by Jeff Skinner
I spent some time Monday afternoon watching some young (cheers to Bill Haas) and not so young faces battle it out down the stretch at The Bob Hope Classic and while the golf playing out on the television was exciting and interesting, I’m am sure the casual golf fan could not have cared less. That is not a knock on the golfers that were playing; they were a mixture of fine, experienced tour players and youngsters trying to make their mark. But they aren’t household names to the casual fan or tour superstars and that is what is needed for television ratings that can be translated into a new tournament sponsor. The Hope has no title sponsor since Chrysler begged off from the tournament and it may be awhile before a sponsor is willing to fork over the millions it takes to become a title sponsor on the PGA Tour.
One of the guilty parties to the decline of The Hope may be the PGA Tour itself. The Tour likes to think of its players as a bunch of “independent contractors” that come together each week to play their tournaments. There are requirements the players have to follow to remain on tour. After the players qualify for the tour they have to play in at least fifteen PGA tournaments to maintain their playing privileges. If they want to play in another event that is sponsored by another golf tour on the same weekend that a PGA Tour event is taking place they have to ask the Tour for a “Conflicting Event Exemption” in order to be released from their PGA Tour commitments.
This past week the PGA Tour let plenty of big, household names out of The Hope to play on the European Tour at Abu Dhabi. Ian Poulter, Sergio Garcia, Paul Casey, Anthony Kim, Camilo Villegas and Geoff Ogilvy are all top names that opted for the Euro Tour instead of The Hope. Add Rory McIlroy to that list as a new PGA Tour member that played there also but hasn’t made his debut on the PGA Tour yet as a member. That’s a lot of star power that The Hope could have used a little bit of. Many of those players and Kenny Perry have committed to the next European Tour event, The Qatar Masters.
The PGA Tour, like everyone else is not immune to difficult economic times. The poor economy, the sponsor’s reluctance to part with millions of dollars and Tiger Woods missing in action has placed an even heavier burden on the players. If the PGA Tour allows many of its top names to play all over the world while missing PGA Tour events those events are going to suffer.
I guess you can’t blame the players if they look to make a little extra cash but this is one of the big problems facing the tour. The European Tour pays appearance fees to many of the players in the field. Tiger Woods is supposed to have been paid $3 million for a single appearance and since Tiger is not playing that leaves a few million available to pay other players. Hello Kenny Perry! The PGA Tour forbids its tournaments from paying appearance fees so the players are left with a choice. They can enter the PGA Tour event and try to win some cash or they can take a little vacation and pick up a big check whether they make the cut or not. The past few weeks there have been many European Tour checks made out to full time PGA Tour players.
The problem here for the tour is that if they never say no to any Conflicting Event Exemption then they really have no control over a good amount of their players. If a Tour Member plays in fifteen tournaments he can have three exemptions, if he plays in twenty events he can have four. It is more lucrative for the foreign players. If they declare that the European Tour is their home tour they can have unlimited exemptions as long as they play in a fifteen PGA TOUR events. So for example, Geoff Ogilvy, Sergio Garcia or Ian Poulter can play in any European Tour event they choose and not have to worry about The PGA Tour events and still reap the rewards of playing as a member on The PGA Tour. If a player plays in the four majors and the four WGC events, that leaves only seven more PGA Tour events for him to play in to keep his membership on The PGA Tour.
It hardly seems fair that players can play almost a part time schedule and still reap all the rewards of full time membership. The PGA Tour will never pay appearance fees but it may be time it examined its conflicting events exemption policy. There are too many tournaments looking for ways to keep their sponsors and too many players using the exemptions. The players built their name, records and reputation while playing on the best and highest paid tour in the world and it’s only fair that they take care of the tour that made them so wealthy.