How To Get Tiger In The Sony

Steve Murray
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Wednesday - January 30, 2008
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There are not many things the LPGA does better than its testosterone-driven counterpart. The men play a better game on better courses, and telecasts are not limited to bleary-eyed time slots traditionally dominated by infomercials for spray-on hair-replacement systems. But there is one lesson the boys could learn from their estrogen-driven counterpart: The need to better support the second line tour stops.

The LPGA requires its members to play in each tournament at least once every four years. By doing this, the Ladies Professional Golf Association helps ensure the financial stability of second-tier events while at the same time ensuring as many fans and tournament hosts and sponsors get exposed to its growing talent base.

Now, before we run off to have LPGA commissioner Carolyn Bivens sanctified for her enlightened approach in reaching out to woe begotten customers, we must acknowledge that the LPGA’s policy is based strictly on business and not for any need to reward those inhabiting the backwaters of golf. Bivens has been just as willing as PGA headman Tim Finchem to dump longtime sponsors in favor of bigger payouts from corporate-sponsored events.

One must acknowledge that the likelihood of the PGA signing up for such an arrangement is as probable as John Daly doing a Slim*Fast commercial. But these are the spaces for pondering the impossible.

The first, and really only, hurdle would be getting the top players - who slavishly or selfishly adhere to self-crafted per-formance schedules - to agree. Since its inception, professional golf has been a sport contested by - here comes the cliché - independent contractors. Since it’s true that no one is happy unless mama is happy, the PGA is not going to nudge forward any idea that would upset the game’s golden calves. This is the crux of the problem. The tour is so thoroughly dominated by a few top names that any change without their consent is nearly impossible.

The PGA tour is currently divided between the haves and have nots - better known as events with Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson and those without. Tournaments with either or both see packed courses, jammed pro shops and high television ratings. Stops without the only two recognizable names on tour means exactly the opposite and, possibly, even the deathknell for tournaments. For proof real or imagined, one has to look no further than to Jack Vickers, the founder of the International at Castle Pines, who complained that the lack of Tiger’s participation doomed his tournament. Just to add fuel to Vickers’ ire, the International was replaced by Tiger’s tournament, the AT&T National.

These events and the tournaments that bracket the four majors are the lifeblood of the tour, and where pros grinding out a living hope to move up the money list. These are also the tournaments where the future Augusta members paid their dues before the big money became a foregone conclusion.

In 1996, Woods’ rookie year, the soon-to-be-greatest-of-all-time, played in such places as the Greater Milwaukee Open, the Quad City Classic and the LaCantera Texas Open. Sadly, the man who used these stops on his journey to an athletic record $1 billion in career earnings, has not returned to the humble courses of his early career. Mickelson, like his more buffed colleague, took advantage of invites to the Central Western Open and the New England Classic during his rookie campaign and, except for a return to New England the next year (1993), has never looked back.

Tiger and Phil aren’t the only ones guilty of forgetting where they came from, nor it is just confined to the PGA. Annika Sorenstam has been a no-show at the Canadian Open - a tournament she won in 2001 - since bowing out after six holes to sickness two years later. Her back problems last season also meant another miss.

While Woods and Mickelson have treated the Sony Open with as much disdain as they have at times shown for one another, the LPGA policy shows that its system can work. At least as far as golf fans in Hawaii are concerned.

Sorenstam, who has not played in Hawaii since the Takefuji Classic at the Waikoloa in 2002, is expected to make two appearances in Hawaii next month. The SBS Open at Turtle Bay has doubled up on the Terrible Twos and the world’s former No. 1, and still biggest name, has yet to take a shot at the Arnold Palmer designed course. And while she has done rather well for herself financially, it just makes sense to double up and take in the Fields Open at Ko Olina the very next week.

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