Saturday, August 9, 2008

Fixing the PGA Championship

I spent much of my afternoon at work Thursday reading through Jason Sobel’s Live Blog about the PGA Championship. (Yes I do absolutely nothing all day at work) and it occurred to me that, whether it was because of the NFL Preseason, Favreapalooza 2008, the MLB races heating up, or a Tiger-less field, I had seen almost NOTHING about the PGA Championship this year. And even worse, I myself, a pretty big golf fan, found myself to be more excited for Jason Sobel’s Live Blog (a highly entertaining blog if there ever was one) then for the actual tournament.
I know, I know, Tiger Woods is (channeling my inner generic sports announcer) out with a knee, but this is supposed to be one of the four most important golf tournaments of the year, and yet the one word that seemed to describe the general publics view was: apathy. Probably not quite what the PGA of America had in mind when they cooked this baby up. In recent years, the TV ratings have been slightly up, probably because El Tigre tends to do pretty well in this tournament.
This year though, you’ve got to expect abysmal numbers unless a truly great story emerges (a la Greg Norman at the British Open). All of this brings me back to my original point, which was: What’s wrong with the PGA Championship? As a big golf fan, I can all but guarantee that my following of this event will consist of leafing through Sobel’s live blog and flipping by the tournament over the weekend to peak at the leader board. And that’s coming from someone who considers themselves to be a pretty big golf fan.
So that brings up one logical question: Why is the PGA Championship the ugly stepchild of Golf’s four majors? Well, the Masters is all about prestige and tradition (a tradition unlike any other in fact), the U.S. Open is our nation’s championship and is usually constructed so that the average Joe would shoot roughly 100 over par, and of course, the British Open is the kooky major that involves links, pot bunkers, road holes, natural disaster level winds, and almost always, rain.
As for the PGA, well it has mediocre tradition, the least prestige of any major, and plays moderately difficult but never THAT difficult. In fact about the only thing that separates it from the rest of the non-major tournaments is that it rotates sites every year. And as for prestige, it can even be argued that the PGA may have LESS prestige then some of the WGC Events, and it has even be suggested in the past that perhaps the PGA championship should be removed from major status in favor of the Players Championship.
Now with the topic and question narrowed down, it’s all about finding ourselves a palatable solution, and this is what has vexed the PGA supporters for years. A quick history lesson reveals that the PGA Championship once had a very unique feel to it, as it was a match play tournament until 1958, when it was altered to stroke play. There are a number of reasons given for the change, but the most commonly accepted is that the television era in golf was being ushered in, and TV gurus preferred the stroke play because it meant more players were involved and the final of the tournament was more easily televised when there were lots of players instead of a single match in the final. So, the PGA of America took away the match play, switched to stroke, and because there are only so many good American courses that can host majors, the PGA Championship has essentially become the U.S. Open Lite. And that seems to be the most simplistic reason for the PGA Championship’s impotency.
But fear not, I see a solution, and it’s not the obvious one that oh so many people are expecting to hear.
We have heard time and again that, in order for the PGA Championship to become a popular major on the level of the U.S. and British Open it needs to revert to its old form of Match Play. That, my friends, is absolute nonsense. Sure, there would be the years where Tiger Woods would blow into the final, and maybe even meet up with an equally big name player like the token evil foreigner like Sergio Garcia or the Lord he was born a Gamblin’ Man Phil Mickelson, but the TV networks would have an absolute cow over this idea for fear of a year like this when we could see J.B. Holmes and Charlie Wi in a potential final, the players likely want no part of an extended tournament, and, truth be told, the whole match play in a Major Championship seems a little gimmick-y to me. I mean, sure, as you and your buddies all know, there are dozens of ways to score golf matches, but when it comes right down to it, the one that matters the most and is the best measure is good old fashioned stroke play.
So, then, what could be my possible solution to the PGA Championship’s identity crisis? Easy. Avoid being the U.S. Open Lite by doing the one thing the U.S. Open can’t do… Travel abroad.
I know, I know, the PGA Championship is hosted by the PGA of America, but who says that has to be the way forever? Sometimes change is a necessary evil, and in this day and age of the ever-globalizing sport of golf, isn’t it time we let other countries have a major? After all, PGA does not stand for Professional Golf in America, it stands for Professional Golfers’ Association. If the PGA of America still wants its own tournament in America only, fine, it can have one, but the PGA Championship shouldn’t be restricted to borders, it should be able to go anywhere the PGA name is taken. With this deal on the table, the International Federation of PGA Tours would then be in charge of its namesake, the PGA Championship. The IFPGA (my own little acronym) consists of the Asian Tour (excluding Japan), the European Tour, the Japan Tour, the PGA of America, the PGA Tour of Australasia, and the Sunshine Tour (which is in Africa and takes place mostly in South Africa). We could also throw in the lesser Canadian Tour and the Tour de las Americas as well on the chance that they may develop excellent courses.
Sure, the PGA Championship still probably would not reach the popularity of the U.S. Open and The Masters within the United States or the British Open in the UK, but imagine the incredible popularity such an event could have internationally, and imagine the uniqueness of such an event.
To appease the stodgy folks in the U.K. the PGA would likely have to sign off on staying out of their rotation, but I’m sure the pros would be more then okay with that, and for the most part, I would also encourage the folks at the PGA to steer clear of the U.S. Open venues as well, simply so that they can once again avoid being considered the U.S. Open Lite.
According to a 2007 List compiled by Golf Magazine on the Top 100 courses in the World, there are 23 courses that are outside of the U.S. or the United Kingdom area, and of the U.S. and UK courses, there are several that have never hosted a major either. Popular locations would likely be in the Australia/ New Zealand region, the Japan region, and a few courses across Western Europe, as well as maybe a trip or two to resort locations like the Pete Dye designed Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic (I mean, what golfer wouldn’t love to go there) or the Jack Nicklaus designed Cabo del Sol in Mexico? Plus, imagine the competition in other resort areas (like say the recently developing Mediterranean region) that could draw the interest of the PGA Championship down the line.
I know, I know, the PGA of America will go kicking and screaming into the night when this sucker is proposed, but tell me where I went wrong with this proposal. It likely won’t help the PGA Championship’s standing as the fourth major in the eyes of American fans, but it will instantly become the most popular major among countless foreign fans, and if it helps to grow the popularity of the game abroad, and maybe ups the American TV ratings through good old fashioned curiosity, well, I think the PGA will be okay with that as well. I mean, truth be told, it will surely beat the PGA standing pat with the current format.

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