2005: ’07 scheme has global impact

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PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem’s confirmation that the 2007 PGA Tour schedule will have a different look and a mid-September finish outlined by Golfweek last month also will bring opportunity for international tournaments and players.

Until Finchem’s announcement at the Tour Championship, speculation of the proposed changes – including the move of The Players Championship to early May was just that. Perhaps the season would not be shortened too much. Perhaps the three major networks would again offer sufficient rights fees and little would change. Now it appears that possibility is history.

In my experience, when the commissioner speaks, action surely will follow.

Like Deane Beman before him, Finchem has an unblemished record in delivering for his constituents. Under the new plan, the three blockbuster tournaments leading into the Tour Championship shortly after Labor Day should prove attractive enough for the major networks – certainly two, if not all three – to ante up and play their part in seeing purses reach levels that few of us who have been around tournament golf ever could have believed.

Some enormously rich players – mostly leading Americans and a few U.S.-based international stars – surely will close shop for the year and run some danger of finding their Bruce Lietzke banana peels in their bags when they get to Hawaii in January.

How then do I believe the shortened PGA Tour schedule may help the international scene?

First, the PGA European Tour in my time and now under George O’Grady also is strong on delivery performance. Golf is an international game.

The European Tour is well into the second decade of its co-sanctioning program with tours in South Africa, Australia and Asia. This strengthening of international competition will continue, and the opportunity to create enormously strong fields with equally strong international sponsors and television partners from September to December will open exciting international possibilities that in time may match the PGA Tour.

Already the European Tour has three late-season events with approximately $5 million purses: Dunhill Links (Scotland); Volvo Masters (Spain) and HSBC Champions (China). These are big events with multinational sponsors, and in my opinion, more will emerge.

The fall and winter climates in the Middle East (Dubai, etc.), southern Asia, Australia and South Africa fit in well for an international series that, for example, could end in Sun City, South Africa. Born out of a cry for help during the awful days of isolation because of apartheid, the Sun City event is ripe for a tweak in terms of field size and qualification. With such it has the resources to offer an attractive end to any “international race.” And it is not the only candidate. Tournaments in Dubai and Shanghai soon could offer such a finish if it is too late to move the Volvo Masters at Valderrama into December.

Numerous other events also could benefit from these rescheduling opportunities.

Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player have won 13 Australian Opens combined. Greg Norman has claimed his own national title five times. The South African Open is the world’s second-oldest tournament – only the British Open is more venerable – and Player has 12 SA Open titles.

Who will play in these existing or likely new events?

As of early November, 29 international players were in the top 50 of the World Ranking. While most have gained their ranking points on the PGA Tour – in addition to the majors and WGCs – a hefty majority retain strong loyalties to their original home tours and are likely to respond to strengthening international competition, ranking and purse rewards.

In short, even if Phil Mickelson and Co. decide to pack their bags for 31⁄2 months, I don’t believe the internationals will.

Also there is no law against Americans using passports. Tiger Woods does it and wins. Palmer and Nicklaus joined Player in doing it before they enjoyed their own planes.

Bob Jones, Walter Hagen and Ben Hogan came to Europe by boat and did more than win. They helped set up the global game as we know it today.

So for those PGA Tour players not engaged in the agony of the “Quest for a Card” in fall 2007, I say dust off your passport and play internationally.

What you will find will be different conditions with different cultures. These cultures, while different, are not inferior – just ask Ernie Els, Vijay Singh, Michael Campbell, Jose Maria Olazabal or Colin Montgomerie.

– Ken Schofield, former executive director of the PGA European Tour, writes occasionally for Golfweek

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