Absence and malice at Tour Championship
ATLANTA -- Tom Pernice is a man of conviction, a 10-year PGA Tour veteran whose brusque nature and high-octane opinions have been known to rankle his fellow tour pros. From a broad-brush perspective, Pernice is an ardent supporter of Camp Ponte Vedra. He usually sides with all causes that are for the "good of the organization," although he did have a few choice negative comments about commissioner Tim Finchem's handling of the FedEx Cup after the first round of the Tour Championship.
During the 2005 Ford Championship at Doral, Pernice called a tour official and asked to have Tiger Woods' driver tested, which wouldn't have seemed like such a bizarre request if Pernice had been in the field that week. Tiger's driver was under the COR (coefficient of restitution) limit -- some thought the guy who wanted it checked was a bit over the top. When I ran into Pernice in the East Lake locker room Thursday afternoon and asked him about Woods' decision to skip this event, I didn't need a translator to figure out where he stood on the issue.
"I think it's a disgrace," he replied. "It's a slap in the face to [presenting sponsor] Coca-Cola and the tour. He would not make the money he makes if it wasn't for the PGA Tour. At some point, there is a credibility factor as to what's inside you as a person. There is a responsibility and an obligation to the people who helped make you who you are."
To say that Pernice stands alone in objecting to Woods' absence would not be accurate. Two other players privately have expressed disappointment that Tiger chose not to play in the season finale, one of whom said, "They [tour officials] are so afraid of these guys [top-level players]. If you blow off the pro-am at a regular event, you're not allowed to play in the tournament. If you qualify for an event like this and skip it, there should be some type of sanction. Maybe you should get a month [of suspension] or something."
It might sound like twisted logic, but the point is fairly clear. The problem is that Woods, the best player in the world by several miles, is held to a different standard than, say, Pernice, whose no-show, or anyone else's for that matter, barely would cause a ripple. That Tiger will spend most of November playing overseas (and collect huge appearance fees) only complicates the matter. He said he was skipping the Tour Championship to "recharge," but his commitment to play in Asia is cause enough for some to question his priorities.
My take? The absence of Woods and Phil Mickelson this week is a big reason the regular season is being shortened by almost two months. On a tour where 93 guys have surpassed $1 million in 2006 earnings, the year-end money grab has become virtually meaningless, its lack of significance made greater by the procession of weak-field events leading up to it. Pernice's candor is admirable. His error in judgment is in failing to recognize, or at least acknowledge, the enormous economic impact Woods' presence (and greatness) have had on professional golf in the past decade.
"Geoff Ogilvy said it best," fellow participant Brett Quigley noted. "If it wasn't for Tiger, we'd be playing for $2 million this week instead of $6.5 million."
John Hawkins is a senior writer for Golf World magazine.
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