News & Opinion

A few ideas to amp up Tour’s new season

My gosh, it seems like … oh … hours since the PGA Tour last put a ball in the air

My gosh, it seems like … oh … hours since the PGA Tour last put a ball in the air. But just when you’re having trouble remembering what professional golf looks like – or who won the FedEx Cup – it’s back. Eleven long days removed from its $15 million curtain drop, the PGA Tour will return in its Washington Generals version.

The 2019-20 fall schedule starts on Thursday and includes 11 events before Thanksgiving, enough golf-related programming to keep the TV execs happy. Think about it. Theoretically, a player will be able to secure a spot for the 2020 FedEx Cup playoffs before ever teeing it up in 2020. Is this a great game or what?

That said, as the big show begins anew, here are a few things that the Tour might consider changing, for the good of the game, and the good of this column:

Rory McIlroy FedEx Cup Champion
Sure, Rory McIlroy has plenty of green to go with his green book, but how much does money mean to the recent FedEx Cup champion these days?

Forget FedEx Cup nonsense: Golf does not lend itself to playoffs; it just doesn’t. The fact the parameters of those playoffs have to be tweaked annually should tell you something. Points, handicaps, net/gross, closest to the hole … doesn’t matter. Contrived to begin with, the concept has been altered too many times for the average person to comprehend or care. When you have to explain to the winner that he won – see Tim Finchem and Bill Haas in 2011 – something is amiss.

Throwing a gazillion dollars at it – to be won by people (Rory McIlroy) who use gazillion-dollar bills for wallpaper – does not make it meaningful. The opulence of it becomes almost offensive. The Tour Championship was compelling enough when it was the Tour Championship, i.e., no points, no handicaps, no tournament-within-a-tournament. What it is now is goofy.

Adopt the mulligan: Embrace this state of duffer golf as an intriguing new twist on the PGA Tour. Think of it in terms of the NFL’s challenge rule. Players would be allowed one mulligan per round, to be employed at their discretion. The “do over” trump card would bring a fascinating piece of strategy and suspense. When to use it? Early in the round? Late in the round? At the restaurant afterward?

The “mully” could impact things in a big way, or have no impact. Would it have helped Jordan Spieth on Augusta’s No. 12 in 2016? His drop suggested not. Would a mulligan have saved Phil Mickelson from himself on the 18th tee at Winged Foot in 2006? Would Tom Watson have made the putt on a second try at Turnberry in 2009. Fun to think about.

But let’s be honest: Nothing could have helped Greg Norman at Augusta in 1996. Mulligans, miracles … nothing.

Slow play: Henceforth, everyone is on the clock from the time the starter announces their names. A reasonable amount of time will be given for each shot, each hole, each round – with allowances for extenuating circumstances. Everyone will be in position because there will be no “out of position”; there will be only consequences. One bad time begets a warning, a second bad time carries a stroke penalty, and so on.

Now comes the controversial part: The rules should be enforced, regardless of the name on the bag or its place on the leaderboard. I know, I know … scandalous.

No data: Golf has rules against a player getting opinions or advice from anyone other than his caddie. But, at least in the amateur game, it is perfectly acceptable to pull out a rangefinder for an exact, laser-generated analysis of the next shot. Huh? What’s more, amateurs and pros alike are allowed to consult books for detailed, topographical floor plans of the greens.

Arnold Palmer once said, “Golf is deceptively simple and endlessly complicated.” To say nothing about how these instruments might impact pace of play, they fly in the face of that concept. Judgment, feel, reading greens – should be part and parcel. It’s what separates us from the animals, as well as the robots.

You don’t see a quarterback drop back, pull out a rangefinder and get a reading on where and how far to throw his pass. Unless you’re Harrison Ford landing an airplane, instruments that pass along such data should not be allowed on a golf course.

Rotation: When Annika Sorenstam was dominating women’s golf, the LPGA came up with a rule requiring all members to play each event at least once every four years. Approaching 44 years of age, Tiger Woods remains the biggest draw for golf. Come October, he will compete at the Tour’s new Zozo Championship, which means the good people of Chiba prefecture, Japan will bear witness to Woods playing golf more often than people have in San Antonio; Silvis, Ill.; Jackson, Miss.; and other U.S. cities where the PGA Tour stops.

Lucrative pursues and rich sponsorship deals have long made it possible for Woods and the top stars to cherry pick their own schedule. Imagine if Mike Trout were able to commit to only 75 games before the MLB season started. It’s all well and good to have a wraparound schedule to fill Golf Channel’s dance card, but fans and supporters deserve a better shake.

Of course, that horse left the barn. To think the PGA Tour might ever enforce a rotation is delusional. Then again, the St. Louis Blues won the Stanley Cup.

Retro events: The team sports occasionally feature vintage jerseys and the like. In golf, players don’t have uniforms, per se. But the PGA Tour could generate some additional Snapchats and merchandise dollars by designating a few retro events, even if they’re only for “throw-back Thursday” rounds. The other golf associations might do the same, although long skirts and cashmere sweaters could be a tough sell for the LPGA.

The first event on what would become the PGA Tour was held in 1929. Perhaps the Tour could designate a tournament or round for each decade it has been in existence. The long sleeves and ties of the early generations would be cause for grumbling, but the 1970s would be promising – white belts, brown polyester, houndstooth, mock turtle necks … “Dynomite!!!”

What’s more, players would be required to use the equipment of the era. Now that would be interesting. Can you imagine “1890s Day” at the U.S. Open?

Embrace “PhiresideWithPhil”: The entertaining series of Twitter videos by Phil Mickelson should be adopted as a regular segment on all telecasts of PGA Tour events, with one crucial editorial stipulation: Mickelson should be required contractually to introduce each segment as he began the Enbrel commercials of a few years back, i.e., “I’m Phil Mickelson, pro golfer.”

That way, no one would confuse him for Phil Mickelson the talk-show host, the baseball pitcher, the astronaut or the supreme leader of North Korea. Just sayin.’

Dan O’Neill, who covered golf for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch from 1989 to 2017, is an editorial consultant on golf for Fox Sports. His articles have appeared in publications such as Golfweek, Golf World, Golf.com and The Memorial magazine. Email: dan13153@gmail.com; Twitter: @WWDOD