by Jeff Skinner
World number one, Lee Westwood has announced that he will not compete in the PGA Tour’s Players Championship. Westwood cites scheduling difficulties and the fact that he is restricted in the number of PGA Tour events he can play in since he is not a member of the PGA tour.
“There is a five-week gap between The Masters and the Match Play in Spain (on May 19-22, one week after the Players) and I want to play a couple of events in there.
“After the two opening World Golf Championships (events) I would bracket our (European Tour) PGA Championship in May as just as important as it offers exemption for anybody in the world’s top 50 to play
“I don’t see many of them (Americans) wanting to take up that offer. So you can’t really please everyone, can you?
“I’ve said I will support the European Tour, so I am going to Asia.”
Westwood has forfeited his U.S. PGA Tour membership this season as has Rory McIlroy. They both want to spend more time on the European Tour and both are represented by European super agent, Chubby Chandler. McIlroy has hinted that he may not play at the Players either.
This can’t be good news for Tim Finchem and the PGA Tour. The tour always touted the Players as the “fifth major” and losing the current world number one is disappointing.
Years ago Greg Norman went head to head with The PGA Tour when he tried to start a world golf tour. The current World Golf Championships resulted from Norman’s revolutionary actions in trying to build a tour of independent players from around the world.
Westwood’s call to sit out The Players seems to have some political undertones. With the strength of the non-American players being stronger than ever, could Westwood’s position be the start of battle between the European Tour and the PGA? The foreign players are indeed dealing from a position of strength that they haven’t had in years. They no longer feel the need to play exclusively on any tour. The money earned is Europe, while still a bit below the average PGA purse, is still very lucrative. This won’t be the last golfer to opt out of The Players or another big PGA Tour event.
Chubby Chandler has issues with The PGA Tour’s restrictions: “This sums up what’s wrong with golf at the moment. There are too many people in power thinking only about their own interests rather than what’s good for the game. It does my head in to think the world No 1 in his sport can’t play in a tournament he wants to play in, and which the sponsor wants him to play in.”
The days of every player striving to play and make The PGA Tour their only home are over. Global golf and global money has made earning a very good living playing a “world tour” not only possible, but very easy for the European golfer. Gary Player would spend three days flying to the U.S. to play in PGA Tour’s events back in the 60’s so he could compete with the best golfers and win the biggest purses. Players have so many options now to play and earn great money that is no longer needed.
I can’t help but think that there is more to Westwood’s thinking than just convenient scheduling. Whether he means it or not, and I think he does, this is a slap, a “disrespect” if you will towards the PGA tour. Yes, we all know these players are “independent contractors” and can play in whatever tournaments they want as long as they meet the tour’s criteria and restrictions but where there is smoke, there is fire. This may be the spark that ignites a bit of a wildfire between some European players and The PGA Tour.