How to Improve the Golf Season

Phil Mickelson was defeated by Tiger Woods this past Sunday at the Ford Championship at Doral. The duel was arguably one of the best, and emotionally-charged, in years in the sport.

Tiger had the opportunity to become world number one again. Phil Mickelson had a chance to cap off three straight stroke play wins by defeating the greatest golfer of our generation ... and perhaps ever. Even outside of the spotlight, Accenture Match Play champ David Toms lurked and now-prior number one Vijay Singh made his presence felt.

The crowds at Doral were raucous and literally felt every shot. The television audience responded by giving the tournament its highest overnight rating in 15 years. It was already known that the formula to great golf ratings is having great players and great competition. Doral, this past week, made it painfully obvious, though, that this type of event has the potential to happen a whole lot more than it currently does on the PGA Tour.

With the pending television contract for the Tour in the process of development, there is an opportunity to make golf superstars more of a regular part of the Tour. Currently, among the top-five players in the world, only one has played more than 23 events in the past three seasons (Vijay Singh, duh). While that figure alone is not damaging to the Tour, it is when considering that the 11-month season spans nearly 48 events.

In essence, the best players in the world are in the field less than half the time. If you were to analyze the playing habits of most Tour elites closely, you would notice that they almost all cease playing after early September at the American Express. Labor Day marks the end of the competitive golf season. The remaining two months of the season are littered with meaningless events and then culminates with the Tour Championship. If the season for the world's best is only nine months long, why are we still playing golf into late fall?

The Tour season has to be shorter. It would promote better fields as a percentage of all tournaments played. Attendance could receive a significant increase as a result. Television ratings will surely increase and give the game better mainstream exposure. This happened when Tiger Woods first displayed dominance in the late-'90s. When he played, people watched. That is still true today. Ratings for Woods' tournament appearances are double-digits percentages higher than other events.

The difference is now that with the establishment of a host of formidable, and unique, opponents, Woods has real foes. Every great champion needs a nemesis and Tiger has four at present. The game is in a renaissance. The Tour should move quickly to capitalize on its great position and give the fans an opportunity to see Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh, and others more often.

Certainly, it could be noted that reducing the number of events in a season would restrict many struggling players from retaining their Tour cards. Believe it or not, this could be a blessing in disguise. The Nationwide Tour has developed into a strong talent pool for future PGA Tour stars.

By relegating a number of mediocre PGA Tour players, the Nationwide Tour instantly becomes more engaging and watchable. Nationwide ratings could increase and give the Tour network exposure. Again, purses would increase and more golfers could make a living playing the sport they love. All the while, as the PGA Tour likes to remind everyone, more charities receive more money and the philanthropic tradition of the game grows stronger.

With all of that evidence, how can anyone oppose a little snip-snip?

Comments and Conversation

March 11, 2005

John Retzer:

You’ve got some stong arguments for fewer tournaments — especially in that it would make the Nationwide Tour stronger. However, as a free-marketeer, I think we should let the market decide. There are plenty of smaller events whose sponsors are more than happy with their second-tier lineups.

BTW … I linked to this post at my site at

March 13, 2005

Kevin Beane:

I can oppose a little snip-snip. They actually covered this very topic in Golfweek this week, and to my relief and your dismay, the Tour announced they have no immediate plans to cut the season. Naturally, the big gunners on tour feels as you do; the qualifiers feels as I do.

Of course, reducing the season wouldn’t give us MORE events with the big four, it would just give us LESS without them. Obviously, a golf is a major part of your life with this column and you website, so it puzzles me that you would say, “I would rather have no PGA golf at all than have golf without the heavyweights in a given week.”

Like I said when you called for a similar parsing last year, often (usually, even? I guess it depends on your point of view) the storylines revolving around those journeyman challenging for their first win, or to stay above the 125 mark, is more compelling than Woods vs. Mickelson, round XXVIII or whatever. And what, exactly, is the difference between a strong Nationwide field (which you are behind) and a weak PGA field (which you are against)? It’d be the same cast of characters, so in your scenario you’re essentially just throwing them a smaller purse. That’d leave more PGA money for the heavyweights too. Not exactly a victory for John Q. Qualifier.

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