The Round Table: Turn pro or stay in school?

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.

Golf fans were treated to another gem last week with the announcement that Tiger Woods, Jason Day, Rory McIlroy and Hideki Matsuyama will tee off in a Skins Game next month in Japan. While last year’s ‘The Match’ between Woods and Mickelson was a ratings disaster and perhaps the worst piece of golf ever on TV and former Skins Games fizzled due to lack of interest, some people evidently believe there is still an audience for this sort of contrived competition. What’s your take on the upcoming Skins Game and this type of golf entertainment in general?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): Exhibition golf was fun back in the 60s-90s, but I must admit I have zero interest in watching it now. When we managed the Canadian Skins Game back in the early 90s, we realized that it was critical to secure the biggest names in the game, to attract spectators and viewers.  (IMG kept trying to foist names like Duffy Waldorf and Scott Gump on us, but we were adamantly opposed). The first player we signed, in 1993, was Jack Nicklaus… this coup then opened the door to Fred Couples, Nick Price and Ray Floyd… giving us the credibility to attract Lee Trevino, Tom Watson, Nick Faldo, Ben Crenshaw, Ernie Els, Greg Norman, and Couples and Price continuously, over the next four years.  The golf competition was taken seriously by players and viewers, but also more light-hearted than a “real” event.  It was good on the ground, and on TV screens.  Today, I think most people see these events as meaningless, played for forced gags, often boring, and the players are so rich that the “prize money” (and the appearance fees they get) make it all rather meaningless to them as well, and it shows.

Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): There’s an audience for this. SKINS is probably a better format to play than Match Play between just two players, which we saw last Fall with both TW and Mickelson playing poor golf on a golf course nobody was exactly familiar with. But what if the players had to put up their own money? Would that help spice things up? Or play it on a really special course to add some allure, there’s no shortage of them around the world). I’d rather watch the old Shells’ Wonderful World of Golf series than anything over the past 20 years for all those reasons: players and venue).

Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Life Member, PGA of Canada: I will watch it only because I may have to comment on it. In the ‘old’ days we couldn’t get enough of Jack, Arnie and Lee and even Freddie. Today, I’m watched out on Tiger, could care less about Jason, Rory is fun, and Matsuyama is OK but a little bland.

Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): Did Discovery not get the memo or something? These events don’t work. There is too much dead airtime and the refreshing insights into the minds of the world’s best players, that all of these promos promise, always amount to nothing. This event may very well draw some eyeballs overseas, which aligns with GOLFTV’s mission statement of airing more live golf to international audiences, but it’s going to fall woefully short here. The event starts waaaaay too late—midnight on the 21st— and is not going to draw any viewers with its combined $350,000 purse. I’d rather watch the pros play a televised round of mini golf.

TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): Not my cup of tea.  In a way, it’s nice to see the guys in a different frame of mind and more relaxed and social during the round, but I like watching golf shots and in a skins game with only 4 players, there aren’t a lot of golf shots.  Unless it’s played on an iconic course (I’d watch a skins game at Augusta or even the Old Course), I’m not interested.  But I guess there are those that will pay to watch this, otherwise they wouldn’t be able to afford the appearance fees alone!

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: Back when Tour TV coverage was a rare treat, and it started on the 16h hole, the SKINS were must see events for golfers. Man, that was a long, long time ago. This one’s being ‘staged’ in Japan, so maybe the sponsor think there’s an Asian audience. There certainly isn’t one in North America.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): Fifty years ago, Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf introduced us to exotic destinations using a couple of veteran Tour players as filler. The conversation and the narrative were terrible but at the time we didn’t know any better. Last year, The Match proved that all the modern production wizardry in the world still can’t make this kind of thing entertaining if there’s nothing at stake. The Ryder Cup is compelling drama, Skins Games are not. Until the producers of this kind of crap run out of suckers to sponsor it, I guess they’ll keep cranking it out. I won’t be watching.

When 20-year-old Joaquim Niemann won the Greenbrier event two weeks ago, it set off an old debate about the benefits of skipping college for an immediate professional career versus staying in school to get an education, coaching and high-level amateur competition. Proponents of skipping college pointed to the success of Justin Rose, Sergio Garcia, Jason Day, Rory McIlroy, Lexi Thompson, Lydia Ko and Brooke Henderson, while those on the other side singled out recent college grads such as Matthew Wolfe and Colin Morikawa who have already won on the PGA Tour plus many current stars that used college as their route to professional success. Ty Tryon and Matteo Manassero were also mentioned as cautionary tales of teenage superstars that became spectacular flameouts. If your son or daughter was a golf prodigy and just graduating high school, which path would you advise him or her to take?

Deeks: If all you care about is getting rich, then you’re probably better off to skip college and make hay while the sun shines in your youth.  As Brooke said, when she skipped, “I can always go to college when I’m older”.  If it was my son or daughter trying to decide, at age 18, I’d have to take a really hard look at their talent and their motivation, and if I determined that either factor was not 100% pure, then I’d insist they go to college and acquire an education.  In Brooke’s case, I’d say she and her family made the right decision.  And maybe Michelle Wie, who did go to college, made the wrong one.

Loughry: This one is easy for me. Get your education. Here’s why, yes some of the phenom’s can make that leap. But even Rose, Garcia, Day took quite a bit of time to learn the ropes and mature. Ko remains to be seen, but she may have already hit her peak. Nonetheless, eventually sooner or later you likely stop playing well enough to be on Tour or keep on Tour. Then what? An education just might come in handy to have to help transition that player to the working world if needed. But I still think its fantastic development as a player, to be able to compete against the top Amateurs in the world on a weekly basis on some fine golf courses (which also includes travel I might add). All that sounds familiar doesn’t it? Going the college route also helps teach you that work/life balance. Had this very conversation while looping in the BC Open at Turning Stone Resort for Jon Mills with a young 18-year old over from Australia making his way around the PGA Tour that summer with some sponsors exemptions. He and his coach explained their plan and resonating and time. And they expected it to take a few years to make it full time on the Tour. And that also meant BANK roll, which he did not have, but his coach and others floated. Its not unlike many stories, but we only hear of the ones that pay off. Of course, that player was Jason Day, but there are more stories like Tryon and Manassero than success. Stay in school kids unless you’ve won 2 US Juniors, 2 US Am’s or some combination of these or equivalent before turning 19, then I’ll let you make the choice of turning pro early!

Schurman: This argument has gone on forever. Strike while the iron is hot and before you miss the window of opportunity or expand yourself as a person. It isn’t easy! The parents want their just reward for all the hundreds of miles driven all over the place to enter their child in competitions. The kid sees no real reason to attend school when they are winning everything. Tiger is right about one thing…win at every level. People think playing golf for a living is easy if you are an amateur with top credentials. They forgot to include travel, hotel rooms, airport car rentals, laundry, constant restaurant meals, lack of privacy, new accommodations every week, change of time zones, putting for your lifestyle, family needs, a circle of friends, sponsor obligations, not to mention managing yourself as a business, playing exhibitions, media interviews. All sounds GREAT but try doing all that and making a constant improvement to your game, enjoying life away from golf when you haven’t spent time building relationships with people away from golf. Playing the best golf in the world is about 25% of what makes a top touring professional and if you aren’t in the top 125 it is a nomadic life with no guarantees, an income less than your neighbour who drives a truck. Stay in school. Use it to pay for your degree. If you are good enough, it will wait, and your degree will help you manage your monumental income. Besides, it’s a pretty good life while you are in school travelling on someone else’s cash.

Kaplan: I’d make them finish their education. This isn’t the NFL or NBA, where you are risking injury and jeopardizing your future professional career playing collegiate golf for no pay. Golf is different. Those years can be crucial in your maturation process, which can have a profound effect on your performance and mental welfare when you do finally get to the pro circuit. That being said, there isn’t an established best route. Everyone is different and what works for some golfers, may not for others.

Rule: Tough question and I think it depends on the personality and maturity of the golfer.  Justin Rose has had enormous success, but I’m sure if you asked anyone after his first 20 tournaments if he should have turned pro, you wouldn’t have had a lot of positive responses.  There are those that can handle early success well, and still stick with the task at hand and not get caught up in all the accolades and distractions that come with early success.  And there are those that flame out as you said.  So, as a father, if my son has that decision to make, the decision will be based on whether or not he’s ready mentally for the stresses that a pro golf career brings.  That’s hard to measure, so the default for me would be stay in school.

Quinn: A local prodigy – son of a friend – just accepted a partial scholarship at a tiny Florida school I’ve never heard of. It’s for – wait for it – $35,000 US! If he makes the team, next year it’s the full ride at $60 G’s plus. Imagine the numbers at a big school we’ve heard of. These kids are essentially pro athletes from the day they started winning junior titles – balls, clubs, clothes, international travel, coaches – and in this country all paid for by taxpayers through Golf Canada. The genuine talents don’t need the university ‘experience.’ It’s all cutting classes and practicing, anyway. Thing is, most take a cut in pay from their college rides to turn pro. For the hundreds and hundreds who will never play on a big Tour, it’s got to be a gas. If our daughters made that grade, I’d have them at least try a year of expense-free school.

Mumford: You can’t argue with the success of a handful of current LPGA and PGA Tour stars but they’re a drop in the bucket compared to all the kids that never make it or hang around the mini-tours for decades until they run out of sponsors or their not-quite-good-enough game deserts them permanently. Eighteen is pretty young to make such a momentous decision and know that you have the talent and maturity to compete on a major Tour. I suppose if Nike or TaylorMade came knocking with a cheque that’s too big to ignore, it would tip the balance but otherwise, best to stay in school.

A reader commented recently that, “There’s nothing fresh about the PGA Tour. It seems like an endless loop of same old same old with the Tour trying to wring every last penny out of an entertainment vehicle that is past its best before date.” Is he right?

Deeks: Based on my personal boredom threshold, yes, I’d say he is.  Other than the majors, it’s all one big sleep inducement for me — too many tournaments, too many bland players, too much pointless analysis, too many commercials repeated too many times.  I’m not sure what — if anything — is the cure.  And as long as sponsors are lined up to throw huge money at meaningless events, I’m sure Jay Monahan would say “Cure??  For what?”

Loughry: YES, the reader is right on. Let’s start with the telecast, ugh, its horrible. Rip on Fox all you want (and no they don’t have everything right) but I’ve seen WAY more thought put into their broadcast than GC/NBC or CBS has the last 10 years including drone footage/angles and other unique camera views. Maybe its just the fact they’re doing something different that makes it more enjoyable. Partnering on the gambling side may spice things up a bit. Give me anything fresh please.

Kaplan: It’s hard to take fault with this reader’s comments. The format is stale and repetitive and could benefit from an overhaul of sorts – or, at the very least, a shortening of the schedule. But what the PGA Tour does have going for it right now, and over the last several years, is a type of parity we haven’t seen in some time. There is so much stellar talent on the circuit these days coming from all corners of the globe and more household superstars currently competing than the tour has ever had before. Anyone can win any tournament, and that type of uncertainty is great for the sport!

Rule: I don’t believe that’s fair.  The game is the same in a lot of ways and tour golf is the same, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  I still enjoy watching golf, especially the top events.  They don’t need to reinvent the Open Championship for example for me to get up at 4am to watch!  The game has a great following and I believe that will continue.  It’s nice that the tours are trying different events to keep it fresh and try to draw in the younger crowds, and that’s needed, but not required for the game to survive with its regular and dedicated followers.

Quinn: Overexposure of anything is never a good thing. If our man is referring to the weekly Tour stops, he’s right. The Tour was already too much with us before the awful wrap-around. But, the big events (we’re not talking Presidents Cup, here) are as compelling as ever, even perhaps more so with the incredible talent at the top of the game. The rest is just a handy way to keep track of the boys between events worth watching for four days.

Mumford: Spot on! Too much of anything isn’t good. The Tour has really pushed the boundaries with the wrap-around season and the FedEx Cup. They’re trying to turn golf into baseball or hockey with a long season and then playoffs. It’s monotonous. I’m waiting for a time when Jim Nantz opens a broadcast with, “Welcome to … um, ahhh. Where the hell are we this week, Nick?”


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

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