Proposed rule really about Tiger, Lefty
NEWTOWN SQUARE, Pa. -- There has long been a notion of two separate circuits on the PGA Tour: those events that include Tiger Woods and those that don't.
This week's AT&T National here in the Philadelphia suburbs is clearly part of the in-crowd, as the world's No. 1-ranked golfer has allayed his official hosting duties this year, but remains heavily involved with the behind-the-scenes production of the tournament.
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Don't confuse Woods' presence for a superior tournament field, though. He is one of just three top-20 players in the Official World Golf Ranking and 13 of the top-50 who are teeing it up this week. While it's true that group is littered with international players, it is still noteworthy that fewer than half of the top 50 on the current FedEx Cup points list have joined these festivities.
All of which makes me wonder: Could this event, in just its fourth year in existence, be in line for designated tournament status in upcoming years?
There's a proposal being bandied about by the PGA Tour which states the best players -- maybe the top 30 or top 50 -- would be required to compete in at least one of a certain number of designated events -- could be as few as three or as many as six -- within a given season. The theory is that inclusion of some elite professionals would help raise the profile of a few struggling tournaments.
"Everyone seems to be in favor of it and felt like it was the right thing to do to try to increase the depth," said Jim Furyk, a member of the Player Advisory Committee. "The idea was you might have 20 players that might not be in an event and maybe two, three, four, five of them might play in each one of those events and help out their field."
There are few who would debate the merits of such a proposal. It would allow a wider range of markets the opportunity to host upper-echelon players, causing a domino effect that could lead to increased ticket sales, better television ratings and greater revenue not only for those tournaments, but their host cities as well.
Then again, it's hardly a utopian situation.
The LPGA employs a one-in-four rule in which every single tour member must play each event at least once every four years. Sounds like a model plan for the PGA Tour to follow, right? Well, it's not that easy.
In what could be seen as the ultimate Catch-22 scenario, many top players may opt to renounce ties to the PGA Tour, continuing to play similar schedules as in the past, but without full-time affiliation.
"The guys that mean a lot to the tour, you don't want to start trapping them," Ernie Els said earlier this year. "That's not going to work. That's going to backfire, and you're probably going to lose players. It will run its course."
If this rule was enacted and Els' not-so-subtle suggestion came to fruition, it would in turn weaken the circuit's competitiveness and severely affect its marketability. Both of which, of course, are the main objectives for such a rule in the first place.
Then there's the issue of punishment. The LPGA fines its players $25,000 for failure to play by the rules. How severe would the fine have to be in order to cause any hesitation from the likes of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and the other deep-pocketed veterans of the PGA Tour?
And so we're left with the designated tournament proposal, which appears an amiable diffusion to a problem, if not the ultimate solution.
"Is it the right thing to do now? I think so," Furyk said. "I think we need to help our sponsors. I think we're in an economic situation where we want to try to make sure that everyone is happy that our partners are with us so they feel like they're getting a value for their dollar.
"But we are also spread a little bit thin. ... You can only play in so many events. If I go and play in one of those other events that maybe is on the list, I'm not adding events to my schedule. So if I do that, I'm taking away from another event."
While this scenario could cause consternation for many players, it will be the choices of a chosen few which are dissected and analyzed, celebrated and criticized.
It is because of this that should such a law be enacted, it could hardly cause a ripple on the PGA Tour, save for one or two more events being played by one or two more superstar competitors.
"Everybody seems to refer to this as a Tiger and Phil issue; it's really not," said PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem, who intimated that details of the plan wouldn't be ironed out for a few months. "It's really about having a representative number of top players week in and week out."
That's some solid commish-speak, but the simple fact is, not many other guys can move the needle. Let's face it: Nobody is buying tickets to watch Scott Verplank. No one is clamoring for more Tim Clark. No offense to either player -- each of whom is ranked in the top 50 on both the OWGR and the FedEx points list -- but if this rule is being built to showcase the big names at more venues, it might as well be referred to as the Tiger-Phil Formula.
And so what we may find one or two years down the road -- if and when the designated tournament rule is invoked -- are PGA Tour fields at struggling events that look very much the same as they do right now. After all, if Tiger Woods is able to designate a tournament such as the AT&T National, well, then really nothing has changed at all.
Jason Sobel is a golf writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn.com.
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