Lack of depth in Zurich Classic an example of why PGA Tour needs to change

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Arnold_Palmer_classicWhen I was a 22 year old PGA Apprentice at Lakewood in 1977, Jim Simons won in the PGA event in New Orleans and took home a check for $35,000.

Today the winner of The Zurich Classic will take home a staggering $1,152,000.  I often wonder if the PGA Tour players understand that this did not just happen overnight.   They should all kiss the ground that Arnold Palmer walks on.  He brought class to this great game and respected the people who came before him.

While Palmer never won in New Orleans or even was runner-up, he made sure he played here as often as he could.  He made sure he went to the different sites.  This was not just Arnold Palmer; this was the whole tour.  They appreciated the work it took to raise the purses, the volunteers that make it happen and the staff to give them the best in service and playing conditions.

Maybe I am old school, but why can’t a player commit to come to an event at least once every three years?   Why not require a PGA Tour member to play in 20 events a year instead of 15?  The PGA Tour is broken and too spread out with too many non-PGA Tour events and overseas appearance fees. The result is a Zurich Classic (one of the richest with a $6.4 million purse) with only two participants in the top 50 World Rankings.  The game is becoming more international, a fact that could result in the PGA Tour of America losing events and following the path of the LPGA Tour, an international tour that is not a true American tour.

Players now can just sit back and pick-and-choose the courses that suit their game. If they finish in the top ten a few times along the way, players can win a million dollars in prize money.

A return to the days of only the top 60 money winners on the tour are exempt and not the top 125 would help.  The tour would then return to the Monday qualifiers just like the old days.  If a player so chooses to spend his time globetrotting for the money, he may find himself without a PGA Tour card and fighting on Mondays to qualify for a spot to win the big bucks.

In 1974, Johnny Miller won eight tournaments and $353,000 in prize money.  Last year, 87 players won over a million dollars in prize money on the PGA Tour.  If Johnny Miller today only played in the Zurich Classic and just finished 3rd, he would win $435,200.  I guess their argument is that they are independent contractors. But I say going back to the top 60 exempt status would be a much needed wake up call for the independent contractors.   The PGA Tour needs a backbone, or they will kill the golden goose.

I can only guess these players today are glad they chose professional golf over bowling. Go look at the life of a professional bowler.  Could the PGA Tour one day face what the LPGA is facing today?  You are seeing the beginning now.

The New Orleans PGA Tour event is one of the oldest on the tour.  The good people of Zurich have taken stewardship over not just a tournament, but history. We are grateful.  Maybe this is a good time to give a history course in what it takes to make a tournament great. It takes the commitment of the players.  I can only imagine that 40 years ago they were not saying ‘I am not going to play there because I don’t like the architect’.  There are players on the PGA Tour who are pampered and spoiled, and no one has the guts to tell them so.  They are biting the hand that feeds them.  It is one thing to have talent with your golf clubs.  It is more of a talent to have the social skills to be thankful and grateful not just when you pick up the trophy and the check.  It would help to be thankful for the person who makes sure you have a car, are fed the best and the red carpet is there for you every step of the way.

How it was, and how it should be today:

13 Players who have won in New Orleans are in the World Golf Hall of Fame:

Harry Cooper, Henry Cotton, Jimmy Demaret, Byron Nelson, Billy Casper, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Hubert Green, Tom Watson, Seve Ballesteros, Ben Crenshaw and V.J. Singh.

It still makes me sick hearing V.J. cry why he did not like the TPC of Louisiana.  He has hurt the tournament.  Just ask Billy Casper how thankful he would have been to be able to play on a conditioned course as good as the TPC of Louisiana.

The following have won majors as well as in New Orleans and are presently not in the World Golf Hall of Fame:  Bob Hamilton, Don Finsterwald, George Archer, Bill Rogers, Davis Love III and David Toms.

Going to New Orleans and other tour sites – and not just their favorites – meant something to the players with class and the ones who were appreciative.   Just look at the ones who won majors while the best they could do was a runner-up finish in New Orleans:  *Sam Snead (second twice), *Ben Hogan (second twice), *Lawson Little, *Roberto De Vincenzo, Ken Venturi, Gay Brewer, Tony Lema, John Mahaffey, *Curtis Strange, *Lanny Wadkins, *Greg Norman (second three times), * Jose Maria Olazabal, Phil Mickelson (second twice) and *Payne Stewart.

The asterisk denotes golfers in the World Golf Hall of Fame.  For the record, Jack Nicklaus was a runner-up three times before he won in New Orleans.

If any PGA Tour player reads this, I ask them to share this with your fellow tour players.  If someone who reads this and knows a tour player, give it to them.  Golf needs the PGA Tour for the growth of the game.

Commissioner Finchem, please don’t lose sight of what has made the PGA Tour one of the greatest sports organizations in the world.  It is great because of what came before you, and you can lose it because the tour forgot or didn’t care to know the past and fell victim to self interests.

The time is now to rethink going back to the top 60 money winners for exempt status to make the PGA Tour events more important to a player than some tournament in Dubai.  When 2015 comes around, and we were to lose Zurich as a sponsor, will it be ok to lose New Orleans because golfers can just go play in Korea or Thailand?

To the tour players who are about to board their corporate jets, take the time to pick up some thank you cards, stamps and an ink pen. Learn how to write a thank you note.  You will be better for it, and so will the long term health of the PGA Tour.  Also, you may want to brush up on your foreign languages because if the PGA Tour does not develop that much needed backbone, you will need to improve your communication skills.  The PGA International Tour is closer than you think. New Orleans this past week proved it

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