News & Opinion

Tiger Woods’ injury opens fresh wound on pro tours

PGA Tour headquarters entrance in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
The entrance to PGA Tour headquarters in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

The post-Woods era arrives sooner than expected, highlighting need for PGA and European tours to unite in common cause for golf

One very broken leg + one pandemic = two busted tours. This simple arithmetic comes with some complicated and difficult solutions, for it will be no easy feat to maintain pro golf’s mainstream relevance without Tiger Woods around to solve the competitive equation. Life without You Know Who, it appears, has arrived a bit sooner than many expected.

Not that Woods had much left in the tank to begin 2021. His presence as a player, however, probably offered more value to the big picture than his actual performance. Make what you want of the circumstances emanating from his single-car crash last week in Los Angeles, but Woods’ latest off-course collision with reality certainly has metaphorical meaning, too.

The PGA Tour isn’t heading downhill nearly as fast as was the man who carried it for so long. Now he’s gone, perhaps for good, which makes this an ideal time for Camp Ponte Vedra to circle the wagons and figure out a way to showcase its elite sector of golfers in a more practical form. Some would call it a World Tour. Others might describe it as a merger of sound business and common sense, a plan made highly appealing (and somewhat imminent) due to improved relations with the crew on the other side of the Atlantic.

Let’s face it: the European Tour is a mess. Most of its problems aren’t of its own doing, such as the mass exodus of its top players to compete full-time in the United States, site of the game’s friendliest ATMs. With that in mind, the PGA Tour should initiate consolidation with its struggling brother, sooner rather than later, then design a schedule that features the best of all worlds, including Asia in the fall and perhaps a couple of weeks in both South America and South Africa.

European Tour flag

The recently completed stretch of tournaments held in the Middle East at the start of the calendar year represents the European Tour’s strongest asset; never mind that none of them actually is played on the continent. Those events also weaken the fields at longtime U.S. stops in San Diego, Phoenix and even Pebble Beach, which had a particularly substandard gathering last month. The seven-figure appearance fees paid for guys to show up in Dubai, Qatar and Saudi Arabia clearly undermine the PGA Tour’s best interests, especially without Woods around to aid the West Coast Swing’s cause.

Back in the 1990s, when $1 million in earnings was about as good as it got, a $100,000 check to play overseas didn’t have as toxic of an effect as a $1.5 million check does now. These days, all of the best players are three steps beyond wealthy – and the product in America suffers considerably because of it. A merger would resolve that problem at relatively little cost to the competitors, supported by the notion that if you don’t like restrictions imposed on some of the world’s richest independent contractors, they always can go wait tables for a living.

As it stands now, our game bears an annoying resemblance to pro tennis, with its multiple tours and hard-to-understand infrastructure regarding so many governmental jurisdictions. Simplification would increase the possibility of public verification. You put a hundred or so of the planet’s 100 best golfers under one roof and require them to play at least twice on four continents over the course of the revised season. This SuperTour still could adhere to the time-honored practice of licking the boots of its title sponsors, at the same time generating a progressive international “elite league” unlike any other in sports.

Soccer has to be the worst. More cups than a coffee shop, plus all those ambiguous divisions and territorial restrictions…. It’s enough to send a curious party into bureaucratic shock. The PGA Tour is a mighty empire run by very bright people who recognize the vast importance of its ultra-skilled performers and the potential for continued global growth. It doesn’t necessarily take a visionary to pull off this project. Just a whole lot of money and a willingness to modernize the professional game with a nod to public perception and competitive integrity.

It has been at least a year since we last heard anything from the World Golf Group, a British-based enterprise which opened eyes (and arched eyebrows) last winter with its proposal to stage 18 tournaments – 48 players, $10 million purses – in 2022. It was the unofficial sequel to Greg Norman’s quest almost 25 years earlier, a project that never got airborne because, Norman says, it was quashed by former PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem.

Too much, too soon? A quarter-century later, that mindset simply doesn’t wash. Woods’ brilliance and immense popularity took the game to extraordinary heights. Having been armed with a young superhero in pleated pants, Finchem uncharacteristically boasted that pro golf could rival the NFL on the sports-supremacy scale in the not-so-distant future. A delusion of grandeur, as it turned out, but some ambitious faction eventually will mount a serious challenge to Camp Ponte Vedra’s kingdom with enough savvy and financial backing to make the idea work.

Nobody is better suited to challenge the PGA Tour than the PGA Tour itself. Woods might have left his company without a leg to stand on, so to speak, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the next section of the journey must be severely downhill.

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