Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like the PGA Tour is in the process of being handed quite an opportunity to grow by rival sports and their leagues. It might sound crazy, with the NFL dominating our Sundays and making the PODS championship, or whatever it is called next year, a distant second on even an avid golfer’s list of priorities. But I believe this to be the case. The tide might be ready to turn again, and the sports we choose to watch could be ready for another momentum shift.
Crazy right? Four major sports have dominated television ratings for a while now — the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB, with golf hoping to sneak in during majors or whenever Tiger Woods is playing. But these things tend to be a bit more fickle then we give them credit for. The NFL has ruled the last 15 years, led by shorter seasons than most, neatly bunched games on Sundays, parity keeping every fan base interested and fantasy football drawing even people who didn’t play football into watching it. But this wasn’t always the case.
Before free agency kicked in and fans in places other then Dallas or New York had reasons to watch games, the late 80’s and early-to-mid 90’s saw many people praising basketball as “America’s new game.” It was a time where Magic Johnson and Larry Bird’s battles captivated Americans, where Michael Jordan’s struggles against the Piston’s Bad Boys and his eventual championship three-peat (capped off with a win against the outspoken media darling Charles Barkley) brought the NBA to being arguably the hottest sport in the U.S. Before that, it was pretty much standard practice to call Major League baseball “the national pastime.” But drawn-out, boring games in the Internet age and the decrease in American stars shifted it to the back burner.
Football will soon have issues to deal with. Player health and safety concerns could cause some problems, either legally or by cutting out the natural funnel of talent as children stop playing it (this is more realistic than you think right now). Pro hockey is mired in a lockout that no one seems to care about. Major League Baseball is still limping along as it has the last 10-to-15 years — still pretty boring to watch for the casual fan. Think about it, I’m guessing your girlfriend would rather watch golf with you than baseball, right? And the NBA? Well, the NBA is actually in a pretty great spot.
What about golf? It’s a sport that is safe to play and becoming more and more affordable every year, as courses fight for our dollars in a struggling economy. Can golf capitalize on some of its young stars in conjunction with the struggles of other sports? I believe it can, but it starts at the top.
The PGA Tour needs to become more compelling. It needs to make people want to watch and want to play, because there are a lot of fans out there waiting to be wooed. And with the young talent on Tour right now, it doesn’t seems crazy to implement some fresh ideas. Here are a few things that could give golf a boost:
The most puzzling thing to me about the PGA Tour is the lack of an all-star weekend. How on earth has this one been missed? I mean, does Tim Finchem not watch any other sports on TV? Not only should the PGA Tour have an all-star weekend — I’m convinced it could be the BEST all-star weekend of any sport. Between the Masters and the Open Championship, there are some great tournaments – the RBC Heritage, the Wells Fargo Championship, The Players Championship and The Memorial. But other tournaments, such as the Zurich Classic, HP Byron Nelson Classic, Crowne Plaza Invitational and the FedEx St. Jude Classic don’t pack much of a punch. You’re telling me those sponsor wouldn’t rather be a part of something as cool as a PGA Tour All-Star Weekend.
Fans would go nuts to see Bubba Watson face off against J.B. holmes in a long drive content. And Phil Mickelson in a flop wall contest or Luke Donald in a skills competition? That’s must-see TV.
You are probably thinking that a lot of pros wouldn’t show up, but I beg to differ. There’s nothing the pros like more then easy money. The purse this year at The Greenbrier Classic was $6 million, which is why the second-tier PGA Tour event attracted golf’s two biggest names, Tiger and Phil. That proves that when big money is on the table, the pros take notice.
As far as actual golf, I’m thinking 27 holes with 9 on Saturday afternoon and 18 on Sunday. You could use a modified Stableford format that greatly increases points for birdies and eagles. You think these guys are good? You would surely see that watching them flag hunt for 27 straight holes. I’m convinced this would do as well in the ratings as anything other than the majors. Plus, it would help grow the game.
Country club-style tournaments
Another thing I don’t really get about the PGA Tour is the lack of diversity in its tournaments. Fans scream and scream for match play for example, and that seems to get shot down because the sponsors want some assurance that the television cameras can show Tiger on Sunday. I get it; I mean, I guess I do. But does that really mean we have to watch 30 tournaments every year using the exact same format?
With the increasing trend of seeing pros line their schedule with WGC’s, the Majors, the Middle East tournaments, The Players and the FedExCup (that’s half your schedule or more right there), there seems to be a real struggle from some of the lesser-known tournaments to attract sponsors and draw a field. Maybe they could get a bit creative you know? Country clubs all over the world have several different formats for tournaments that get members excited. Why couldn’t these work on the PGA Tour? Why couldn’t there be a team best ball event early in the season, like at Kapalua for example? Four rounds playing with a partner would be a good way to work on the game early in the year with less pressure, plus it would offer something different for fans to watch.
But to me, the biggest head scratcher of all is the lack of a “big money” Vegas tournament. HOW ON EARTH DOES THIS NOT EXIST? Every single club in America has a big money Vegas, and it’s usually one of the most fun weekends during the entire year. You couldn’t replace a tournament with this? There are 15 tournaments before the Masters! 15! If you are a fan, would you rather watch the Tampa Bay Championship or a three player team Vegas event? Maybe make 20 teams of three, one player ranked between Nos. 1 through 20, another from Nos. 20 through 40 and another from Nos. 40 through 60. You know, something like that. Have it be a two-day event with the pro-am Friday and throw a big purse at it. Cha-ching!
Again, I think there would be a good turnout since the field would be limited and there would be a greater chance to earn a bigger paycheck. Plus, it would be really great to watch and analyze. You know how golfers at country clubs spend hours analyzing the teams in the bar with everyone else, talking trash? You’re telling me a big-money team event wouldn’t lead off Morning Drive every day for a week and spawn countless threads about which team meshes together the best?
Fix the FedExCup
OK it’s been a few years now, and I’m yet to be convinced that the FedExCup is actually a playoff. Don’t get me wrong — I’m a big supporter of the FedExCup and think it has a lot of potential. But it was pretty obvious the format was screwed since Jump Street. With Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh winning early on so convincingly, the Tour Championship became irrelevant. The reaction from the Tour was more predictable then the ending to a Night Shyamalan movie (No, I don’t mean that it’s a trick, I mean that it’s going to be bad). To combat the lack of volatility of the earlier years, the PGA Tour made the FedEx cup so volatile that it basically was reduced to being won by whoever won the Tour Championship. Congratulations Brant Snedeker and Bill Haas. It kind of takes some of the credibility away from the whole “Season-Long playoff event,” doesn’t it?
I understand the Tour has a problem in that they don’t want the thing over before East Lake, and they also want a way of guaranteeing they can show some Tiger and Rory on the weekend (so long pure match play), but that doesn’t mean there aren’t better ways to do this.
Here is my suggestion — Have the Tour Championship come down to an eight-person match play on Saturday and Sunday. To guarantee that there will be some big names, break it down is as follows:
Top-4 point getters from the regular season are automatically given byes to the weekend at East Lake as the top 4 seeds. This guarantees that the regular season, you know, counts for something and also that guys like Tiger, Rory and Phil could earn their way in without having to perform well only in the Playoffs. They would have the option of playing in The Playoffs to warm-up or just to pick up a check, but their spot is guaranteed at East Lake.
The winners of each playoff event are also given a bye into the match play portion at East Lake (Barclays winner gets the No. 7 seed, Deutsche Bank winner gets the No. 6 seed, etc). If one of the already exempt players wins a playoff event, then no one gets the spot and it gets delayed until the Thursday-Friday portion of the Tour Championship.
On that Thursday-Friday, the remaining spot or spots for the Match Play segment are decided by a play-in tournament that rewards the highest cumulative FedExCup points score of any non-exempt player in the playoffs. It would be points in the first three events, as well as the Thursday and Friday stroke play at East Lake combined. And there you have it, a mix of big names and hot players, dueling it out in match play on the weekend at East Lake. Try and tell me that wouldn’t be more compelling than what we currently have, and that sponsors could legitimately complain about it. You can’t convince me that would happen.
Scrap and replace the Presidents Cup
I am Canadian, so the Presidents Cup is supposed to be relevant for me. But I can pretty much tell you that it isn’t. I attended the Match Play portion of the Presidents Cup at Royal Montreal about 10 minutes from where I live in 2007. I watched Mike Weir defeat Tiger and watched the fans go nuts for that. But the fans didn’t care who won the actual event.
It was cool to watch golf, and fans overall showed a bit more preference to the international squad, but I think that it boils down to it being more of a fun jab at our neighbors to the south more thn anything, who we trade barbs with on occasion. But no one was hurt when the Internationals lost. I don’t think anyone playing or watching REALLY cares about the Presidents Cup, so why not replace it with someone genuinely interesting? Here is my suggestion:
There’s too much history and too much sports rivalry involved between Europe and the U.S. for the Presidents Cup to rival the Ryder Cup, so don’t try and compete with it. Change the format to something a little more fun.
Why not have the top-2 ranked players in the world get selected as captains and have them each draft a 12-man squad. No rules or country alliances, just straight drafting. Anyone is eligible anywhere in the world. Captains would pick teams, come up with a team name and then they would play against each other in the same manner as the Presidents Cup format. As with the Vegas tournament I proposed, how much fun would this be to analyze? How much discussion would spawn over why Rory picked this guy or that guy? You wouldn’t want to watch this more then the boring Presidents Cup? And of course, as with the other suggestions, forget the history or honor associated with playing in the event. Sell out to corporate sponsors and offer $5 million to the winning team. I’m pretty sure that will keep the competition fierce.