SBD/January 6, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

PGA Tour Season Tees Off In Maui, But Should Opener Be So Soon?

McDowell is the only major winner from last year teeing it up in season-opening event

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).

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