PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. – The PGA Tour has elevated the status of the Genesis Open to an invitational, effective next year, reducing the field size by 24 players, to 120, and raising the purse by $1.9 million, to $9.3 million.
The event, which starts today at Riviera Country Club, has been hosted by Tiger Woods for the past three years and primarily benefits his TGR Foundation. Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said Wednesday that the upgrade helps recognize Woods in stature alongside Jack Nicklaus and the late Arnold Palmer as modern-day golf icons.
What was missing in Monahan’s statement was the fact that the rich will get richer and that exclusion will be better than inclusion.
Woods undisputedly is a golf icon, with 14 major titles among his 80 PGA Tour victories. His TGR Foundation, which is based in nearby Irvine, has produced reams of positive data for its support of youngsters through education.
At the same time, the PGA Tour has a responsibility to create playing opportunities for its members, not decrease those spots. In this case, 24 playing positions will be eliminated in honoring Woods’ place in the game.
In talking with some rank-and-file players, all of whom declined to comment for the record, I was told that they don’t understand why those spots are being eliminated. Nor do they believe that elevating the Genesis Open to an invitational, and increasing the purse size, will make any difference among the top players as to who will play and who will not.
The proof of that assertion comes from years of data from the Arnold Palmer Invitational, The Memorial Tournament and the four World Golf Championships. Each year, the API and the Memorial have had to go beyond the 120 players who qualified to fill their fields. The WGCs rarely land all of the players who qualify, either.
Prize money is so prevalent on the PGA Tour that playing for $9 million or $10 million really doesn’t matter anymore. The top golfers go where they want to play, with the purse far down the list of priorities.
When the PGA Tour announced that the tournament at Doral would become a WGC event after 2006, many players voiced concern and outrage. For many years, the Doral tournament started the Florida Swing. With the switch to WGC status and its limited field, dozens of potential players were left out.
The PGA Tour has played an event in Los Angeles since 1926, when Harry Cooper won the Los Angeles Open at L.A. Country Club’s North Course. Riviera first hosted the event in 1929 and since 1973 has served almost exclusively as host of L.A.’s annual Tour stop.
The list of winners has evolved into a who’s-who of golf, including Macdonald Smith, Craig Wood, Jimmy Demaret, Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, Arnold Palmer, Billy Casper, Hale Irwin, Lanny Wadkins, Johnny Miller, Tom Watson, Nick Faldo, Ernie Els, Adam Scott, Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson and Dustin Johnson.
For an event that exudes so much history, the fact that it no longer will be “open” is disappointing. The only good thing that came from the announcement was that Monahan confirmed what the criterion is for the creation of another invitational.
“All you need to do as a player/host is to win 60 times on the PGA Tour,” Monahan said with a wry smile. “If you find someone that can do that, we’re open to the conversation.”
The Tour might not be creating invitationals any time soon. Phil Mickelson, 48, the winningest active player behind Woods, won Sunday at Pebble Beach for victory No. 44.
Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @AlexMiceli