Anyone for round-trip airfare?

Originally Published: September 22, 2004
By Bob Harig | Special to ESPN.com

This week's 84 Lumber Classic of Pennsylvania is in golf's dead zone, a time when tournaments on the PGA Tour scramble to find relevance.

It isn't enough anymore to put up a $5-million purse and expect everyone to show up. And when you follow the Ryder Cup and precede the American Express Championship in Ireland ... well, what are you supposed to do?

How about come up with one of the all-time perks ever offered on the PGA Tour?

This is a deal that is extraordinary, even for people who supposedly don't have to worry about money and transportation.

Any player who competes at this week's tournament in remote Farmington, Pa., and is also eligible for next week's World Golf Championship event will receive round-trip airfare.

Where they're playing

This week:
84 Lumber Classic
Site:
Farmington, Pa.
Course:
Nemacolin Woodlands Resort (7,032 yards, par 72).
Purse:
$4.2 million (Winner: $756,000)
Television:
Thursday: 3:30-6 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Friday: 3:50-6 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Saturday: 3:30-5:30 p.m ET (ESPN)
Sunday: 3-6 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Defending champ:
J.L. Lewis


This week:
Long's Drug Challenge
Site:
Auburn, Calif.
Course:
The Ridge Golf Course (6,235 yards, par 71).
Purse:

$1 million
Television:
Thursday: 2:30-5 p.m. ET (TGC)
Friday: 10-11:59 p.m. ET (TGC)
Saturday: 10-11:59 p.m. ET (TGC)
Sunday: 11 p.m.-1 a.m. ET (TGC)
Defending champ:
Helen Alfredsson


This week:
SAS Championship
Site:
Cary, N.C.
Courses:
Prestonwood CC (7,137 yards, par 72).
Purse:
$1.8 million (Winner: $270,000)
Television:
Friday: 1:30-4 p.m. ET (TGC)
Saturday: 1:30-4 p.m. ET (TGC)
Sunday: 1:30-4 p.m. ET (TGC)
Defending champ:
D.A. Weibring


This week:
The Heritage
Site:
Milton Keynes, England
Course:
Woburn G&CC (6,979 yards, par 72).
Purse:
$2.45 million (Winner: $407,816)
Television:
Thursday: 9 a.m.-12 p.m. ET (TGC)
Friday: 9 a.m.-12 p.m. ET (TGC)
Saturday: 9 a.m.-12 p.m. ET (TGC)
Sunday: 9 a.m.-12 p.m. ET (TGC)
Defending champ:
Inaugural event


This week:
Boise Open
Site:
Boise, Idaho
Course:
Hillcrest Country Club (6,685 yards, par 71).
Purse:
$600,000 (Winner: $108,000)
Television:
Thursday: 5-7:30 p.m. ET (TGC)
Friday: 5-7:30 p.m. ET (TGC)
Saturday: 5-7:30 p.m. ET (TGC)
Sunday: 5-7:30 p.m. ET (TGC)
Defending champ:
Roger Tambellini

But there's more: The tournament is chartering a 747 that is specially configured with all first-class seating and full catering. Players can bring their spouse, nanny, caddie and children. If they don't bring their children, they can invite three guests.

It made David Toms take notice. The 2001 PGA champion who played in the Ryder Cup last week is one of three U.S. team members who decided to play in Pennsylvania because of the perk. He said a $40,000 value was too good to pass up.

And it helps explain how a tournament that got just one of the top 21 money winners last year now has 19 of the top 30. And that's after Tiger Woods and Kenny Perry withdrew.

"We're looking at dealing with a challenging date for our tournament,'' said 84 Lumber Classic tournament director Eric Mehl. "Those two events on either side of us dominate the landscape for the top players. We wanted to put together a program that the tour approved and fell within the rules. ... The players thought it was a good idea.''

Good idea? You bet. First-class round-trip airfare for six people? Mehl would not disclose how much it would cost to charter the plane, but it must be considerably more than the standard fare of free tickets to sporting events and complimentary meals that tournaments typically shower upon players.

"We did look at taking up our purse and what would be more effective,'' Mehl said of the $4.2-million purse. "We thought it would be more effective to do this program.''

The only problem with the tour approving such a deal is it ramps up the pressure on other events to something similar. Simple math says PGA Tour players cannot play every event.

There are 43 weeks of official tournament golf. Aside from the majors, World Golf Championships, the Players Championship and the Tour Championship, the top players are left with numerous choices for a few spots in their schedules.

The 84 Lumber offer comes dangerously close to an appearance fee, which the PGA Tour does not permit. But the tour signed off on the arrangement, perhaps knowing that one of its own would be better served.

Five Things To Bank On

1.
Tiger Woods skipping the 84 Lumber Classic after committing last week will still be the talk of the week. Now you know why Woods typically waits until the last minute to commit to any tournament, even ones everybody knows he will play. If he decides to pull out -- which is his right -- he gets hammered unlike anyone else.

2.
Vijay Singh never slows down, and this week will be no different. With seven victories, he still has plenty to play for. A second-place finish will clinch a second straight PGA Tour money title, assuming Singh plays next week and at the Tour Championship, where the guaranteed money he is to receive will make it impossible for him to be caught.

3.
Whoever wins the 84 Lumber Classic is going to have to go low. Way low. Last year, J.L. Lewis shot all four rounds in the 60s, including a final-round 62.

4.
Mike Weir will come back strong. After a week to mull his excruciating playoff defeat to Singh at the Canadian Open, Weir should be back in top form.

5.
The Champions Tour will have a mad fight to the finish for those hoping to be among the top 30 and qualify for the season-ending Charles Schwab (Tour Championship). Amazingly, Jay Haas holds the 30th position on the money list despite playing in just three Champions Tour events. Imagine what he would have done had he played a full schedule.


QUICK TAKE
Ryder Cup
Ryder Cup
Playing tough with Tiger didn't work at the Ryder Cup, so now the PGA of America needs to go in another direction when selecting its next United States captain. Hal Sutton tried to inspire Tiger Woods to Ryder Cup greatness with a challenge to be like Jack Nicklaus. Woods didn't respond, and so a new approach is necessary.

Pick somebody who lets Tiger do it his way. Pick someone who consults Woods and asks his opinion on partners and makes him part of the process. Heck, let Woods pick the two at-large selections. Anything to get him on board.

To be fair, Woods didn't play poorly last week at Oakland Hills during the 18 to 9 loss to the Europeans. But the U.S. needs him fully committed to the challenge when the Ryder Cup goes to Ireland.

That means a captain such as Mark O'Meara, Woods' best friend on tour, or maybe even Fred Couples, a laid-back person who would no doubt defer to Tiger. Other players respect Woods and might even fall in line if he shows more of a passion for the matches. Perhaps it would trickle down.

What does the U.S. have to lose?

MAILBAG: ASK BOB HARIG
Bob HarigGot a question about the PGA Tour? Ask ESPN.com golf writer Bob Harig, who will answer your inquiries in each installment of This Week in Golf.

Q. I always wondered why the Australians seem to be one of the closest threats to American golf supremacy despite their much smaller population. With players like Adam Scott, Mark Hensby, Stuart Appleby and Robert Allenby, they seem to be on the rise. I think it would be interesting to see a four-way Ryder Cup-type tournament with teams from U.S., Australia, Europe and the rest of the world. Do you think it will happen?
Adam
Montreal

A. In a word, no. There is already an avenue to include Australians as part of the International team in the Presidents Cup. The Ryder Cup format of Europe vs. the United States won't change, not even the idea of having the winner take on the International squad. The golf organization would never go for anything that didn't include a United States squad.

Q. Much has been written about Tiger Woods' golf game. Why is the media so caught up in his relationship with his fiancee, Elin Nordegren? I don't recall this kind of attention given to other players when it involves their personal life.
Ike
Midland, Mich.

A. It has to do with Woods' stature in the game and the way in which he dominated. Every aspect of his game and life is dissected unlike other players. It might seem unfair, but the huge endorsement contracts, the television ratings he produces, the attention he brings to the sport mean that Woods will endure such scrutiny. It is the price of fame. His relationship with Nordegren and pending marriage might have nothing to do with how he performs on the course. Or everything.

Q. How are handicaps calculated?
David Aberdeen
Maryland

A. In simple terms, a handicap is calculated by taking your last 20 verified scores, throwing out the 10 highest, then coming up with an average score among the remaining 10. If those scores were shot at different courses, they are adjusted based on the slope rating or course rating for the particular layout. A handicap is then determined, and it is approximately that number of strokes you shoot over par. In other words, a 12-handicap golfer typically shoots around 84 on a par-72 course. Determining handicaps is a bit more complicated than this, but that's the basic premise.

Q. If you're on the putting green, address the ball, begin your stroke and either, in the backswing or forward swing, hit the putting surface with the putter before the putter strikes the ball, is that a penalty? If so, how many strokes?
Abe
Placentia, Calif.

A. No, there is no penalty, unless you didn't mean to hit the ball, perhaps while taking a practice stroke. If you hit the ground before putting the ball, it is sort of like hitting too far behind the ball on a regular shot.


Bob Harig covers golf for the St. Petersburg Times and is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at harig@sptimes.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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