SBD/January 6, 2011/Leagues and Governing BodiesPrint All
The PGA Tour begins its '11 season today with the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in Maui, and while the field is "better than it normally is, sans Tiger and Phil," it is "hard for the golfing world to get into an event like this when we have so many factors turning us off," according to Shane Bacon of YAHOO SPORTS. One of the main factors is the "fact that it goes up against the NFL playoffs and bowl games." Bacon: "It just always seems like the PGA Tour never really starts at Kapalua, and the only event anyone has ever remembered here was that duel between Tiger Woods and Ernie Els back in 2000. ... Why not start the season during the dead week before the Super Bowl, so it gives sports fans an opportunity to watch something besides the horrible Pro Bowl?" YAHOO SPORTS' Jay Busbee wrote he is "not as down on the early season start," but added the Tour needs "something with a little more heft to it than Kapalua" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 1/4). ESPN.com's Bob Harig wondered whether the Tour "has ever truly considered delaying the start of the season" given that the Tournament of Champions "is going up against the first round of the NFL playoffs." Harig: "Wouldn't it be better to wait until the last week of January -- which happens to coincide with the open week before the Super Bowl -- to begin the golf season?" There are "lots of hurdles to such a scenario." It would provide "three fewer playing opportunities for the players," and "likely means some tournaments getting shut out." Harig: "Do you still start in Hawaii?" (ESPN.com, 1/5).
NEW-LOOK TOURNEY: ESPN.com's Harig reported there was "a bit of a sigh of relief on Maui" that the season-opening event "got new title sponsorship and appears on solid ground." NBC golf analyst Mark Rolfing, a Maui resident, has "taken an active role in the tournament," and he "got Tournament of Champions back in the name of the event, which dates to 1953." Rolfing: "We had to make a lot of decisions about the rebranding of the event before Hyundai was signed up. They had to buy into the new thought process. The crowds had been down, and the whole buzz around the tournament wasn't the same." Harig noted Rolfing to that end "decided to make the risky move of not charging spectators admission this week." Though attendance "was never outstanding, that is still a significant financial hit that has to be made up through other sponsorships." But Rolfing "feels it is worth it to attract spectators, not just from Maui but also from the other islands." Meanwhile, Rolfing said that FedEx "will have a bigger presence as part of the kickoff to the FedEx Cup schedule and that he wants to 'try to celebrate the beginning of the season.'" Rolfing: "Think about the NFL. They used to all of a sudden start on Sunday in the first week of September. Now they have a Thursday night game, and there is a celebration to start the season. The players need to buy into kicking off the season" (ESPN.com, 1/5).
NOT SHOWING UP: FOXSPORTS.com's Robert Lusetich noted the top four players in the world golf rankings will not participate in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, as the Tour "starts its 2011 season not so much with a whimper ... but definitely missing the bang." Woods "won't be there because he's coming off the worst -- and only winless -- season of his career," but even if Woods had qualified, he "hasn't bothered showing up in Hawaii for years." Lee Westwood, "who displaced Woods as world No. 1," also is not playing, and "of the four major winners from last year, only Graeme McDowell will tee it up" at the tournament. Lusetich wrote the "devolution" of the tournament "as a big event is symbolic of a shift of power in world golf." The world's best players aside from Woods and Phil Mickelson "no longer are Americans." Those golfers "play into Christmas on the European Tour and don't feel any obligation to support" the PGA Tour "as they take time off." Meanwhile, Lusetich wrote beyond the "geopolitical shift, doesn't it say something that Mickelson won't play in Hawaii but will head over to Abu Dhabi in a few weeks?" Steve Stricker, ranked No. 7 in the world, is "also going to the Middle East" (FOXSPORTS.com, 1/5).
NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTIONS: Author John Feinstein said there are "some issues off-course that the Tour has to deal with as we start 2011." One is "finding title sponsors for two of their longtime traditional events" -- the Bob Hope Classic and The Heritage tournament. PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem also is "going to have to start renegotiating TV contracts before the end of this year" as they expire at the end of '12, and he is "going to face some different challenges in negotiating that contract" ("Golf Central," Golf Channel, 1/3). In S.F., Ron Kroichick writes the Tour "needs rejuvenation as it heads into a crucial year." TV networks "will not offer big money if the most compelling storyline involves a player drawing a penalty in a bunker populated by spectators." Therefore, Kroichick offers a list of "Five Things We'd Like to See This Year," which include "Woods in the winner's circle" and Rickie Fowler becoming the next Y.E. Yang or McDowell in the sense of having the ability to "take down Woods in the final round." Also on Kroichick's list are "McDowell hangs around," "Phil being Phil" and "Dustin Johnson with a final-round clue" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 1/6).
THE SOUNDS OF THE GAME: The PGA Tour approved for broadcast partners to put a microphone on players during play, but none of the golfers in this weekend’s event agreed to participate. Golf Channel's Erik Kuselias said, “I know it's a game of routine and comfort, but isn't this also about marketing yourself and what you do and letting people in? That's sort of a bad job not letting people in, first tournament of the year. Not one player says, 'Yes, you can mike me.'" Kuselias: "If you want to crossover, this is an opportunity. You could be the only guy miked in the first tournament of the year and let people hear you and how it goes.” Golf Channel’s Gary Williams noted there is “going to be resistance initially" because golfers are “very unusual creatures of routine.” Williams: “Next week, I guarantee you some of the guys will be miked." Golfer Chris DiMarco later said he would have no problem wearing a mike if asked to do so during next week’s Sony Open (“Morning Drive,” Golf Channel, 1/6).
PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem said the Tour's "focus this year really is about creating new stars for the future." Appearing on Golf Channel's "Morning Drive" in a taped interview prior to the season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions, Finchem said, "We've got a lot of guys who are playing really well right now, so our first focus is to create new stars." He added, "Our second focus really is to connect with the fans and things like FedExCup. ... The fans are really into it, but we want to build on that success this year. Then I think the third thing is, we've had great success the last couple of years and talking more effectively about the other things the PGA Tour does, whether it's charitable giving, economic impact and what's happening in the sport, with respect to diversity, … and the growth around the globe. We want to concentrate on those messages to make sure people are paying attention to what this sport is all about beyond just the competition." Finchem did note it is "important" that Tiger Woods has a successful season after going winless in '10. Finchem: "He still continues to be our No. 1 player. ... What he does when he's in the hunt and playing well is he brings more interest and excitement and focus to the game from people who traditionally don't watch it." The commissioner noted the Tour had a "very solid year in '10," but Woods "gives us that extra edge." He said, "To have the most compelling year we can have, we need him to play well, we need him to be competitive and candidly, I think that's exactly what we're going to see from him."
STARS STAYING IN EUROPE GOOD FOR GAME: Finchem noted he was "not surprised" that several of the top European players, including Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy, elected to play in Europe instead of exclusively on the PGA Tour. He said, "We have 75 players who are not Americans as exempt players on the PGA Tour. ... The couple of decisions players have made recently to play a little bit more in Europe, European players, is a positive. The reason I say that is I think a strong European Tour is in the interest of golf, it's in the interest of the PGA Tour and it's important. When we moved The Players' Championship to May and when we added the FedExCup and the FedExCup Playoffs at the end of the summer, and the recognition that the top players who belong to both tours -- European Tour and U.S. tour -- are going to play all of that, it really put pressure on the European Tour. So they're reacting to that and they're encouraging players to play more and we're in favor of that" ("Morning Drive," Golf Channel, 1/6). More Finchem: "The European Tour has been under a lot of pressure, and we didn't help their cause. So the fact that they have worked hard to encourage their players to play more ... is understandable. And we don't complain about that" (AP, 1/5).
Former NFLer and current ESPN analyst Antonio Pierce "has a bold suggestion for current players: Strike first," according to Ralph Vacchiano of the N.Y. DAILY NEWS. Pierce said that if he were still an active player, he "would urge the players to at least consider" going on strike. Pierce on Twitter "floated the 'what if' idea of players refusing to start this weekend's playoff games on time as a way to gain leverage over ownership." The current CBA expires on March 3. Pierce wrote on his Twitter feed, "What if the players stood up right now and walked out during the playoffs? The Owners have all the leverage right now. Players/NFLPA need to make a strong stance soon. TV (networks and) owners would panic if players made a stance right now during the playoffs. The NFL teams make a lot of money during the playoffs." Pierce "called it 'just food for thought' and later insisted he wasn't urging action." But the NFL "took him seriously enough ... that it issued a lengthy rebuttal on its labor-related website, where it reminded Pierce and current players that 'a 'walk out' is in violation of the CBA.'" NFLPA Assistant Exec Dir of External Affairs George Atallah later Tweeted the union has "already guaranteed no strike" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 1/6).
MAKING THE PITCH: Steelers LB James Farrior said that he "wasn't particularly surprised" by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's "mode of operation" in sending a mass e-mail to 5 million fans Monday expressing the league's view of the labor situation. Farrior: "Yeah, he was making his pitch to the fans. You have to make it look like you are not the bad guy. We understand what's going on. We know it is going to be a sticky situation. Hopefully, we will have a season next year, if not, we have to stay strong." Still, Farrior believes that the players are "going to have to sign off on the proposed 18-game regular-season schedule being pushed by the owners and the NFL to get a new collective bargaining agreement in place for next season to exist." Farrior: "There is nothing we really can do about that. We can fight it all we want to, but it is going to happen" (Pittsburgh TRIBUNE-REVIEW, 1/6).
WOODY WEIGHS IN: Jets Owner Woody Johnson yesterday said, "I don't know whether there'll be a lockout or not. ... I'm optimistic over time there'll be a resolution. I don't know when -- whether it'll be before the season, whether it'll be just before the season, whether it will be before training camp, or when it will be." Meanwhile, Johnson said he "would definitely" participate in HBO's "Hard Knocks" again if asked (N.Y. POST, 1/6).