Finchem’s Brave New World
Without Tiger, PGA Tour begins 2009 season in need of a personality infusion
Seems like the PGA Tour season concluded just a few weeks ago. And, in fact, it did. In all truth, it never fully ends.
In December, we had the final stage of Q school, with St. Louisan Jay Williamson successfully punching his ticket for 2009. I’ve seen parts of Tiger’s own Chevron World Challenge and Wendy’s 3-Tour Challenge in California, the ADT Skills Challenge in Florida, and the South African Open. Some was actually quite entertaining. But I watched with a sense of longing … for something much more than the silly season could offer.
Now, the 2009 season officially opens in Hawaii with the limited-field Mercedes Benz Championship, restricted to tour winners during the 2008 season. To be honest, the star of the event may be the beautiful views of the Maui coastline and the Pacific Ocean. The field – sans Tiger Woods as well as Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia and Jim Furyk – is underwhelming.
Now word comes that two other prominent golfers – Vijay Singh and Adam Scott – will have their seasons impacted by knee problems. Singh plans to have surgery immediately following the Mercedes Benz Championship while Scott is said to be at less than full strength because of a recent knee injury. With Tiger’s return still a couple of months away, any additional losses are near catastrophic to the PGA Tour’s 2009 season.
Sports Illustrated writer Gary Van Sickle recently wrote that the Tour may have shot itself in the foot by being too Tiger-centric in recent years.
With so much focus on the game’s top player, other potential stars have been relegated to cameo roles. So when Tiger opts not to play (or in the current instance, is unable to play), the Tour has no where to turn.
Who could or would have argued with what Woods’ skill and charisma brought to the game over the past decade. As the Tiger phenomenon grew, purses grew exponentially. Granted, Tiger’s ability to drum up new sponsorship money for the tour made millionaires of guys who had never even sniffed a Tour victory. You won’t see them complaining … yet!
With the economy darting off line like one of my duck hooks, skittish sponsors are now sizing up marketing budgets longer and harder than Jim Furyk standing stalled over a five-foot par putt.
Which leads me back to my point? While we all want Tiger to return quickly from his recuperation from knee surgery, we need some other talented players to step forward and light a fire in the hearts of golf fans.
The Tour has seldom been deeper in terms of overall talent, but I can’t think of a time where there are so few really interesting personalities to follow. This current crop is largely stoic and methodical. No, make that boring and slow. We need some real characters who can flat play, look great and create some buzz for the game. We need some more Tiger Woods.
And we need them to play 30 times a year.
The PGA Tour has no shortage of swing coaches, fitness trainers and sports psychologists. What it needs are some PR guys to help inject life into these guys. These pros need to: 1) pick up the pace and 2) show some spunk out there. If we wanted to watch the Bataan Death March, we’d flip on the History Channel.
Tiger is the world’s most recognizable athlete because he wins with panache. He is equal parts skill and sex appeal. He has the “it” factor that made Arnold Palmer “Arnie.” Only Mickelson can even remotely be called a charismatic champion. Jim Furyk, Ernie Els, Retief Goosen, Vijay Singh? Please.
In addition to securing sponsors, Finchem needs to cultivate a culture where its top players are among the most appealing athletes in sports. There are a few who may emerge. Here’s hoping they make it quickly.
Best Case Scenarios
Good vs. Evil. The game always benefits from a bitter rivalry. Palmer vs. Nicklaus was a great clash for a decade, with Nicklaus perceived as the bad guy for unseating the King. Any American vs. Seve also provided magic. Tiger and Phil are perfect, except neither plays all that much.
Class Clown with Game: Think Lee Trevino. Boo Weekley is our best current offering. While Rocco Mediate is a talker, he is not in the class of Trevino for skill or comedic effect. We may not see another Trevino for decades.
The Rogues: Doug Sanders, Jimmy Demaret, Walter Hagen, Tony Lema. We have guys who are successful with the ladies, but they are dull (see Adam Scott). Maybe Ricky Fowler (still in college) or Camilo Villegas can fill the role.
The Slashers: Greg Norman, Lanny Wadkins and Seve Ballesteros fit that profile. You couldn’t help but watch their style and daring on a golf course, even if it meant watching a train wreck occasionally. Mickelson qualifies, but let’s hope Anthony Kim or Camilo Villegas are ready to step in.