IMG not trying to 'circumvent regulations'
Any attempt by the PGA Tour to eliminate Monday outings in which players receive a fee "seems like a restriction of players earning income" and would likely be opposed by top tour members, Mark Steinberg, managing director of golf in the United States for International Management Group, said Tuesday in an exclusive interview with Golf World. Steinberg's remarks were the first by IMG since its proposed player price list for Monday outings was revealed by Golf World last week.
Four IMG clients -- Vijay Singh, Sergio Garcia, Retief Goosen and Padraig Harrington -- were paid by Ford to play in a Monday outing last week before the Ford Championship at Doral. All stayed to play in the tournament. Appearance fees are not allowed on the PGA Tour. Davis Love III, a player-member of the PGA Tour Policy Board, has suggested strengthening the regulation that now prohibits pay-for-play on Wednesday at a tournament site to include Monday and Tuesday as well.
"That was not pay-for-play," Steinberg said about the outing at Doral. "Ford was looking for a way to entertain its dealers and we provided it. The week of the tournament was a logical time when they were all together. Ford was a customer of ours and the dealers had a phenomenal time. It was a win-win-win for the Ford, its dealers and the players."
The matter of the Ford outing was further complicated when Golf World obtained a copy of a letter sent by IMG to some tournament directors offering to organize similar events. The letter contained a suggested price list for specific players and implied they would be likely to play in the regular tournament. Steinberg said the disclosure of the letter was "a vulgar breach of trust" and said it was not a solicitation by IMG but rather a response to a request by a client.
"The proposal that fell into the hands of the media and the PGA Tour was prepared for a specific company that we had been in talks with for months," Steinberg said. "IMG did not send out 48 letters soliciting proposals to tournament directors. That paper is a response."
What the letter did solicit was a response from the PGA Tour, which reiterated its opposition to appearance fees and contacted IMG about the matter. Steinberg described those talks as "amicable and professional." The issue will also come up next week at The Players Championship, which is held at PGA Tour headquarters. Tournament directors have asked that it be put on the agenda for their meeting with commissioner Tim Finchem, and tour officials said it will almost certainly come up when Finchem meets with the players. Last week, the tour's policy board -- which includes four players, as well as independent directors -- asked the tour to study the matter and offer possible plans of action.
Steinberg said the letter was the result of discussions with several companies that had approached IMG about organizing Monday outings the week of PGA Tour events. He said the companies were title sponsors of PGA Tour events.
"The purpose is not to circumvent PGA Tour regulations," Steinberg said. "It is a matter of what corporate America wants."
Steinberg said IMG organizes dozens of corporate outings annually, just not on the week of PGA Tour events and paid for by the tournament's title sponsor. The Ford outing and the letter offering to organize more was the most public display of something that has been going on in a variety of forms for years -- players paid to show up at PGA Tour events. The battle seems to be shaping up as a four-way event involving the PGA Tour, its players, its title sponsors and IMG. And it is a situation not likely to be resolved quickly or quietly.
Steinberg said the IMG letter obtained by Golf World was not a blanket proposal to every tournament.
"It was a response to months and months of verbal conversation we were having with a sponsor,'' he said. "That's what led to us responding to what the company wanted to see in writing. They wanted to see a price range."
Steinberg said it was never IMG's intention to represent those players, and he has spoken to their agents.
There might be some explaining to do for some of IMG's clients, particularly Ernie Els.
The South African, who regularly takes appearance money overseas, said he was angry to learn his name was on the price list without ever being contacted. Els was listed in the upper tier with Singh, Goosen and Garcia, where the rate was between $100,000 and $200,000.
"I made it very clear to IMG and to the tour here that I'm not for it," Els said. "I'm not standing for it. And for people to speak on my behalf without talking to me, I don't like that very much."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
Ron Sirak is the executive editor of Golf World magazine.