Are the late-season money races compelling?
Here are the facts: At 30th on the PGA Tour money list, Tim Clark holds a $97,598 advantage in the race for the final spot in the Tour Championship field. And at 125th on the money list, Brian Bateman is gingerly clutching full playing status for next season by $648.
Here is the debate: Do golf fans really care? Are the actions of a select few individual golfers who happen to find themselves on the bubble of some important rankings compelling to those without personal investment? Jason Sobel and Bob Harig argue those questions in this week's edition of Alternate Shot.
Professional golf has long been accused of boasting its rich-get-richer progressions. Unlike team sports, in which winners and losers are judged solely by their numbers in the win-loss columns, golfers' names are attached to a dollar sign by which they are ranked.
As such, it's difficult for most fans to conjure much ethos for multimillionaires seeking to add another zero to the bank account. This is understandable. However, supporters watch and cheer for players during tournaments because there is a certain drama provided. Call it the innate code of the sports fan: The more entertainment value provided, the greater a reaction to the product.
Though they may pale in comparison to pennant races and scoring titles in other sports, the PGA Tour owns no weekly drama more theatrical than its end-of-season chases to be included in the top 30, top 125 and top 150.
Until the tour stages its playoff-like format next season, the Tour Championship remains the league's Super Bowl, though it may only resemble an All-Star Game. Inclusion in the year-end event is prestigious in itself, and remains a benchmark for revealing which players have had the most successful campaigns.
But the real emotional cliffhangers come in the form of players trying to retain their full playing privileges for the next season. Consider it the PGA Tour's version of "The Apprentice" or "The Contender"; namely, contestants are competing to continue their employment. Sure, the player at 125th on the money list will earn roughly $700,000 by the end of this season, but ask any PGA Tour member and he'll say without hesitation that maintaining such status is of optimum importance to his career. After all, the player ranked No. 125 on the PGA Tour will still make about twice as much as they guy ranked No. 1 on the Nationwide circuit.
-- Jason Sobel
There is a big reason why the PGA Tour has dramatically altered its schedule in 2007: the end of the season does not excite anyone, including the players.
We're coming down to the last two full-field events of the season, ones that will determine who gets to the Tour Championship and who keeps their card for 2007.
The problem is, not enough people care.
Sure, those players who are grinding to finish among the top 125 care. This is life-and-death stuff for them, the difference between getting to play for millions of dollars or maybe not. Then again, it's tough to feel sorry for Brian Bateman, who is currently 125th and holding on for dear life. He has earned $645,000 this year. Everybody who fails to keep their job should be so lucky.
Then, of course, there are the myriad loopholes. Finishing outside of the top 125 doesn't not necessarily mean a trip to the unemployment line. Players who finish worse than 125th but better than 150th still have tour status. Or they could go back and play the Nationwide Tour, which still pays a pretty nice wage.
Then there is the battle for the top 30 and the money grab at the Tour Championship. All this does is present the opportunity to win more money. Sure, finishing top 30 gets a player in next year's U.S. Open, so that is big. But it doesn't appear to have fans sitting on the edge of their seats. And Mike Weir, who is 31st, is already in the U.S. Open.
Let's face it, the Tour Championship itself lacks drama. All of the major races are already determined, and this simply gives someone a chance to win one more tournament and bank a lot more money.
Next season promises to be different, with the FedEx Cup schedule and the season-ending playoff events that will lead to a $10 million bonus. It will be earlier and faster developing. Will the fans embrace it? Time will tell. But it has to be better than this.
-- Bob Harig