2002 Masters: Major Champions Tour a hard sell to players

Augusta, Ga. | Based on an informal, unscientific poll of 22 former major championship winners ages 37-55 at the Masters, the proposed Major Champions Tour might be hard pressed to come up with the 20 commitments that organizers believe they need to move forward next year.

Commitment letters were to have been mailed to eligible players on April 15. The Major Champions Tour has said it needs at least 20 commitments out of a possible pool of about 40 players to proceed with seven tournaments next year.

Players and/or their managers were asked if the candidates would sign the commitment letter and give up PGA Tour membership. The results: Two said yes, 12 said no and eight said they were undecided.

The breakdown:

Yes: Fred Couples and Seve Ballesteros.

Undecided: Nick Faldo, Sandy Lyle, Nick Price, Greg Norman, Jerry Pate, Paul Azinger, Bernhard Langer and Mark O’Meara.

No: Hal Sutton, Lanny Wadkins, Tom Watson, Tom Kite, Ben Crenshaw, John Daly, Tom Lehman, Mark Brooks, Davis Love III, Curtis Strange, Vijay Singh and Fuzzy Zoeller.

A majority of players queried said they thought the Major Champions Tour idea was a good one, but that it wouldn’t be prudent to give up PGA Tour membership. Several said they were concerned about hurting the PGA Tour and Senior PGA Tour. Also, players want to make sure that resigning Tour membership would not preclude them from rejoining whenever they’d like. Some players expressed disappointment that the PGA Tour is supposedly “their” tour, but that strict rules prohibit them from sampling the Major Champions Tour.

The comments:

• “It’s a good idea,” Ballesteros said. “It would be very interesting for TV and for the audience. I would be happy to play 12 to 15 tournaments.”

• “I’m very close to signing, but I don’t have all the information,” said Lyle, who has had trouble getting sponsor exemptions into PGA Tour events. “It looks quite attractive. If they can guarantee tournaments the next five years, I’d like to give it a go.”

• “There’s room for it, or something like it,” Norman said. “I can’t tell what I’ll do until I get the letter.”

“Sure it interests me for the next 3-4 years,” Price said. “It’s certainly something I’ll look at.”

• Faldo said he and his manager had previously discussed a similar concept for past major winners and that he would consider this one.

• “It’s a wonderful opportunity, but I don’t want to do anything that would be harmful to the Tour or Senior Tour,” Pate said.

• “It doesn’t make sense for guys my age because it’s hard to give up Tour membership,” said Wadkins, 52, in his third year on the Senior Tour.

• Asked how many players likely will sign up, Sutton, a Tour Policy Board member, said, “None, if the players are smart. It would hurt the PGA Tour and really hurt the Senior Tour and cut out too many deserving people.”

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