Tour InsiderJanuary 22, 2010

Priority Shift

The slim field at the Hope shows many players are still out for themselves

Camillo Villegas is just one of the top-ranked players who have spurned the Hope in favor of Abu Dhabi.

Camillo Villegas is just one of the top-ranked players who have spurned the Hope in favor of Abu Dhabi.

LA QUINTA, Calif. -- Anthony Kim -- LaQuinta High class of 2003 -- has become the poster child for what is wrong with golf in general these days, with priorities upside down. At a time when all hands should be on the PGA Tour's deck, he's bailed as fast as possible. But like these rains that have fallen in the desert these past three days, turning the Bob Hope Classic into the Crosby, there is sunshine coming. And it's just over the mountains in San Diego.

Let's face it. Like the tour used to start at Doral, it now starts at Torrey Pines in the heart of Phil Mickelson country, where even without Tiger Woods there should be enough star power to move the needle and get everybody off the subject of Kim and the 10 other players -- six of them international, two former major champions with no exempt status in the United States anyway -- who have taken up address in Abu Dhabi this week rather than PGA West.

Kim's the easy target. He's the local kid, so it's easier to get on him as opposed to Colombia's Camilo Villegas and Australia's Geoff Ogilvy, despite their American addresses in Florida and Arizona, respectively. But what about Mickelson, Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk, Kenny Perry, Sean O'Hair or British Open champ Stewart Cink? There are six Americans other than Woods in the top 20 either taking the week off because they played in Hawaii and need a breather, or because they don't like the Hope for various reasons, whether it's the pro-am format or the simple fact that it falls on an awkward week on the schedule.

And since we're singling out Americans, what about Lucas Glover (hunting), Zach Johnson (skiing), Davis Love III (snowboarding) or Hunter Mahan (resting)? When the best player in the field is No. 37-ranked Mike Weir, the leader board starts to resemble a Q School -- especially this one with Shane Bertsch, Joe Ogilvie, Martin Flores and J.P. Hayes fresh from the qualifying experience at Bear Lakes.

The end could be coming because if the PGA Tour Policy Board ever had leverage to invoke the 1 in 4 rule, where tour players would have to play each event on tour every four years, then this is the time. While Tim Finchem and the tour did a miraculous job of patching up the San Diego Open with an 11th hour signing of Farmers Insurance, an event like the Hope exists without a corporate title sponsor. Without the pro-am, which generates $5 million in revenue, there would not be a Hope.

At the core of this dilemma is that the global axis has tilted to the point where a majority of the players in the top-30 are from Europe, Asia and South Africa. Exacerbating the dilemma is that IMG, the most powerful sports marketing firm in the world, is now managing more events worldwide, such as Abu Dhabi and the HSBC Champions, which at the end of last year became a World Golf Championship event. While HSBC had to cut out appearance fees to get the sanction, there are ways around it week-to-week. Abu Dhabi is one of those full-on European Tour events, like Torrey Pines, representing the first big-field start of the year, and with a purse of just $2 million there's a good chance there was some enticement to make the trip halfway around the world for just one tournament, as is the case with Kim, who is represented by IMG. The fact is, it's just greener in Abu Dhabi.

Say Kim gets $300,000 to make the trip. He pays IMG the commission, pays his taxes, his caddie and expenses, he probably nets $80 grand out of that. By the way, this is the same Anthony Kim who said he traveled too much last year, but that's another story. First place for the Hope is $900,000, and there's less wear and tear.

To do this trip, Kim not only misses the Sony Open, where he has never played, but the Hope and San Diego, too. Just like Kenny Perry, who is heading over to Qatar next week but won't take as much heat because of the field in San Diego, there are weeks lost on both sides of the trip.

Policy board member Scott McCarron took his shots at Kim and Finchem this week for being so callous, but the bottom line is that by next week at this time, the page will have turned, we'll be on to another tournament, and the Hope will be left to fend for itself.

Finchem, incidentally, was scheduled to fly in Thursday night for a dinner with Arnold Palmer, tournament chairman John Foster and PGA West president Davis Sezna, obviously to discuss the future of the event. In an irony of ironies, the storm clouds were so thick and the winds so heavy in Palm Springs that the commissioner's flight was canceled.

Hopefully the Hope isn't someday, too.