Tour Confidential: Could a big-money global golf tour shake up the pro game?

May 27, 2018

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1. Is a major threat to the PGA and European tours on its way? According to a report from Reuters, a World Golf Series that would consist of 15 to 20 worldwide tournaments — with huge purses of $20 million each — is in the works. While organizers are mum on the details, the creation of a rival tour would come with plenty of obstacles (World Ranking points and the battle for marquee players, to name a couple). Greg Norman will remind you that this isn’t the first time a new tour has tried to make a run at the established circuits, but this time around could it actually work?

Sean Zak, associate editor, (@sean_zak): I think if something like this was ever going to work, it would have had to come during that pesky stretch of time when Luke Donald and Lee Westwood reigned supreme. The PGA and European tours weren’t as in sync scheduling-wise as they are now. So, this world tour is going to become more popular of a destination than the PGA and the handful of great Euro events simply by adding some cash? I don’t see it happening. There’s more to the elite level of the pro game than dollar figures.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, GOLF: A pipe dream, but nothing wrong with that. Once you bring in the high-priced legal talent, media consultants, sponsors — the PGA Tour versus anybody or anything is not a fair fight.

Josh Sens, contributing writer, GOLF (@JoshSens): There are some things money can’t buy. Congressional representatives aren’t among them but an alternative golf tour sure seems like one. Those World Ranking points are an especially pesky issue, since player contracts so often hinge on them. As Michael says, when push comes to shove, the PGA Tour will be able to shove a lot harder.

Dylan Dethier, associate editor, (@dylan_dethier): I’m conflicted. On the one hand, doesn’t it feel like we already have a golf tour that travels the globe and has no shortage of prize money? On the other hand there are worldwide markets that could conceivably put up more cash than the typical tour event. Money talks, but I’ll believe this new series when I see it. Reeks of a new start-up mini-tour promising prize money it doesn’t yet have — and those don’t tend to pan out long term.

Josh Berhow, staff producer, (@Josh_Berhow): It brings to mind the XFL. When it debuted there was a lot of hype, then that wore off, and then everyone was like, “Oh yeah, let’s just watch the NFL which is a million times better.” Too many hurdles to leap and it would be quite the task going against the PGA Tour brass.

John Wood, caddie for Matt Kuchar (@johnwould): Interesting, but doubtful how something like this would get off the ground in terms of getting the players you would need for it to be successful — 15-20 worldwide events seems daunting. A handful I could see, but there are too many really good tournaments as it is now. I don’t see players resigning their tour membership to join a fledgling tour, and to play that many events they would have to resign and only play off sponsors exemptions and majors.

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, GOLF (@AlanShipnuck): Don’t forget, the schedule is shrinking drastically next year, and there will be almost no golf September and October, so there could be a void to fill for a handful of weekends. But with no history, no World Ranking points and no exemptions at stake, the players aren’t exactly gonna grind, and therefore the fans won’t really care, either. What’s the point?

2. A year ago in this space we reacted to the news of Tiger Woods’s DUI arrest. So much has changed in the past year — Woods sought help, is healthy and playing well again. Where does his turnaround over the last year rank among his career achievements?

Zak: Well, I was convinced his short game was irreparable, so that’s his greatest golf achievement to discuss. That he is top 16 in both Strokes Gained: putting and around the green is incredible to me, and the exact reasons why, when the driver works well enough for four days, he’ll win again. Beyond that, it’s a personal achievement to go from where he was as a human on Memorial Day 2017 to where he seems to be now, though I imagine he’s had as much support as anyone could have had in those circumstances.

Bamberger: What he has done in the past year is not on any list of his career achievements. Life achievements by their nature are not easily ranked, nor should they be. Given where he was a year ago and where he appears to be now, the turnaround is inspiring. I hope for his sake he can go from strength to strength. I imagine it’s all one day at a time.

Sens: I think it’s pretty clear that the on-course turnaround is beyond what anyone expected, even Tiger, who sounded pretty resigned for long stretches of his recuperation. But I agree with Sean and Michael. What matters is the personal. He sure seems to be more at peace with himself on the course and in front of the press. Is he really, deep down? I don’t think any of us is in a position to know. But here’s hoping he is.

Dethier: The problem with this question is that the comeback is only impressive because of the height of his original peak — and the depths of his momentous fall. This is, in essence, a new career for Woods. But the fact that he would have one seemed deeply improbable one Memorial Day ago.

Berhow: It was probably one of the most difficult things he had to do in his life. Hard to quantify that.

Wood: I agree with Michael. This isn’t a career achievement, it is a life achievement. Now, should he pick off a couple of majors, then we can talk about how it ranks in terms of career achievement. Because let’s be honest, a handful of top 10s is a drop of water when it comes to the ocean of his career so far. In terms of a life achievement though, I’d think this would rank up there right behind the birth of his children.

Shipnuck: Before Memorial Day ’17, Tiger was revered, but never beloved. The warmth that now envelopes him – and he projects – is quite remarkable. Gotta be happy for him.

3. Next up on Tour: Jack’s Memorial Tournament and Woods’s (likely) last start before the U.S. Open. Woods is no stranger to Muirfield Village — he’s never missed a cut in 15 appearances with eight top 10s and five wins. How much will this week tell us about the likelihood that he’ll contend at Shinnecock June 14-17?

Zak: Like at Bay Hill, I expect Tiger to play well at Muirfield. If we’ve learned anything this year, 2015 was an aberration. Don’t even think about that 85. He’s so much better, different, etc., than he was then. We can see it in the grinding to make cuts, and then tossing up low numbers on the weekend. In other words, I don’t expect a made cut or missed cut at Muirfield to tell us much about Shinnecock, a wholly different course that will be in a wholly different shape when he plays it.

Bamberger: Muirfield is a hard course where a lot can go wrong. Tiger has not shown he can play 72 holes. I imagine he’ll play well and have some serious hiccups on his way to Sunday afternoon. I wouldn’t venture any comment on Shinnecock Hills without seeing the course and how it is set up.

Sens: I expect that we’ll see a lot of the same of what we’ve already seen from Tiger in his comeback. Flashes of the Old Tiger, but also the flaws of the New Tiger. I would expect the same at Shinnecock. But hey, we’ve all been wrong about Tiger many times before.

Dethier: I’ve been generally more bullish on Tiger than the rest of the assemblage here and will continue to be: I’d expect him in some sort of contention this week. Shinnecock may prove a different test, though. Let’s see how that driver continues to look in big moments — and if he can finish off good rounds and make them great.

Berhow: I think the latest Tiger comeback has taught me that I can’t ever predict what Tiger is going to do. But no matter the course he needs to hit his driver well because I think his short game is going to be there, and, one of these days, he’s gonna win another golf tournament.

Wood: I think he will contend at both.

Shipnuck: Memorial demands a lot of drivers and punishes wayward tee shots, which is not good news for Tiger. Shinnecock will demand a lot of drivers and will severely punish wayward tee shots, which is really bad news for Tiger.

4. The BMW PGA Championship, the European Tour’s flagship event, had only six Americans in the field, which was brought to light in a tweet by Gary Player: “What a shame for our global game. You can never be a world champion if you stay at home.” (The event had only four U.S. players in 2017 and two in 2016.) Should the American stars feel more obligated to support the Euro tour’s marquee stop?

Zak: No. They don’t owe the Euro Tour anything, but they may have fans over in Europe, and one could argue they might owe them something. Missing the 2018 BMW PGA that is played during the glut of your home tour season just days before one of the biggest American events of the year IS NOT unbecoming of a world champion, I might add. Gary Player is just a fan of globe-trotting, as he can be. The bottom line is the best players play in America, so you can’t blame them for hanging around, especially toward the end of May. Gary can look no further than the French-Irish-Scottish run-up to the British Open as a place where Americans are happy to commit.

Bamberger: I think Player’s comment is in the right place — if you want to be a legend and icon, you have to play the world and win all over the world. But economic realities are carrying the day here for American players who stay at home in the heart of the season. Jordan Spieth saw what too much air-time does to your game.

Sens: In Player’s day, playing and winning all over the world meant something different than it does today. There are big opportunities happening in multiple time zones pretty much all the time now. Not even Gary Player can be everywhere at once.

Dethier: Ditto to the above — no debt owed. But it’s a hell of an event and I’d love to see it in a spot on the schedule where more American stars would choose to play. And as fate would have it, it’s in September next year. Let’s see…

Berhow: The Euro Tour moving the BMW PGA to September proves they are reacting to what the PGA Tour does; they want to accommodate the most players possible and pump up their field. It will be interesting to see if that attracts more U.S. golfers. The new PGA Tour schedule will be done by then, so maybe a few Americans — in addition to big-name Europeans like Rose, Rahm, etc.? — will give it one final go before stashing the clubs away for a while.

Wood: Jordan Spieth is a world champion. Phil Mickelson is a world champion. Tiger Woods, Dustin Johnson, etc. It is not their fault the majority of truly big golf tournaments are held in the United States. American players can choose to play if they want, but they certainly aren’t obligated to play anywhere. Is Mr. Player saying those who choose to play this year at the venerated Colonial Golf Club, which, ironically, honors the great Ben Hogan, can never be world champions? If my memory is correct, I believe Mr. Hogan played in the Open Championship once, in 1953 at Carnoustie, and he won. He never went back for another. Is he not a world champion? The top Americans play in the Open Championship, the Scottish Open, they play in China, and Korea, and Mexico, to name just a few. That’s an easy thing to tweet, but a much harder proposition to back up your argument in debate.

Shipnuck: It’s a little baling more guys don’t make the trip if only for selfish reasons: as the designated “flagship” event of the Euro Tour the BMW gives away a boatload of World Ranking points. If you’re, say, 60-80 in the world, a strong finish there could propel you way up the Rankings, more so than a top 10 at Colonial.

5. The ever-fiery Thomas Pieters took his anger out after a poor shot by snapping an iron shaft over his neck on Friday at the BMW PGA. What’s the worst case of golf rage you’ve witnessed on the course?

Zak: That one. The Pieters one. There is nothing more impressive and scary than that version of golf rage. There’s a reason no one has ever seen anything like that before.

Bamberger: While caddying on the European Tour in 1991, saw a Spanish golfer slap himself hard across his face over a short missed putt. That was bad.

Sens: At a public course in Iowa years ago, a guy I got paired with responded to a wild tee shot by slamming his driver on the cart path. The club head broke off and bounced up and hit him in the chin. He wasn’t knocked cold. It was more like a TKO.

Dethier: One feat I’ve never seen repeated was a friend putting his fist through a cart windshield — but another story sticks out more. I was playing a 36-hole mini tour event in Florida and another player in my group hit his approach shot to 20 feet. He hit that putt four feet past the hole, then lipped out the comebacker for a three-putt bogey. He stared at the ball for a while, like it had betrayed him. Then he tapped it in, walked to his cart and drove back to the clubhouse. After one hole. That’s not rage like Pieters — it’s much deeper and darker.

Wood: Though I am not proud of it, I was the John McEnroe of junior golf in my teen years. Breaking clubs over my knee, bending them around trees, tossing tee markers into a water hazard, wild swings at the bottom of my Jones bag and the legs on my Ping Hoofer, I sadly did it all. I too played from a darker place. Before golf, I was a baseball player. I was playing third base at a practice once, and I was on fire. The guy hitting infield practice kept hitting balls harder and harder at me, and further to my left and to my right, and I literally picked every single one clean and easy. Then he tested me with a couple slow rollers that I had to charge and barehand. I bobbled the first. I bobbled the second. I stared at the baseball sitting at my feet, picked it up, and threw it as far as I could over the backstop into the parking lot. I walked through the dugout to go get it and return to practice. By the time I got to the ball, I was still seething from missing those two slow rollers, so I picked up the ball and walked home — three miles, in my spikes. So Pieters’ club breaking? That was cute.

Shipnuck: Who knew Woody was so angsty? I love it. This wasn’t that big of a deal but at my first Masters I was on the ropeline of the 15th hole and Curtis Strange sliced his tee shot over there. (This was back when there were big mounds right of that fairway and it was a cool spectating spot.) He hit his next shot in the water and proceeded to loose a Richard Pryor-esque monologue. I’ve never heard the f-word conjugated that many different ways. It made quite an impression on me.

Berhow: On the 5th hole of the course I grew up on, one of my frequent golf partners had seen enough. He threw his driver down the fairway and then emptied his bag — one club after another was chucked. But he wasn’t done. Soon all of his golf balls, one by one, he was crow-hopping off the tee. F-bombs flew along with the Pinnacles. The show finally ended by him kicking his bag off the platform to the lower tee. Nice guy, though.

6. With a nod to Ben Hogan and this week’s Fort Worth Invitational (which Justin Rose dominated), if you could ask Hogan one question, what would it be?

Zak: What are the residuals like for current-day sales of the Five Lessons?

Bamberger: What’s it like up there?

Sens: How many majors do you think you would have won if you’d turned pro the same year as Tiger?

Dethier: Whatchu think of Trackman?

Wood: Why didn’t you play more internationally? You know you can’t be a great champion without doing that.

Shipnuck: What did you really think of Arnold Palmer?

Berhow: Would you have followed me on Twitter?