News & Opinion

Rory McIlroy would use big eraser to fix golf

Fewer events and fewer players. That’s easy for the world’s No. 1-ranked golfer to suggest, but what about the guy at 112th on the PGA Tour’s money list? Would less truly be more on the pro tours?

ORLANDO, Fla. – Golf has questions, and we don’t have answers.

How long is long? A 300-yard drive isn’t officially long anymore; it’s only a hair above average on the PGA Tour.

How long is too long? There is no such thing until you’re hitting it past Happy Gilmore or Cameron Champ.

How much golf is too much golf? How rich is too rich?
Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Scrooge McDuck?

Look, golf is the ultimate selfish sport. To make it to the top of professional golf, it has been all you, all the time. Only your play and your results matter. Only your needs and your wants matter. That’s just the way it is, and the way it always has been. Except for the occasional Ryder Cup-like team event, it’s always you against the world. That is the heart of golf. What great player hasn’t been selfish, at least at times, in order to attain that greatness? I can’t name one.

The Genesis Invitational
Rory McIlroy, shown during the recent Genesis Invitational, says there are too many professional golf tournaments, with too many players.

Rory McIlroy, the current No. 1 player in the world, always has seemed outwardly unselfish. He’s rich beyond his dreams, has won four major championships and has managed to remain fairly normal despite living in a public fish bowl as a celebrity sportsman.

I like that McIlroy was early among golf’s biggest names to offer a firm “I’m out” response to the recent Premier Golf League proposal that would feature the world’s top 48 players competing on four-man teams for so many millions of dollars that even the fictitious Gordon “Greed Is Good” Gekko of “Wall Street” would be drooling.

McIlroy put himself on the spot by saying something similar, and it took some backbone to do it. That’s why I was surprised and disappointed by his follow-up comments Wednesday at Bay Hill, the site of this week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational (tee times). He had said that he hoped the PGL proposal would cause the PGA Tour to change a few things, and when he was asked for specifics, he pointed to fewer tournaments, smaller fields and more no-cut events.

“I don’t want to come across as sort of elitist…,” he said as he proceeded to do exactly that.

It’s funny how the only players who want smaller fields and fewer tournaments are the stars who would qualify to play in those events. The player who’s 112th on the PGA Tour’s money list never complains there are too many tournaments or too many players in the field.

It’s only the stars who reach the top and, looking back, hope to protect their preferred status. They want to lock the door to the first-class lounge once they’ve gotten in. It’s like the Champions Tour, where the guys who made millions on the PGA Tour don’t want any outsiders, especially club professionals who really can play, climbing onboard their personal gravy train.

I don’t disagree with all of McIlroy’s points. He says golf is oversaturated. Too many events? Maybe. Too many drama-less, poor-quality first- and second-round telecasts? Absolutely.

“You look at the NFL and they play 18 games a year – 20, max – and people still want it all the time,” McIlroy said. (He must be right, because the XFL exists and last weekend, I actually wagered money on XFL games.) “I know football is different than golf, but being a golf fan these days can be quite exhausting following so many different tournaments, so many tours. Streamlining it a bit might be a good place to start the conversation.”

Here’s one thing I’ve observed over the decades: Less is never more. It’s always less. Always.

The LPGA Tour once went the less-is-more route, not necessarily by choice, and it has taken its latest commissioner, Mike Whan, years to rebuild the brand to the most successful point in its history. Less didn’t work.

Coming from a top player, however, McIlroy’s words ring hollow. There are too many events? Well, nobody is forcing you to play them at gunpoint. You are free to play less.
There are too many events? Which sponsors, specifically, should the PGA Tour kick out? Which tournaments, specifically, should be dropped? Which communities, specifically, should be deprived of their chance to raise money for their local charities by hosting a PGA Tour event?

Don’t worry, Rory. The marketplace will provide the answers. When ratings drop, when ticket sales drop, when sponsorship dollars dry up, that’s when we’ll know there are too many events.

McIlroy also indicated that a better blueprint might be like the new tour events in South Korea and Japan, or presumably like the World Golf Championships, where the field is only 70 players or so, and there is no cut.

Of course, he likes that format. There are 80 fewer players to beat. The course is less chaotic, tee times are more orderly with what amounts to half of a traditional field and best of all, no-cut events amount to appearance fees. Finish last, and it’s not so bad: you still earned enough to pay for your private jet’s fuel.

Would smaller fields lead to faster play? I haven’t seen anything short of a shot clock that will make the world’s pros play faster. Full fields are a problem in large part due to the distance issue. Nearly every par-5 hole is reachable in two, and every trendy modern design has one (or more) risk-reward drivable par-4 holes. All they do is back up play.

McIlroy certainly isn’t afraid of any competition that a full field brings. He got to No. 1 in the world because he earned it on the course. That’s not a factor.

He also isn’t counting his pennies. His list of big-money endorsements includes that $250 million Nike deal, remember? So, he’s not afraid of any cut line, even if he has missed a few important cuts.

He has money that he’ll never spend.

So why does he really want to shrink the PGA Tour?
I’m only guessing but … because it’s better for him. It’s all about his convenience

The rich get richer in golf, but they never get rich enough, I suppose. Who does?

Golf remains the ultimate selfish sport, and the PGA Tour is the ultimate in golf. So why should I be surprised?

Good question.

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