Blame misplaced in designated-event demise

Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods during the BMW Championship.

En route to being acclaimed as the greatest thing in golf since the hot dog at the turn, something went astray with a PGA Tour proposal for designated tournaments.

Apparently, it was Tiger Woods’ fault. No, it was Phil Mickelson’s fault. Actually, both of them are to blame.

At least that seems to be the consensus of those who choose to tweet, blog, react, vent, rant . . . everything but look deeper and use common sense.

OK, so Woods and Mickelson are easy targets. Maybe they’re not 1-2 in the world order – at least not right now – but you’d have to agree they’re the two biggest personalities within the pro golf world. So when a PGA Tour controversy arises, Woods and Mickelson are magnets for critics.

But blaming them for the demise of the designated-tournament proposal? Let’s be serious. First of all, with everything he had going on in his world in 2010, Woods probably made a list of things that needed his attention, and when he got to No. 34,672, the designated tournament issue still wasn’t on the radar.

Mickelson? Surely somewhere along his 2010 travels he must have heard talk of designated tournaments, but my guess is he was more occupied with his wife’s treatments for breast cancer, his own tussle with psoriatic arthritis and the reality that he couldn’t get his game into a consistent rhythm after the Masters.

Now would either one of them be in favor of the designated-tournament proposal? Come on. They’re part of a fraternal organization that still writes in votes for Ronald Reagan, if not Dwight Eisenhower. Not only do they not like to be told to play fast, they don’t like to be told to play. They’re very much into this “independent contractor” rhetoric, capitalists to the very core.

Just don’t go thinking this makes them monsters; more like it makes them like their predecessors, guys such as Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson. They didn’t particularly go for the PGA Tour telling them where they had to play, either.

In fact, somewhat comical in this entire saga of the designated tournament is the viewpoint offered by some observers that it’s a shame the PGA Tour Policy Board put a halt to it because it is an “out-of-the-box” solution.

Really?

Tell that to Nicklaus and Watson, who in 1977 waged arguably the greatest head-to-head battle in major-championship history, the British Open at Turnberry. And guess where they were the very next week? In Sutton, Mass., playing in a PGA Tour event at Pleasant Valley CC. They weren’t there for the New England clam chowder or to take advantage of the Mingolla family’s tremendous fishing camp; no, they were there because PV was a “designated tournament” that year, an agenda that had passionate support from then-commissioner Deane Beman.

But Beman could push the mandate only so far. It lasted just a few summers, so when Watson heard that more than 30 years later the PGA Tour was floating the concept again, he laughed.

“Yeah, they tried it before. It didn’t work, and I don’t think it’s going to work again,” Watson said.

That’s why Watson is a Hall of Famer and many in the media are not in tune with the landscape. The designated-tournament concept wasn’t “out-of-the-box” at all; it was a bad wheel being reinvented, and to suggest that the Policy Board was doing a disservice to the health of the PGA Tour is careless.

In fact, give credit to Policy Board members for doing their due diligence.

“I’m surprised (by the backlash). This was never the end-all that people think it was,” said Brad Faxon, one of four players on the Policy Board, the others being Davis Love III, Zach Johnson and David Toms. Faxon dismissed media reports that Woods and Mickelson lobbied against the proposal, saying he didn’t think either player cared one way or the other. Instead, Policy Board members turned elsewhere to measure the temperature.

“At first, I know it sounded like a good idea,” Faxon said, “but the more we looked into it and talked to tournament directors . . . we just felt it would make tournaments sound like second-tier events, and we’re not so sure that’s a good thing.”

Guess what? Neither did a lot of tournament directors and neither did some of their bosses – you know, the men and women who represent very large companies and actually sign the checks. They are called sponsors, fairly important people, and when Faxon and others asked around, they got a strong sentiment that tournaments weren’t crazy about being “designated,” as if a scarlet letter were attached to the event. (Many of them, in fact, still lobby for the one-in-four proposal, but reject the designated concept.)

When the Policy Board voiced opposition to the designated-tournament concept, in no way did that signal apathy. Faxon & Co. know all too well that certain tournaments need help. It’s just that they think it’s more productive to approach players, talk things out, and ask for help. Some players will balk, and some tournaments will continue to struggle, but it’s careless to point the finger squarely at Woods and Mickelson.

Most reckless was a contention that Mickelson isn’t doing his share, when compared with Nicklaus. The record says otherwise, because in Mickelson’s first eight full years on tour (1993-2000), he played in 178 PGA Tour events. Nicklaus in his first eight years (1962-1969) played in 177.

During the next 10 years, however – 2001-2010 for Mickelson, 1970-1979 for Nicklaus – the left-hander played in far more, 215 to 171. During their first 18 seasons, that’s 393 tournaments for Mickelson and 348 for Nicklaus, so it is terribly irresponsible to scold the left-hander for being selfish. Let’s not forget, too, that his mixture of appearances at tournaments that annually fight for star attractions – 15 Pebble Beaches, 14 Colonials, 13 Nelsons, 12 in Vegas, 9 Hopes, 5 Hartfords – is admirable.

Oh, and while we’re at it, there are those annual weeks given to international team competitions. Mickelson’s resume is up to 16 – eight Ryder Cups, eight President Cups – while Woods is at 12, six each.

Certainly, Woods and Mickelson could add another tournament or two, ditto a healthy list of other notable names. But the guess is, there would still be tournaments struggling, so then what?

I mean, after you blame Woods and Mickelson.

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