February 9, 2009

The 'Poor Field' Fix

A legit plan to get top pros to play weak-field events

The problem of poor fields at select events on the PGA Tour is not going to go away, nor will the events that find themselves in the less desirable slots on the schedule be able to "perk" their way to prosperity. These poor stepchildren have become one of the unintended consequences of the globalization of the game. There are a handful of events, on both major tours, staged by sponsors of goodwill who are rewarded for their support with fields that fall somewhere between the AAA and major-league levels.

The cure most commonly bandied about is requiring every player to play every venue every few years, details to be determined later. The problem with this solution is that it is needlessly complicated and burdensome on a bunch of players who, in fact, are not the objects of the sponsors' desire anyway. What we're seeking is a way to get the top handful of players to spread themselves around a bit more. There's an easier way to do it.

Let's assume we can, based on the previous year's money list, identify the five weakest fields on the PGA Tour. The top 30 players who are card-carrying members of the tour each won more than $2 million last year. In return for the opportunity to pocket such a tidy sum, would it be asking too much to require that every player who finishes the season in the top 30 play one weak-field event the next year, as designated by the commissioner?

Here's my idea: Take the top 30 money winners and divide them into five sets of six. For the purposes of this argument, there is no difference between No. 2 Tiger Woods and No. 5 Kenny Perry. The commissioner would be required to designate one name from each numeric set to play each of the five under-represented events. The commish wouldn't be allowed to send the same player to the same event twice in any five-year period, unless that player happened to have won and thus would have the right to defend.

For the purposes of this argument, there is no difference between Tiger Woods and Kenny Perry.

In this scenario, every tournament is guaranteed, at the very least, six of the top 30 on the previous year's money list, and even Woods and the other 29 players only would be required to sacrifice and/or modify their schedule one week of the year. It doesn't seem as if it's too much to ask. And while there will be movement year to year on the money list, the guys we're most concerned about here don't move around enough over a five-year span to render the plan unworkable. Calculating the next season's five lottery events would be done by stripping out the commissioner's designated attendees from each tournament before running the numbers.

The biggest problem, as I see it, is the John Deere Classic. Even in the Gulfstream Age, one has to think twice about requiring a golfer to play an event in the Midwest the week immediately preceding a major championship conducted on a course of a transparently different nature. While the John Deere has two good perks going for it (a Masters invitation and a spot in the following week's British Open), I'd add one more. Designate it as the only tournament on the PGA Tour officially allowed to pay appearance money. There would be those more than happy to put up with a little jet lag.