ESPECIALLY for the “professionally offended” section of golf’s chattering classes, events like the recent “Turkey World Final” have forever been fair game. “Pointless.” “Meaningless.” “A money grab.” “Insulting.”
Many are the unflattering descriptions applied to competitions where the competition is unofficial at best, “hit and giggle” at worst.
All of which is fair enough – at first glance at least. It’s easy to make fun of something so obviously contrived. But such tournaments are hardly new or unique in golf. The World Match Play Championship that graced the fairways of the Wentworth Club for nearly four decades – and provided wonderful entertainment through some epic encounters – began life with the same “disadvantages” as its Turkish descendent. The most obvious of those being an eight-man field containing most of the game’s elite performers.
Much of the “offence” taken at the Turkey-shoot eventually won by Justin Rose, was the guaranteed nature of the bloated prize-money on offer. With $300,000 going to the man in last place and $1.5m to Rose, any incentive for a group of multi-millionaires to play hard at Antalya is largely eliminated. Or so the unthinking argument goes.
But here’s the thing. For the likes of Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy – the only two players in last week’s field the sponsors cared even a little about – the acceptance of appearance money in its various guises is almost a weekly occurrence. In fact, that only-whispered-about reality is true of their every start, other than in the four major championships, the Ryder and Presidents Cups and, maybe, the World Golf Championships. So, when Woods and McIlroy – and two or three others at the sharp end of the world rankings – tee-up on the PGA and European Tours, it is safe to assume that some sort of financially beneficial arrangement is in place to ensure their presence.
All of which begs the question: Was Turkey really such a disgrace to the “noble” game of golf? I say it was not – even if many of the press corps in attendance (including your correspondent) were there (nearly) all-expenses paid. At least as far as the players were concerned, it was just another highly-compensated week on tour, one much the same as any other.
Besides, it would be best not to feel too sorry for the supposedly deprived circuits in worlds Old and New. Both flexed their muscles in the background. Next year, a 78-man Turkish Open will be appearing on the European Tour. And the PGA Tour’s Frys.com Open can look forward to at least one visit from each of the eight visitors to Turkey over the next three years. So two pounds of flesh were extracted, albeit each tour will have to chew a while before swallowing.
Such backroom deals are all too typical on golf’s two biggest and most lucrative tours, both of which are driven by unhealthy levels of self-interest that have done nothing to make the professional game more interesting over the last half century or so. Think about it. What would you rather watch, a seemingly endless series of 72-hole stroke-play events played on courses that look remarkably like last week and next week, or a true world circuit that brought the very best players to the very best courses all over the planet?
This is pie-in-the-sky stuff, but a man can dream. Wouldn’t it be a whole lot more fun to see Tiger, Rory & co pitting their considerable wits against the likes of Royal Melbourne, Royal Durban, Royal Portrush – look at how much fun was had at this year’s Irish Open – and Morfontaine? Surely national and historic titles like the South African, Australian and French Opens should really mean something, or at least much more than the likes of the Justin Timberlake Shriner’s Open, or whatever the recent PGA Tour event in Las Vegas was labelled?
It’s been said before, but the existence of two such inward-looking organisations at the head of professional golf’s top table does nothing to enhance and promote the game in a wider sense. Their motivation is never what is good for the game, only what is good for their own bottom lines.
So is it any wonder that participation in the game is falling when the tournaments we watch on television are – generally speaking – so lacking in variety and excitement? Let’s face it, if the result in Turkey – where at least the format was a bit different – really is meaningless, are the week-to-week tour events any less so? I mean, can anyone whose middle name is not “geek” and who is not wearing an anorak name the two men who won five, four or three weeks ago on the PGA and European Tours? Thought not.
Let’s hear it for Lawrie, our unsung star
HE is well used to it by now, but the general lack of respect accorded Scotland’s best golfer, Paul Lawrie, is becoming more than a little irritating. OK, I’m a little biased having just finished the typing on Lawrie’s up-coming autobiography, An Open Book, but, really, the man deserves better.
Just the other day, my copy of the weekly magazine, Golf World (US version), came through the letterbox. In it was a review of the recent Ryder Cup matches. On page 59, one of my colleagues (in the interests of full disclosure I must reveal that I am the magazine’s “European Correspondent”) has awarded Lawrie a “C” grade for his play at Medinah.
In other words, being four under the card on his own ball during the opening fourballs, losing only on the last green in the second series of fourballs, then shooting the best figures on either side in the third-day singles is enough to make the 1999 Open champion no better than “average”. Which is fine only until we discover that Lee Westwood – who struggled more than a little in all of his matches – was apparently worth a “C+” and that the sadly off-form Graeme McDowell also merited a “C” grade. That simply is not paying close enough attention to the details.
Perhaps even worse than the perennial American disdain for Lawrie’s play is the fact that such an attitude seems to have spread across the Atlantic. In the new issue of Golf International, 16 pages are devoted to what is otherwise a splendidly comprehensive review of Europe’s unlikely victory over the Americans. But, within those pages, the Scot is mentioned only twice, both times fleetingly. And he features only once – in the traditional post-match team picture with the trophy – in any of the many photographs. What, one wonders, does Lawrie need to do to merit even the minimum level of recognition?
SGU’s bias makes selectors’ positions untenable
THIS is perhaps a little late, but the Scottish Golf Union needs to be reminded that their shamefully prejudiced selection policy vis-à-vis the recent World Amateur Team Championship (the Eisenhower Trophy) is not going to be easily forgotten. After omitting the Scottish Amateur Golfer of 2012, Jack McDonald – for reasons that clearly had nothing to do with golf and everything to do with the fact that he is coached by former Italian Open champion Dean Robertson rather than SGU man Iain Rae – the three-man squad of Matthew Clark (best score 78), Paul Shields and the admirable Graeme Robertson performed pretty much to (low) expectations, finishing in a tie for 44th place behind golfing powerhouses such as Slovakia, Poland and Slovenia. Memo to the selectors – resign and do it soon.