can’t stand the audio on any golf coverage. Mercifully the tracers have almost totally replaced the inane and useless ‘ball in the air shot’ so all that’s left is for golf-knowledgeable announcers —on neither Red Bull nor ego trips — to quietly and calmly add a little something to what the screen has already shown knowledgeable viewers. There you have the definition of a pipe dream. At least that’s now legal in Canada.

Mumford: It was abominable. Dan Hicks must have mentioned Xander Schauffele’s dad as his only caddie a million times; Paul Azinger never got out of low gear; and the rest of them filled every conceivable bit of airtime with so much meaningless drivel, that the only solution is the mute button. One curious bit of humour occurred when an open mic caught Patrick Cantlay and his caddie in an exchange, but the Tour / NBC censors shut that down because of some profanity. Is this the Hallmark channel? If ever a broadcast needed re-tooling, this is it. And we’re only in week 1!

The Tournament of Champions was the first PGA Tour event since Patrick Reed was embroiled in an alleged cheating scandal at the Hero World Challenge in December. He got a lot of attention for his golf at Kapalua and occasional references to the fans getting on his case in Australia over the Rules incident but otherwise, no explanation from the Tour, little mention by the broadcasters at NBC/Golf Channel and virtually no accountability. It’s almost like the infraction never happened. Are you OK with this or should more be made of it?

Deeks: Much more should be made of it, but don’t expect the players or the Tour or the networks or an announcer with journalistic integrity to do it.  Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil.  Leave the controversy to Washington.  It’s all blancmange on the Tour, but unfortunately, the mange has set in.

Loughry: Reed. Well, I did hear a little about Reed by the announcers, it wasn’t very specific, just casual references (I’m paraphrasing) like; Reed more so than anybody should try to play without controversy, but the announcers never did dive into it. There was some mention towards the end of the round too when one fan yelled “CHEATER” just after his putt in the playoff. The interview after the playoff with Reed, the announcer could have asked a few hard questions, but didn’t. I don’t think this cloud will blow over anytime soon. I think Reed should address it, but I don’t think he will. If he doesn’t, I wouldn’t expect American fans to stop their chatter about it over the next few years. And let’s not forget, he did get penalized for that infraction at the Hero. Reed needs a good PR adviser and quick – and he should actually listen to them.

Schurman: Someone yelled out “Cheater” when Reed was putting on the last hole. This is a label he will wear forever because neither he nor the TOUR acted. Unfortunately, this is where we are headed in the future. People do emulate their role models and when the most powerful person in the world decimates institutions, lies without remorse, mocks people who expose him, insults long-standing moral and ethical codes and ignores even the slightest inclination toward honour and civility people will feel entitled to act in a similar way. Sleeping with the Devil isn’t a bad thing if you can live with yourself and tolerate your children.

Kaplan: Well, the Hero World Challenge is not a PGA Tour event so it makes sense that the tour would decide to treat the incident as if it had occurred in a vacuum. Reed’s reputation took a massive hit after that debacle and fans already don’t like the guy to begin with, so it’s not like anyone’s going to forget about it anytime soon. But what’s the point of bringing up the incident every time Reed takes a swing going forward? Should we put a little red “villain” tag next to Reed’s name and score whenever he is shown on TV? Of course not. The incident is just another chapter in the never-ending everybody vs. Patrick Reed saga, a story that will undoubtedly be one of the more captivating player histories when it is ultimately compiled decades from now.

Quinn: It seems that Ponte Vedra has accepted the mind-boggling Reed version that the camera angle was to blame, that twice brushing back the Bahamian sand did not improve his lie (ahem), and that he didn’t do it intentionally — either time. No one else is buying that, certainly not those without access inside the ropes or TV booths. He was not sanctioned by the Tour, but the court of public opinion has made its decision. He’ll hear about it for the rest of his career.

Mumford: It makes me angry to see Reed competing. He cheated. Not accidentally. Not inadvertently. He wilfully broke the Rules. There’s no gray area here. He’s a cheater. The Tour should suspend him for at least a year, partly as a penalty – but most of all to say that cheating is not and will not be tolerated, no matter how talented or celebrated the player is. What makes me even more angry is the way everybody has just moved on. If anybody on the PGA Tour had any balls, they’d refuse to play with Reed in the field. He makes a mockery of the Rules, the Tour and everything that is good about golf. My biggest fear is that pro golf is moving to a “catch me if you can” environment as opposed to the honourable game it used to be. Even the media is culpable. Nobody seems willing to get in Reed’s face and hold him accountable. Very sad.

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

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