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Tour designates 'designated-tournament' proposal for trash heap

by | CBSSports.com Senior Writer

The so-called sure thing was first downgraded to a long shot, then was scratched from the race entirely.

In fact, the PGA Tour just put a bullet in this particular thoroughbred's head.

Despite midseason support from players, the "designated-tournament" proposal that was almost universally saluted as a partial solution to weak fields at certain events was set aside by the tour's Policy Board this week.

The tour event at Disney hasn't seen the likes of Tiger Woods in a number of years. (Getty Images)  
The tour event at Disney hasn't seen the likes of Tiger Woods in a number of years. (Getty Images)  
It represents a disappointing demise for an out-of-the-box solution to the longstanding problem: How can a third-tier tournament in Central Nowhere ever hope to draw the likes of Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson?

After indicating earlier this year that the proposal seemed destined for passage, the tour has yet to formally explain its rationale for shooting down a notion that had been green-lighted by the Players Advisory Committee five months ago with, "really, zero negativity," Steve Stricker said at the time.

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem all but guaranteed that the idea, designed to force top players to visit locales they hadn't played in years, if ever, would be added to the books in some form in 2011. Now it's morphed into a voluntary plan, which will be about as effective as you might expect.

As a means of helping tournaments that have had trouble drawing big names, top players from, say, the money list or FedEx Cup standings would have been obligated to enter an event included on a predetermined list. In essence: Here's a list of four events, pick one and plan your season accordingly.

Four-term Policy Board member Davis Love III explained last week at Disney World that the plan particulars had fallen out of favor, surprising news indeed. Love said part of the problem is that tournaments under discussion for inclusion as designees had expressed reservations about being cast as failures of a sort.

"I think a lot of people feel like you don't want to put a tournament in that category," Love said Sunday night. "It sounds great, unless you are one of those tournaments, then it becomes, 'We have Phil Mickelson, but they made him play.' I think that almost makes it worse.

"Right now, we don't really need any controversy. We need things to keep moving along, because we have a TV contract coming along and everything is really going pretty well. When you look at our business vs. every other business in the country, we are really, really good."

Coulda been even better. Love predicted the tour will more forcefully ask players to show up at locales they have skipped over, but as it stands, they are still only required to play the mandated 15 times to retain membership.

"I think it will be a little bit more focused," he said of tour arm-twisting. "They will say, 'Davis, you have never played here. That's the one you need to play.' I just noticed the signs here [at Disney, where past champions' photos are posted]. OK, Lucas [Glover], you need to play Disney.

"They have the numbers, they know. The tournaments know. Why hasn't Tiger come back here when he's won here, why hasn't Phil ever played here?"

Uh, because they don't have to? Just guessing.

"That's the thing, we need one or two of those [guys]," Love said. "Really, we were legislating all the way down, but really, if we can get the top guys just to play one more. Or one different tournament -- it doesn't even have to be more."

It's somewhat numbing to hear that tournaments that have struggled to remain relevant would balk at such tour generosity. Sure, there were concerns. Say a certain event was on the list of designees and drew zero of the top players, who all went elsewhere. That's a huge public slap. But the tour is staffed by a fleet of veeps who get paid millions to crack such nuts.

A tournament doesn't want to be stigmatized by appearing needy? What's a bigger stigma than staging an irrelevant tournament?

Not all that long ago, fans and media folks didn't track the money list and world rankings as they relate to tournament depth that often, but things have changed. Time is valuable. Why watch the Bob Hope Classic if it has exactly one player from the world top 30 in the field, which was the case earlier this year?

"Fields are always a huge issue on tour," said John Deere Classic tournament director Clair Peterson, a member of the Tournament Advisory Council. "Every event and every tournament sponsor feels like they represent a first-class experience. Unfortunately, they are judged in the golf world by who shows up that week."

The Valero Texas Open was in the discussion as a designated event and actually lobbied for inclusion in the plan. Unfortunately, as Peterson noted, that was not a universally held notion.

"I didn't view it as much as a stigma as a reward for the hard work we have done," Valero tournament director Craig Smith said Wednesday. "At the end of the day, we want to put on the best show we can for our community, our charity. They want to see the stars."

Let's say a tour event that has been subsisting for years on the player equivalent of saltine crackers. Then somebody formulates a plan in which, with zero obligation, the events can top off that cracker with a scoop of caviar. Would you care whether that caviar came from a Sam's Club fire sale or was flown in straight from the Caspian Sea?

Darned likely not.

"Everybody is trying for the best field they can get," Smith said. "I think we should take whatever help we can get."

Smart man. That impressionable 12-year-old from San Antonio doesn't care that Woody or Lefty were coerced into showing up, but seeing them play might just create a memory -- and a customer -- for life.

True, the timing might have been awkward on one front. There's been plenty of discussion lately about top international players teeing it up on two tours and being pulled and stretched because of heightened membership requirements on the European Tour. But Love said that wasn't part of the review process. For some top guns, foreign or domestic, adding a designated-tournament mandate would have been tantamount to requiring them to play in a 16th event.

"What I think it really boils down to is that the guys who play 20 tournaments play the exact-same 20 all the time," Love said. "We need them to mix it up a little bit and give somebody else a shot."

The plan seemed so promising at midsummer that Policy Board member Zach Johnson said at the time that for "some of the tournaments that need a boost as far as personnel, on paper it makes complete sense."

The Policy Board met Monday and Tuesday, though the decision to can the proposal still hasn't been formally announced. The tour's media squad is probably trying to find a way to spin the news as a positive. Good luck with that.

In 1999, as purses truly began skyrocketing as the Woods era took hold, the top 10 players on the money list averaged 25.3 starts annually. In 2009, it dropped to 22.2. This year, it's down another peg at 21.3.

That's what we in the biz call an alarming trend.

"I don't think it was a perfect solution," Peterson said. "But it was a step in the right direction."


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