April 9, 2008

Gone after 54 holes

The author tries to make sense of the PGA Tour's new cut policy

With the world boiling over in various directions, and a culture war going on in our country, I had been hoping the PGA Tour would step in and do something about all the problems confronting us. Today I'm pleased to report that the organization has made a significant effort. It has fixed the cut rule.

Many people didn't know the cut rule needed fixing. This group includes most of the competitors on the tour. A competitor on the PGA Tour is usually identified these days as someone who hits golf shots in front of a small group of family and friends while Tiger Woods is winning his 215th Corporate Logo Classic in a row.

But the tour's policy board knew the cut rule needed fixing, primarily because it couldn't think of anything else to do at the last meeting. The policy board consists of four players who are not Tiger Woods, or even Phil Mickelson, some independent members and one or two other guys.

The independent members and other guys are successful businessmen who are generally interested in getting on Pine Valley, Cypress Point and Augusta National, plus having their slices cured.

We all remember how a previous policy board, with the help of a commissioner, fixed the PGA Tour schedule that starts each year in January, a schedule that badly needed fixing. The start of the season had grown too predictable for more than 45 years, too traditional, too dependable, always opening up with the Los Angeles Open.

This created golf fans who excitedly jumped up and down, and hollered, "Boy, here comes the L.A. Open...Riviera Country Club...movie stars...glamour...Hogan, Snead, Demaret...Katharine Hepburn, Rita Hayworth...golf season is here!"

The tour fixed that. Now there's no longer an L.A. Open. In its place is a Northern Trust Open, and it's not the first tournament of the year, it's the seventh tournament of the year. And people are saying, "I think golf season is starting sometime soon. They're playing in Pago Pago, or maybe it's Bora Bora. Could be Tahiti. Anyhow, the tour is on the way to Hawaii, and then maybe it's coming to California."

So now we shall remember how the cut rule was fixed in 2008, and how it will affect future generations of touring pros who always finish anywhere from 68th to 80th in tournaments. In other words, a group of people the public has never heard of and has no earthly interest in.

For years the cut policy said the low 70 and ties after 36 holes will play the last two rounds of every Corporate Logo Classic. Now the rule has been changed to say that the low 70 and ties will still play the last two rounds -- maybe, possibly, it all depends.

What it depends on is if no more than 78 players make the cut. If more than 78 players make the cut they won't do what they first intended to do, which was move the cut one notch down, and whacko. The pros whined and whimpered too much about it. Thus, they decided that if more than 78 players make the 36-hole cut, there will be a 54-hole cut. Anything to thin the herd before Sunday's final round. You could say this is to accommodate TV if you wanted to be a total cynic about it.

Why is 78 the magic number, you might ask? Apparently it had something to do with an independent board member mentioning that he shot a 78 the other day on his home course, and another board member saying, "I'm having the Cobb salad with ranch dressing, what about everyone else?"

There was rampant confusion about the first rule because of this: The board said that if, for example, 80 players made the cut somewhere based on low 70s and ties, and the tour eliminated all the players one stroke below the cutline, and this resulted in 59 players remaining, well, it was obvious that the number 59 was farther away from 70 than 80, so the original 80 would continue to play through the weekend.

This was too much for the pro to keep in mind along with his stance, grip and alignment. It was one of the reasons John Daly said to the Golf Channel, "It's a stupid rule. I'm sorry." But now all the pro has to know is that absolutely nothing changes as long as no more than 78 players make the 36-hole cut.

Here's my favorite part: The guys who make the 36-hole cut but fail to make the 54-hole cut (low 70 and ties) and will not get to play the last round? They will still get paid. Yeah. They'll get the same 10 grand, or whatever last money is, as the guys who play the whole four days.

Think about it. A guy can get eliminated 30 times a year after 54 holes, have his Sundays free to go to a movie, and still make $300,000.

Some would say this beats having to work for a living.