Pros swap pro-am golf for sponsor mingling
HONOLULU – One sheet of paper posted in the locker room had the tee times for the 50 players in the pro-am at the Sony Open. Another had times for 15 other players, only they won’t be playing golf.
The PGA Tour is starting a “Sponsor Value Program” this year in which it assigns as many as 20 players to mingle with sponsors in some capacity for at least an hour.
Daniel Chopra will be giving a clinic to sponsors. Scott Piercy, Ted Purdy and Matt Bettencourt are among those having breakfast with sponsors. Ben Curtis and Justin Rose will be going to a park to talk up the Sony Open, do radio interviews and sign autographs.
“At the end of the day, it’s a good thing to help out the sponsor any way we can,” Curtis said. “The only bad thing about a week like this is you’d probably rather be at the beach.”
For years, only the top players from the previous year’s money list took part in the Wednesday pro-am. Everyone else didn’t have access to the course that day except for blocks of time on the practice range when everyone was on the golf course.
Doing what it can to give sponsors access to more players, the Tour came up with a new program away from the course.
Roughly the same batch of players will be glad-handing most of the year on Wednesday, depending on the size and strength of the field. The value program also can apply to players like Phil Mickelson, Steve Stricker and Jim Furyk.
Rick George, the Tour’s chief of operations, said each tournament can ask that five players in the pro-am be shipped to the “Sponsor Value Program” for a clinic or breakfast, moving up the next players available on the money list. Also, top players twice a year can elect to do something other than play in the pro-am.
In both cases, there must be a mutual agreement with the tournament and the player.
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KAPALUA SPONSOR: PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem announced last May that Seoul Broadcasting Systems (SBS) had agreed to a 10-year deal as the title sponsor at Kapalua for the winners-only tournament.
The plan now is for SBS to find a commercial sponsor.
Finchem said last week the “likelihood” was for the tour to have a commercial company serve as the title sponsor of Kapalua, keeping SBS in the picture in some capacity.
“We are having conversations with potential sponsors, but like everything else in this economy, it’s slow,” Finchem said. “I couldn’t answer that question. I would be guessing.”
Finchem said the contract with Kapalua is through 2011, although he doesn’t see any reason why the tournament would not continue to be played on the Plantation Course, where it has been since 1999.
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FALL SERIES: For those wondering if the Fall Series on the PGA Tour is about to go away, it might be expanding.
The tour has been talking about a new tournament at Sea Island on the Georgia coast for more than a year, and it appears officials are closer than ever to a deal that could be announced by the end of the month.
“Positive rumblings,” said Zach Johnson, who is involved as a policy board member, a resident at Sea Island and with a sponsor, RSM McGladrey, whom the tour has courted as a title sponsor.
Since the creation of the seven-event Fall Series in 2007, one moved to the spring (Texas Open) and another ended its contract early (Ginn) and now faces a lawsuit by the tour. A new tournament might quell the notion that the Fall Series eventually will end.
“That would be big,” Johnson. “I would like to see that (a new tournament) come to fruition.”
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U.S. OPEN QUALIFYING: Among the first-stage qualifying courses for the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach will be Bayonet on the Monterey Peninsula, leading to speculation that it could be the first time a qualifying course was tougher than the championship venue.
Not quite, but close.
Bayonet is part of a 36-hole course (Black Horse) that is reputed to be among the toughest in California, framed through trees that can make even the straightest drivers feel claustrophobic. For years it hosted early stages of Q-School, producing the highest scores.
“When I played, if you broke 300 (over 72 holes), you were close to making it,” Paul Goydos said. “It’s a pretty good test.”
Tougher than Pebble Beach?
“Not when Pebble is holding the U.S. Open,” Goydos said. “For everyday play by the public, Bayonet is tougher than Pebble.”
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GOING ABROAD: Kenny Perry headed back home to Kentucky after his one week in Hawaii, and doesn’t plan to return to the PGA Tour until the Match Play Championship starts on Feb. 17.
Instead, he will be taking appearance money to play in the Qatar Masters the final week of January, which is opposite Torrey Pines, a course Perry has never liked.
“I’ve always wanted to visit the Middle East, they’re giving me decent money to go, so I’m going,” Perry said. “If I didn’t play there, I was going to be off all the way to the Match Play. I wasn’t going to play anything, anyway.”
Perry started the year with his son, Justin, as his caddie, although he doesn’t plan to take him to Qatar.
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DIVOTS: Jack Nicklaus will be celebrating his 70th birthday on Jan. 21 as early as possible. That’s not because he’s excited about turning 70, rather it was a planned fishing trip to a spot where only that can happen – Christmas Island, one of the easternmost spots before the International Date Line. ... Bob Verdi, a winner of the PGA of America Lifetime Achievement Award in Journalism, has joined the Chicago Blackhawks as team historian. He also will write occasionally for the NHL team’s web site and other publications. ... Industry Hills Golf Club in California was tabbed the “Golf Course of the Year” by the National Golf Course Owners Association. The group honored Firestone Country Club with its “Golf Course Excellence” award. ... Morgan Pressel helped raise $405,000 with her home course, St. Andrews Country Club in Boca Raton, Fla., in the third annual “Morgan & Friends Fight Cancer.” The money goes toward fighting breast cancer through early detection and treatment. In three years, members have raised $1.15 million.
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STAT OF THE WEEK: After one week, Lucas Glover leads the PGA Tour with three eagles. He only made two eagles in 26 tournaments last year.
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FINAL WORD: “I promise you, if he had 19 majors, you might never see him again. Now he’s got to ask himself if the juice is worth the squeeze.” – Pat Perez, on Tiger Woods.