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TEE TO GREEN, STEVE SCOTT: The Players’ Championship shows clearly that money isn’t everything

The TPC at Sawgrass, home to the Players' Championship.
The TPC at Sawgrass, home to the Players' Championship.

In one of the many risible elements of his non-apologetic apology the other week – truly a gift that will keep on giving for months – Phil Mickelson asserted that the PGA Tour “desperately needs change”.

This just two weeks before the Tour gathers at Sawgrass for their flagship event, with a record prizefund of $20 million and $3m on the nose for the winner of the Players’ Championship.

(No apostrophe and capital letters full-out say the Tour’s PR people, but that’s not happening here.)

Phil will no doubt claim his attempted coup with Saudi backing “forced” the hike in lucre for the Players’ and many more events on the schedule. That “leverage” he’s so very keen on.

But with a serious rise in TV money already in the coffers, this general increase in remuneration was likely happening anyway.

Desperately? $20 million says otherwise

2021 champion Justin Thomas with the much-improved Players’ Championship trophy.

I do believe the PGA Tour could do with some change, or perhaps variety is a better term. But “desperately”? If it were to plough the same dull but lucrative furrow for 50 years more like this, it would still do incredibly nicely for its members.

As we’ve said many times in T2G, it would be great if golf (especially in the US) broke out of its comfortable, middle-class, country-club ghetto. As one of the two premier shop windows of the game – the other being the majors – the PGA Tour should be prominent in  that.

But there’s no denying what they have is a solid foundation that serves the game reasonably well. Certainly in financial terms for the participants.

The Players’ is actually a microcosm of the game at the moment, and the recent debates. In a odd way, I think it proves that the Saudi model of elite players playing for vast amounts of money doesn’t actually appeal that much to the public.

It doesn’t matter how much cash the PGA Tour throw at the Players’. It doesn’t remotely reach the levels of public attention and affection that the four major championships do.

The Players pays out vastly more cash than the majors do, has done for years now.

They’ve got a super new trophy as well. They replaced yer ma’s worst crystal vase with a sleek gold golfer computer-modelled after the bodily parts of the game’s greats (or so they claimed).

It’ll never match the majors

But they could give the winner that, a jug, a blazer, a humungous Wanamaker-style pot and all the USGA’s art deco beauties at once. It would never match the majors for prestige and public perception.

They tried to move it around the schedule but that didn’t help. In fact rather proving my point it was elbowed out of its later slot back into March by the PGA Championship’s switch.

They’re also tied into TPC Sawgrass, a polarising kind of course – Mickelson probably wouldn’t have played even if he wasn’t in self-imposed purdah. The time of year means it’s pretty much got to be Florida and it’s also the Tour’s HQ.

Maybe they should just be happy with what they have. The Tour’s flagship doesn’t have to be the entire highlight of the golfing year.

It can stay like its little cousin in Europe, the BMW PGA – a sort of annual celebration/trade fair of the game in that part of the world.

Variety? Yes, but not sure it’s this

This week was supposed to be seismic in the golfing year, maybe even in the game’s history. That appears highly unlikely now.

The breakaway SGL/LIV Investments project was expected to make big announcements and an autumn schedule under the very nose of the PGA Tour flagship.

But then came events at the Genesis three weeks ago. The flurry of “fealty” pledges by players to the Tour cut the rug from under the would-be rebels. It remains to be seen whether they will launch anything this week, or indeed ever.

The Tour itself may announcing their own version of the team concept, but I’m not convinced.

A lot of people would like at least some variety from the relentless grind of 72-hole events. But equally there’s a sizeable amount who like it fine. It’s certainly a good argument that this format is the best way to identify the best player week-to-week.

Yet there’s unquestionably scope for at least some variation other than the annual WGC Matchplay. The only thing is we haven’t identified what it is yet.

The original PGL model is/was an F1-style teams playing 54 holes on shotgun starts with limited fields of 40 to 50. The Tour seems likely to purloin this concept, as did the SGL.

I’ve never liked it, regardless of where the funding comes from. The only sporting tournament I can think of that works with these non-traditional, makey-up teams is cricket’s IPL. That is in a very different kind of market.

The public always sense when they’re being sold a fake. It’s why there’s such a difference between the Presidents and Ryder Cups.

A tough learning

It’s tough to win. As we Scots have discovered so far in 2022.

Ewen Ferguson seemed on the cusp of fulfilling the vast potential we saw when he was a star in the 2015 Walker Cup team at the Magical Kenya Open last week.

Crushingly, Ferguson’s four-shot lead going into Sunday evaporated with a final round 76. He eventually slipped to eighth.

He was honest enough to freely admit the pressure got to him. It’s been a tough enough journey over the last few years. Ferguson looked like the pick of his peer group at Lytham in 2015. In the end was one of the last to graduate to the main tour.

I’m sure Ewen will take the painful learning experience and bounce back, maybe even in South Africa this week. And importantly, he’s shown here and at the Dunhill last September that he totally belongs in this company.

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