Golf Editorial

PGA Tour & Global Tour Strategy

Is the PGA Tour veering off the rails? I believe it is.

Over the course of recent years, and during the past year or two in particular, the PGA Tour has made some landmark changes; I can’t think of one that’s a positive!

I believe these changes are designed to try and combat issues of: player power, player drift, americans switching to football on tv from August each year for a few months and issues created by asian economic growth; I believe the PGA Tour is doomed to failure on all fronts.

I also believe these changes will drive a lot of the mid-range and up-and-coming North, Central & South American golfing talent to other continents.

This article discusses the PGA Tour changes to which I refer and then goes on to speculate on the new world order that I predict will evolve at the upper levels of professional golf.

The Fedex Cup

This bloated travesty has been around since 2007 so is not exactly a recent development but I wanted to rant about it in a context of insane decision-making and out-of-sync thinking by the PGA Tour.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m certain that recent undeserving winners such as Haas or Snedeker enjoyed that $10m payoff at season’s end and nobody has a problem with adding some extra spice to a season end.

But to grossly over-reward a guy for a couple of great weeks’ play is obscene. The $10m is nearly ten times the amount earned for winning a regular Tour event and there’s far less competition for victory in the FEC playoff events.

Besides all of that, the FEC is manifestly unfair. As often as not, it simply produces the ‘wrong’ winner via a flawed system of points allocation.

Additionally, in its undignified push to serve its overly-generous sponsor (surely Fedex could have secured this for $3m pa) the PGA Tour has gone completely over the top in promoting the FEC – to the irritation of its site users.

For example, how much interest does the average PGA Tour website user have in live Fedex Cup standings while reading leaderboards during: January, February, March ….… when we all know that most years the FC will be decided, because of its bizarrely skewed points system, during the final tournament or two in September?

A bizarrely skewed points system, incidentally, that saw Rory McIlroy discover that a 2012 season containing: a Honda Classic victory, a resounding PGA Championship and two consecutive FEC playoff tournament wins wasn’t good enough to beat Snedeker, a two-time winner with no Majors, to the $10m FCup title!

Skewed? You betcha!

Changing Away from a Calendar Year Season

This is just a tiny issue in the broader scheme of things, but nonetheless a symptom of out-of-sync decision-making.

All professional golf tours, including the PGA Tour up to 2012, run each season over a calendar year. It makes logical sense to do so.

Those tours that didn’t always do so (eg Sunshine Tour) have fallen into line in recent years, because it makes sense. A tournament played in 2014 belongs to the 2014 season; simple and clean.

The change the PGA Tour has made means a 2014 event could belong to either the 2013/2014 or the 2014/2015 schedule. Dumb!

Is the PGA Tour right and all other pro golf tours wrong in this regard?

Cancelling Qualifying School

This annual, time-honoured, and dramatic event is now gone. Crazy!

Gone is the opportunity for a highly promising young player fresh out of college, such as Rickie Fowler or Dustin Johnson, to enter and play through the QSchool stages all the way to a PGA Tour card on the first attempt. Both did, by the way.

Further, Dustin Johnson instantly developed into a PGA Tour star (some would claim Rickie did too though early on he was more style than substance) and won in each of his first 5 seasons; only Tiger had previously achieved that. Who knows how things might have turned out for Dustin or Rickie, or a hundred others, had that QSchool opportunity not existed?

Also now gone is the opportunity for a guy who loses his card to win it straight back. Hunter Mahan was forced back to QSchool after a struggling 2nd year on tour in 2005. He then immediately re-qualified, via the 2005 QSchool, and has never looked back, going on to be today one of the PGA Tour’s and the world’s premier players.

As an interesting sidebar to Mahan’s experience, many other notables also secured their PGA Tour cards in that same 2005 QSchool tournament: Bill Haas, Nick Watney, Alex Cejka, JB Holmes, DA Points, Tom Byrum, Robert Garrigus & Jeff Overton among others. Quite the honour roll.

Who knows how many of them might have been lost to us if they’d been forced into the mire of the secondary tour – as is automatically going to happen to demoted players henceforth with the removal of the QSchool.

Most tours in the world have annual qualifying schools. I guess the PGA Tour must be right and all the other golf tours have got it wrong in this regard? Nah!

Annexing the Canadian Tour

Firstly, why bother? If the CanTour is failing owing to a lack of: players, sponsors or spectators that’s unlikely to change under a new manager unless that manager plonks a lot more funding on the table. No sign of that so far.

Or was this a case of giving some financial and logistical support to struggling little brother and then compounding a bad charitable decision by going on with it?

Or was it about shoring up the northern border? Surely nobody was interested in a CanTour takeover; why would they be? And, besides, any such takeover wouldn’t make a difference to the broader world of professional golf.

Nor has recent PGA Tour-generated Canadian Tour publicity caused me to feel any more positive about their presence. In fact, I’ve found their publicity thus far to be insulting to my intelligence, and thus irritating. Here’s why.

Firstly, it’s been variously reported that there will be seven and eight tournaments in 2013 under the new regime. Well, yeeee haaaa, so what? In 2012 under CanTour’s stewardship there were 8 tournaments. In 2011 there were 8 tournaments. In 2010 there were 8 tournaments. ‘Nuff said!

Secondly, the PGA Tour management, in typically unfathomable fashion, is releasing information piecemeal about the 2013 CanTour schedule. Some overpaid, MBA-brandishing, marketing whizzkid must have convinced them that eight miniscule pieces of Canadian tournament news would have greater impact than one big announcement. Opinions vary on that tactic.

Besides, if the whizzkid’s logic held good, it’d surely have announced the 2013 PGA, WebDotCom & Latinoamerica Tour schedules in the same piecemeal manner. It didn’t, so why accept whizzkid’s logic just for Canada? Unfathomable, isn’t it?

Thirdly, two of these announcements related to Canadian cities “chosen to host tournaments in 2013” under the new PGA Tour regime. Wow, chosen cities; they must feel so special. One such city is Saskatoon for the Dakota Dunes Open; the other is Winnipeg for The Players Cup. It was also announced that “lucrative $150,000 purses will be available.” Special cities? Lucrative purses? Well, no, not really.

To find out just how special and how lucrative, I checked to see how much of a change this is under the PGA Tour’s new management regime. In 2012, Saskatoon & Winnipeg hosted these tournaments and the purses were $150,000. Oh, same venues and same prizemoney? In 2011, 2010, 2009 & 2008 Saskatoon & Winnipeg also hosted these exact same tournaments, and with similar prizemoney!

See what I mean about insulting people’s intelligence and irritation?

That leads me to wonder just how many of the 8 events to be announced (piecemeal, of course) on the ‘new’ PGA Tour-enhanced 2013 Cantour will be the same 8 events held by the ‘old’ 2012 CanTour? If I were a cynic, I’d say all of them!

And what of the two hundred or so players duking it out on this tour? What is the quality of their opportunity under the new regime? We already know there won’t be more prizemoney or more tournaments.

Well, the top five players at season’s end will receive playing privileges on the Web.com Tour, while the next five will be exempt into the finals of the Web.com Tour qualifying school. Yes, playing privileges at the next level for five guys. Doesn’t sound like much of a change to me.

2.5% of the players will earn the opportunity to go and play in $600,000 WebDotCom events. The remaining 97.5% may return to grind it out again in 2014 for these small purses. Or will the talented ones look further afield for opportunity? Or will the PGA Tour find out, as CanTour did, how tough it is to make a profit on Canadian golf and simply shut the tour down after a few struggling years?

PGA Latinoamerica

This was another interesting takeover / branding decision by the PGA Tour in recent times.

Was it defensive or offensive? A true takeover or just shoring up the southern border? Well to be honest, it won’t make any difference to the world of professional golf because, as in Canada, it seems little will change for the players.

The first (2012) iteration of the PGA Latinoamerica consisted of a half-year with 11 tournaments, mostly with purses of $125,000; a couple were at $150,000. Small potatoes indeed! The fifth-ranked mens Asian tour, the Asean PGA Tour, hosts $USD100,000 & $150,000 tournaments and almost all the players in their tournaments have zero OWGR points (ie they rank lower than #1,500 globally)!

The recently announced 2013 Latinoamerica full-year schedule is naturally larger, with 13 tournaments plus two possibles, and offering those same Canadian-style $150,000 purses. Among the 13 named tournaments only 10 so far have set venues.

Anyway, enough griping about doubtful events, absence of tournament venues and piddling prizemoney! What’s really changed here for the players? Well, to be honest, not a lot.

This PGA Latinoamerica grew out of the Tour de las Americas (TDLA) which in its final full year, 2011, offered 17 tournaments with prizemoney ranging from $40,000 – $160,000; eight over the $100,000 level.

In 2010 there were 15 events so it seems, unlike CanTour, that the TDLA was on a growth path.

One thing that has changed, however, is that the PGA Tour has doubly massacred an established TDLA tournament, the Roberto de Vicenzo Invitational.

Firstly, in 2012, it eliminated the popular pro-am component – limiting it to just professionals. Secondly, and this the greater sin, the PGA Tour has taken an Argentine tournament, traditionally played in Buenos Aires & named in honour of Argentina’s greatest golfer and elder golf statesman, and for 2013 relocated it to Uruguay! Yes, to a different country! Jeez, how’s that resonating in Argentina?

I wonder whether the venerable Roberto will be there in Montevideo to present (in accordance with tradition) the 2013 trophy named after him? If I were him I’d stay at home and tell the PGA Tour where to stick it!

As with CanTour, the top 5 ‘latinos’ at year’s end will receive playing privileges on the Web.com Tour. Well, yeee haaa to that too! It’s not quite an expanding horizon of player opportunity, is it? So, will the talented ones look further afield for opportunities to earn their livelihoods?

What now Exists in The Americas?

What now exists is PGA Tour control over three tiers of pro golf in the Americas from top to bottom, represented by one main tour (PGA), one secondary feeder tour (WebDotCom) and two tertiary feeder tours (CanTour & Latinoamerica).

This structure makes a lot of sense at first glance, although for all players resident in the USA it means they will need to travel to play in Canada or South & Central America in order to enter the system or else content themselves with playing lesser feeder tours (eg Adams), for smaller purses, in the USA and gamble their future livelihoods on the WebDotCom Tour QSchool! That latter strategy is a career crapshoot.

For those US players who undertake all that expensive and tiring travel to play Canada or Latino for a season or five, only a maximum of ten will automatically climb from tertiary obscurity to secondary semi-obscurity each year. The other five hundred players on these two tertiary tours will have earned between zero and $40,000 (before tax) and thus the vast majority cannot go close to recouping their expenses.

Getting from the secondary to the top tour will in future rely on a top25 on the WebDotCom money list (as is the case now) plus, instead of QSchool, the top 25 money earners from the WebDotCom Finals – a new contrivance of season-ending tournaments. Ridiculous!

Who decreed that golf had to try and structure itself like ice hockey or baseball? Those sports don’t play their Major events during the regular season! Golf does! In golf, we know who the best are LONG before season’s end, and therein lies the stupidity of the PGA Tour trying to create ‘playoff excitement’. We fans get excited every week and especially for Majors; we don’t need playoffs!

Does the PGA Tour truly believe that Rory or Tiger are going to be more motivated during the Barclays/Deutsche/BMW/Tour Championship than during The Masters/US Open/Open Championship/PGA?

The PGA Tour is absolutely kidding itself here on two fronts:

  • While manufacturing what it thinks is end-of-season excitement, it has ditched one of the most exciting and pressure-filled end-of-year events – Qschool and;
  • Its attempts to force all players from throughout the americas into its new system runs the risk of many of them simply not bothering and voting with their feet because the purses and opportunities are too limited.

What does all this mean? I contend it means tiers and tears!

Tiers with such narrow pathways between them that will make it impossible to satisfy the career paths or financial needs of some quality players and thus make it impossible to retain or satisfy them under the PGA Tour’s new broad-reaching aegis. This means little now but is a future threat if they choose to develop elsewhere!

And tears for the 98%, struggling to survive on their share of small purses! There’s nothing new about that type of struggle for a pro golfer, but the paucity of purses and narrowness of opportunity under the ‘new order’ must be extremely depressing to many.

Is there anything these players can do about their depression? Well yes there is, and they are already beginning to do so; the solution to their woes appears to lie in Asia, sometimes Europe.

Asia

A quick look at Asia, in this context of constricted all-of-the-americas’ prizemoney and career development opportunities, is illuminating.

The Asian Tour has a staged qualifying schedule, similar to the one the PGA Tour has just ditched. At the end of it, 40 Asian Tour cards are handed out. That is an exciting and empowering opportunity just like the PGA Tour used to make available every year. A chance to dream, then to actually live the dream just like Dustin Johnson & Rickie Fowler did.

And the smallest purse on the Asian Tour is $USD300,000, double the best Latino or Canadian purse. The Asian Tour offers 32 tournaments too, albeit a few co-sanctioned with others and thus tougher in which to gain entry. More on this co-sanctioning crap later.

It gets better though. Players can now play the OneAsia Tour as well as the Asian Tour, with access via a QSchool. The OneAsia schedule has already grown quite impressively from an initial five tournaments in 2009 to ten in 2012 and with every tournament now carrying a purse of at least $USD1million.

And get this! Owing to what OneAsia refers to as unprecedented demand, one of its two second stage QSchool tournaments is to be played in California on Jan29 – Feb1 2013. Yes, an asian tour QSchool in the USA!

It seems the future may already be here, Mr PGA Tour, thumbing its asian nose at you in your own backyard! Could this asian first on US soil be a by-product of the PGA Tour’s recently announced changes, and especially its elimination of QSchool? I believe it could.

To extend the Asian theme a bit, the Japan Mens tour has a similar QSchool process to the Asian tour and thus not dissimilar to the one the PGA Tour has just canned. The JGTO offers 25 tournaments annually from April to November and the smallest purse is $USD1.3million. Not small potatoes!

I could go on and postulate about what might happen should China ever resolve to get itself its own pro tour, however I believe my point is already made.

Where is all This Leading?

Firstly, the existing trend of professional golf tournament expansion in Asia looks likely to continue, driven by high $$$ purses that make the money on the secondary and tertiary tours in Europe & the Americas look like pocket change. This certainly is opportunity!

Secondly, it’s only a matter of time and confidence before Asia reclaims ownership of its own flagship tournaments, such as: Singapore Open, Hong Kong Open, HSBC Champions, Avantha Masters, Malaysian Open, CIMB Classic, China Open, Ballantines Championship, BMW Masters, etc.

A by-product of reclaimed asian tournament ownership will be that the co-sanctioning chicanery and sleight of hand that has enabled the European Tour to expand its Asian footprint so rapidly will be reversed and it’ll be forced to revert to trying to raise sufficient sponsorship money within the Eurozone in order to host just 15-20 European tournaments annually.

Thirdly, pressure will grow to have a golf Major played in Asia, especially in China. I’m predicting it will be an extra Major as it’s impossible to contemplate any of the existing four being successfully exported. Play The Masters at Mission Hills or switch the Open Championship from St Andrews to Sentosa? I don’t think so!

Adding an extra Major has just happened in the Ladies professional game, with The Evian taking on Major status from 2013. If the Ladies game can justify five Majors then the Men’s game, with twice as many active professionals, can surely support up to ten?

Fourthly, financial pressure will continue to be brought to bear on the biggest tours (PGA & European) via the ever more frequent absence of marquee players with their media, sponsor and spectator influence. How many extra people attend, or watch on tv, if it’s Tiger v Rory instead of Beljan v Every.

For example, eight of the world’s best players recently thumbed their noses at their own tours, which both had tournaments on that week, to play ‘exhibition’ golf in Turkey where you received $300,000 for coming last! Rory McIlroy recently skipped a WGC event. The best players no longer bother to turn up for the PGA Tour’s annual Tournament of Champions event. And so it goes on; player power rules!

I therefore believe the game’s bigger tour organisations, instead of persevering with the quaint WGC concept need to instead support the addition of 5-6 Majors, played outside the USA & Europe (perhaps three or four in Asia and one each in South Africa & the Middle East?) which could form part of a co-operative world tour, properly uniting the members of the IFPGAT (which sanctions the WGC events) to ensure their own survivals, maximise overall revenues and perhaps jointly showcase up to 20 shared tournaments – at the vast majority of which all the best players would simply have to play. The type of assault on player power of which individual tours are incapable.

The massive money thus generated, far more $$$ than the splintered outcomes of the current in-fighting scenario, would be sufficient to fund a global structure of lesser tours that would offer greater breadth of opportunity and income to the rest of the professional game.

Global wealth has been undergoing a dramatic geo-transfer in recent times – a wealth transfer from west to east; from the USA & Europe to China, Korea, Taiwan & India. It’s one of the most significant economic changes in all of recorded history and it’s seemingly unstoppable.

The realities of that wealth shift are, naturally, beginning to be reflected in the game of professional golf and organisations such as the PGA or European Tours, irrespective of how long they think their current broadcasting revenues or major sponsor support might hold up, may be incapable of successfully warding it off. Further, a continuation of the ‘offshore’ expansion of the European Tour, and now the PGA Tour with its CIMB Classic in Malaysia, into Asia will ultimately provoke a fight with the tiger; a fight the ‘west’ could lose.

How many people in the USA? 310million?

How many people in Europe? 750 million?

How many people in Asia? 4 billion? (China 1.4billion?)

Do the maths in the context of the size of Asia’s emergent middle class, its quantum of disposable income and its cable/satellite tv revenues. A sponsor or broadcaster’s wet dream!

So, as the old adage goes, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

Global Golf Tour, here we come?

 

Copyright MJ Miller (Mike) 31 December 2012