Hate to Be Rude: Golf’s all-star game needs help

Steve Stricker at the 2011 Hyundai Tournament of Champions in Kapalua.

Steve Stricker at the 2011 Hyundai Tournament of Champions in Kapalua.

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PGA Tour winners don’t feel the need to visit paradise as much these days, even though at least about $60,000 is guaranteed. Perhaps there are too many paradises in golf. For certain there are too many tournaments, particularly in November and December all over the world.

Golf never goes away and gives us a chance to miss it as do the professional sports leagues in football, baseball, basketball and, if you must, hockey. (Since I’ve never seen the puck, I assume there is no puck and that hockey is mime and that Marcel Marceau long was the NHL commissioner.)

For various reasons, some involving injuries, a dozen of the 39 eligible players did not play in last week’s Hyundai Tournament of Champions. That represents a problem and the latest in a trend. The kingpin likes of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson started skipping the season’s kickoff event for the previous year’s winners in 2006.

In other words, momentum is not on the side of the Kapalua event. A 27-man field without a lot of the cream smacks as much of an exhibition as a competition. Twenty-seven is unacceptable for supposedly a season-opening showcase. So brainstorming and fixes are in order.

One element hurting the T of C is the lack of an offseason. The FedEx Cup playoff system, ending the official season in September, was supposed to create one. But there are too many global cash grabs thereafter. And since there is no structured offseason, players create their own individual offseasons. That clearly is not ideal for Kapalua or golf.

The late, great Payne Stewart used to say all the time that touring pros were vastly underpaid. The interpretation was that some top pros made less than utility infielders in Major League Baseball. That’s the not case anymore; there are no more pity parties or tag sales, not with so many shunning a week on Maui.

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said last week that the Tour “may look at some changes” regarding the T of C. The word “may” is troubling when “will” is necessary. Finchem even said he thinks “everything is in good shape” regarding the Tour’s long-term future at Kapulua.

Let’s get real.

First off, he has an all-star game without all-stars. Problem. It’s turned into the NFL’s Pro Bowl.

So the first line of business is to expand the field; otherwise the tournament won’t grow or even exist.

Outside-the-box thinking is necessary. One idea is to include Tour winners from the two previous years. Another is to include winners from all the major tours under the World Golf Championships flag – at least winners of selected events on those tours. Another is to have fan voting to add some players to the field.

I like all of that. Also preferred is starting the season a week later so it doesn’t press up against New Year’s Eve. To do that, a regular-season event would have to be moved to the fall or eliminated.

The most radical idea is to eliminate the T of C. Take it away from the millionaire’s boys club since so many don’t seem to want it. But then that would be punishing the majority for the absence of the minority.

The Tour is considering starting its official season in the fall to add value to the Fall Series events, of which there currently are four. Not sure that’s advisable because then the 10 minutes of offseason would shrink even more. If that happens, the T of C wouldn’t be a kickoff event but rather would come during the course of a new season. In that case, it would be best to enhance it with All-Star Game concepts.

Next year, the T of C will begin Jan. 3 or 4. Considering the holidays, that doesn’t give players enough time to prepare after flying to Hawaii.

Or recover.

So, as Hawaii golf guru Mark Rolfing suggests, starting the tournament a week later “would make all the difference in the world” in terms of attracting more players and their families.

Perhaps even some in Europe, such as Luke Donald. The T of C is hurt by the PGA European Tour schedule. Why travel to Hawaii in early January when there’s a big event in Dubai the second week of December and another big one in Abu Dhabi in late January?

However you slice it, Finchem has an ailing tournament. Now he needs to implement a plan for surgery.

Speaking of expansion ...

Over the years, over and over, I’ve heard veteran professional golfers say they think the Champions Tour is too much of a closed shop. Two points of contention are the field size of 78 players and the difficulty to crack into the old boys’ league.

There’s one simple remedy that would help alleviate the congestion: Expand the field size to 84. That would involve adding one threesome to each side of the draw. That would give more people a chance.

Here’s a little-known fact: The Tour Policy Board passed such a worthy measure about 11 years ago, but then the Champions Tour powers-that-be nixed it.

With baby boomers turning 50 at a rapid pace, the depth of good players is far greater now than it was when the senior tour began some 30 years ago. So let’s adjust with the times and give more people a shot.

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