Conversation: Should PGA Tour Members have event appearance requirements?

March 8, 2011

For those of you who don’t follow PGA Tour policy changes, you’re missing out on a “hot” debate at the moment.  Camps are split on whether PGA Tour members should be required to play every event on the tour schedule at some point within a certain number of years. Essentially, the point of such a rule is to give a sponsor some assurance that, if they sign a long-term promotional deal, the top players on the Tour will play in their event.

The center of the debate is, of course, Tiger Woods.  Fans will know not only that Tiger does not play every event; he rarely plays what could be considered a full schedule for a regular touring pro.  Because he prefers to be in top form for each event he plays, he has set his annual schedule up so that he “peaks” for certain events.  This schedule has centered largely on a few choice events and the majors.  Tiger is not the only pro to take this tack to the Tour.  Rarely will any of the top players be found playing events such as the Viking Classic in Madison, MS.

My personal feeling is that such a rule is misguided.  Though I understand the desire to make the Tour’s product more valuable to potential sponsors, such a rule only pollutes the quality of the available product.  While we watch in awe as these players decimate the hardest courses weekend after weekend, we must realize that very few (if any) players currently play every event on the schedule in any number of years.  We think these pros would have no problem on any course they ever play, and while that’s true, they are only able to shoot those scores in the low 60s with local knowledge they develop from years of playing the same courses. Tiger’s schedule has afforded him the opportunity to learn the courses that really “fit his eye” and shoot amazingly low scores year in and year out.  Consider the difference in your own game if you were to only play one course for an entire year versus playing a different course every single weekend.  True, professionals are much better and should play any course significantly better the first time around than we do, but the difference between shooting 72 and 67 is nearly all in putting, which can be largely dependent on local knowledge.

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Response from JK:

I agree somewhat and disagree somewhat. I agree with you that the overall product of such a rule might dilute the quality of the Tour. Part of why we watch is to see those rare moments when the best battle the best and the chase comes down to the wire. Plus, implementation of such a rule would be very difficult–what happens if you don’t play in the required tournaments? You get fined? Kicked off the Tour? Forced to go to Q-School?

Still, I hesitate to agree with your disdain for such a plan. As I’ve already stated, the fun in viewing a PGA event is seeing the best in the world going head-to-head. That seems to be a MORE LIKELY occurrence if the best in the world are forced to play more often. In years gone by, it seemed like every week held a new battle. These battles led to some of the best and most infamous moments in the history of the Tour: Billy Mayfair dueling Tiger; Bob May’s duel with Tiger; Fred Couples’s magicly sticky ball at Augusta; Craig Stadler’s towel incident. Not all of these things happened in majors.

More importantly, the Tour as a whole benefits from such a rule. First, it attracts far better sponsors because those sponsors are guaranteed that they will have the best in the world at some point, creating a bigger viewing audience. Moreover, I think it helps the players themselves. Right now, there’s a lot of young talent that gets lost in the mix because the top 3, 4, or 5 players in the world dominate the air during any given tournament that has any field worth viewing. If the field were dispersed, you might see Anthony Kim win 2 tournaments in California then see Dustin Johnson win two in Florida, while Bubba Watson was in a duel with Phil Mickelson in another tournament. How much publicity would that generate leading into the Masters? The viewing public would think there were many horses in the race, which makes it far more interesting. Right now, the viewing public thinks there are only a few good players at the top and, otherwise, a pretty lacking field. Whether true or not, such an arrangement would make the game more exciting for everyone.

Just my opinion, though.

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Reply from LG:

I agree with you, JK, that the value of any given sponsorship would increase.  It certainly enticing to think that every single player on the Tour would be required to play in your event at some point during the next three years.  What we really need to resolve this issue is some data that tells us how much a “premium” tournament sponsorship goes for versus a “regular” tournament sponsorship is worth.  (Any help on that front, PGA Tour?)  With respect to enforcement, I think such a rule could be enforced through sanctions, fines, and peer pressure much as any other rule is enforced.  (See, for example, the groove rule).

As far as the epic battles, I think the reduction in the quality of play would limit the number of these kinds of epic battles.  If players don’t know the course as well, how can they make those huge putts?  Also, If everyone is required to play every event, it seems less likely that the top players’ paths will cross in any event.  Wouldn’t it be a shame if Tiger or Phil had to miss the WGC-Accenture Match Play to play in the Mayakoba Classic?!

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