With 2010 status quo, 2011 up in the air

Originally Published: November 3, 2009
ESPN.com

The schedule for the 2010 PGA Tour season was released Tuesday, and the winding road for next year now includes a clear path.

So how will that road take shape for subsequent seasons? Which events will still be in existence in 2011? Might the FedEx Cup schedule get moved up so as not to compete with football? Or maybe the PGA Tour should invoke a 1-in-4 rule like the LPGA's?

ESPN.com golf writers Jason Sobel and Bob Harig discuss all that and more in their e-mail chat, Alternate Shot.

FROM: Jason Sobel More

TO: Bob Harig

Well, the PGA Tour unveiled its 2010 schedule on Tuesday, and perhaps the biggest surprise is … that there aren't many surprises. Sure, there are a handful of tournaments that have switched dates, four that will be played at a different venue and one new event added to the calendar -- The Greenbrier Classic, which we've known about for months -- but on the whole, it looks eerily similar to this year's lineup that is just now being concluded. And that should be considered a good thing.

As commissioner Tim Finchem said, "Despite difficult economic times, we once again have a full slate of events and look forward to yet another exciting season."

Quite frankly, there was nowhere to go but down, so keeping the status quo should be considered a victory for those at Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., headquarters.

FROM: Bob Harig More

TO: Jason Sobel

No question, with all the negativity in the sports sponsorship world, to have a full schedule of events is a welcome relief for the tour. If you want to quibble, the Memphis tournament does not have a title sponsor -- because of the Stanford Financial mess -- and one of the Fall Series events has moved into the FedEx Cup portion of the schedule, leaving a potential hole at the end of the year when those fighting for jobs need the starts.

And this is not to say that the tour won't face some issues as a slew of tournaments see their contracts ending in 2010. But all in all, PGA Tour players are fortunate. I guess if I'm surprised by anything, it is that the tour elected to leave the FedEx Cup playoff events as is. With all the talk this year about worn-out players, I thought that might be addressed.

FROM: Jason Sobel More

TO: Bob Harig

Boo-hoo. The players can talk all they want about being worn-out at season's end, but as you said, they are fortunate to be in the position that the PGA Tour can still put together a full schedule of U.S.-based events.

Ask some of the LPGA members whether they would trade further time away from home for 15-20 more events and much larger purses and you might see a few sprained necks from so much nodding in unison. I'll put it this way: If having to play, say, seven tournaments in an eight-week stretch is the most bedeviling issue in your professional career, then things are going pretty well.

The truth is, one reason behind the implementation of the FedEx Cup playoff format is that it gives the schedule a true conclusion and doesn't lose too many fans to football season. Yet some of the biggest events are still opposite football weekends in September. I still think packing more tourneys into fewer weeks and finishing on Labor Day weekend would give the tour more of a spotlight in the sports landscape.

Perhaps that will come in 2011, when -- as you alluded to -- we could see myriad changes with so many sponsorship contracts expiring.

FROM: Bob Harig More

TO: Jason Sobel

For I don't know how long, I've been saying that the tour has too many "good" events. By that I mean, must-play, big-purse or non-cut tournaments that attract all the big guns and leave a lot of tournaments to pick up the scraps. And that end-of-the-season stretch would be better served if -- as you say -- they ended it Labor Day weekend right before the NFL kicks off.

Not sure, exactly, how you do that. You'd have to have fewer playoff events, obviously. But then perhaps you could have more "Fall Series" events on the back end, and maybe some of the big names play more early in the year. It's possible the tour could be forced into this through attrition, but the bet here is that the tour will do everything to maintain the status quo.

Still, if you had to guess, where could the tour be scrambling to fill holes in 2011?

FROM: Jason Sobel More

TO: Bob Harig

Whoa. Slow down, dude. You've tried to explain this theory to me in the past, but I'm still not buying it.

So the PGA Tour has too many tournaments in which the big names partake and not enough Fall Finish events? You're kidding, right? Did Tiger and Phil put you up to this?

Personally, I wish the tour would strive to make every single week on the calendar a "must-play" event for the big boys. Yes, it would make things tougher on the rank-and-file players who would lose opportunities to reach more fields, but I've got a terrific little piece of advice for anyone bellyaching about not being able to compete more often: Play better.

Of course, any rebuilt schedule will have to work around the four major championships, each of which is governed by a different organization, none of which is the PGA Tour. Forget about moving the Masters, U.S. Open, British Open or PGA Championship to a new date. That doesn't allow for too much creativity within the schedule. Maybe, though, the tour can capitalize on the fact that more players want to compete in the weeks going into the big ones.

For example, the Houston Open, played before the Masters, has received a strong international field the past few years. Unlike you, apparently, I'd love to see the game's top players duking it out for weeks at a time, rather than once or twice per month in the heart of the season.

FROM: Bob Harig More

TO: Jason Sobel

No, you misunderstand!

Of course it's great to see these guys play in the same tournaments. But they are always the same tournaments -- four majors, three WGCs, Players, FedEx Cup events. It leaves the Honda Classics and Zurich Classics -- which pay big sponsorship prices, too -- looking inferior.

If you shortened the end of the schedule, perhaps some of these guys would play more earlier. Tiger admitted that knowing he was going to be playing seven of the last nine weeks caused him to play less earlier in the year. Regardless of whether we think they should be able to suck it up for that stretch, they obviously feel it is a burden.

I'd simply like to see the wealth spread around, and that is very hard to do in golf. And it is made worse by the fact that some of these guys don't buy into competing in golf's season opener, another sore spot.

FROM: Jason Sobel More

TO: Bob Harig

Don't be so naive, Bob. Would it be nice for a guy like Woods to give back to the New Orleans community by playing the Zurich Classic one year? Absolutely … but if he didn't do it after Hurricane Katrina, he's not going to do it now.

And I don't mean to single out Tiger. You're right, many of the game's top players skip the same events every year. Of course, as independent contractors, that's well within their rights. I'd love to see the PGA Tour's policy board implement a rule similar to that of the LPGA, which states that players must compete at each tour stop at least once every four years, but how do they police such a policy?

What I mean by that is, if a certain player decides to forgo an event four years straight, what would be an appropriate punishment? It would have to be either a significant fine or loss of playing privileges -- and I don't know whether Finchem and the gang want to go down that road.

After all, the tour needs the Tigers and Phils of the world more than they need the tour. Any top player could give up his membership and still be able to fill his dance card for the year. They've got to be very careful about alienating their biggest meal tickets.

FROM: Bob Harig More

TO: Jason Sobel

No question, that is why mandating players compete at certain tournaments would be a tough deal. To whom does it really apply? A handful of players. But who would be required to do it? The top 50? The top 100? It's not manageable.

No, the way to spread the wealth is to put more tournaments on an even playing field. Scrap the no-cut events. Chances are nobody is going to skip a WGC event, but maybe they would if it were not set apart so much from the rank-and-file tournament down the road. This is pie-in-the-sky stuff I'm advocating, but there is no tour without the regular ol' tour stops, and they seem to get shafted a bit too often.

And in this climate, the chances of losing some of them are even more pronounced.

FROM: Jason Sobel More

TO: Bob Harig

If nothing else, I can at least agree with you on that last point.

I have a feeling that 12 months from now, we will be analyzing a PGA Tour schedule for the next season that is vastly altered from the one that currently exists. It will be interesting to see which title sponsors remain on board, which ones bail and whether certain events can withstand the turmoil.

As for 2010, though, well, I'm just glad I got through this entire exchange without poking fun at the new name for the longtime Torrey Pines-based event, now called the Century Club of San Diego Invitational. Century Club? That sounds like something the fans partake in at the FBR Open … which incidentally will still be called the FBR Open next year.

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