Monday, May 16, 2011

Long and interesting week at Ponte Vedra, including thoughts on the tournament and Tiger Woods

Wow, was that a long week in Ponte Vedra. Each day I woke up thinking I would write a blog and the next thing I knew it was 5 o’clock in the afternoon and I was too sapped by the heat to do anything except fantasize about going back to the hotel to take a shower.

The Players is the classic wannabe sports event. In recent years, The PGA Tour—they prefer to actually be called THE TOUR and that their tournament be called a championship and that The Players be called THE PLAYERS, not that they are a bit pretentious—has taken to insisting that it is NOT trying to convince people that their event is the fifth major.

If that is the case, riddle me this: Why does THE TOUR give the same five year exemption to winners of THE PLAYERS (Championship, I don’t think they insist on all caps for that) that it gives to major champions? Why does it give the same number of FedEx points to THE PLAYERS winner as it gives to those who win a major? This is where you could also wonder how it is that the winner of a playoff event gets more points than someone would get for winning all FOUR majors, but that’s another question for another day. And finally, how in the world does THE TOUR claim it isn’t trying to foist off its faux major as a major when it includes victories at THE PLAYERS on the Hall of Fame ballot as if they somehow carry as much weight on a player’s resume as a major does?

Of course we all know THE TOUR is never wrong about anything because they tell us this over and over again. When I jokingly made the point in January that the slide of the once prestigious Tournament of Champions could be pretty well summed up by the fact that it had gone from having Mercedes as a title-sponsor to Hyundai, The Tour (sorry THE TOUR) went nuts. There was all sorts of screaming and yelling about Hyundai’s new luxury car and yata-yata-yata. So I posed this question: If someone told you that you had just won a Mercedes and you showed up to collect it and they handed you the keys to a Hyundai, how would you feel?

There was also the issue of symbolism but THE TOUR doesn’t do symbolism, it does self-righteousness.

And then there was last Thursday when Tiger Woods walked off the golf course after shooting 42 on the front nine at The TPC Sawgrass. Those of you who read this blog strictly to monitor any shots at Tiger, better sit down because I actually defended Tiger.

You see, not only do I believe he was genuinely hurt—although there are conspiracy theorists who think his knee started to hurt again after his triple-bogey 7 at the fourth hole—I don’t think he should have played. I had surgery on my shoulder ONCE and I freak out whenever I feel a twinge now in either shoulder. Tiger’s had surgery on his left knee FOUR times. If he says it hurts and he needs to rest, I’m not going to question him. Throw in any achilles issues—I also tore my achilles years ago and believe me it is not a good injury—and he NEEDS to be careful, especially with a body that has proven brittle in the past.

So, when he pulls out of Quail Hollow, the one tournament he has played in past years simply because he likes the golf course, I believe him when he says he’s hurt. And when he shoots 42—42!—I don’t doubt that he’s hurt.

Commissioner Tim Finchem insisted that he saw no sign that Tiger was injured in the run-up to the tournament. He never saw him limp. I would think it would be tough to see him limp since he was carted to and from the back of the range whenever he practiced and I don’t think the commish was out there walking with him when he played nine holes on Tuesday and nine holes on Wednesday. (He also wasn’t in attendance at his ‘crown-jewel,’ for a good portion of the day Friday because he was playing golf with ex-President George W. Bush. No doubt W. will be inducted into The World Golf Hall of Fame just like his dad while the Hall continues to ignore Dan Jenkins and Jim Murray. Good job Hall voters).

Anyway, when I said on Golf Channel that I thought Tiger was hurt; that I didn’t think he should have tried to play AND I thought he felt some pressure from The Tour to play—The Tour went ballistic. I did not say that FInchem or anyone ‘forced,’ Tiger to play, a charge Finchem denied even though it hadn’t been made. I just said that Finchem had done a lot for Tiger last year—giving up his clubhouse at TPC Sawgrass for Tiger’s now infamous Tiger and Pony show and then sitting in the room with all of Tiger’s employees and minions and that perhaps—for once—Tiger felt he owed someone something and this was when The Tour had called in its chit.

I didn’t say it to be critical, hell The Tour needs to get Tiger to play more often and with Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy snubbing their event, it REALLY needed Tiger there. (I’m betting NBC is not going to be doing handstands when the weekend ratings come out with Tiger gone and Phil Mickelson nowhere near the lead. I was glued to the finish on Sunday because my guy Paul Goydos was in contention and I like David Toms a lot but I’m not exactly your typical golf viewer). I didn’t imply even that The Tour wanted Tiger to play hurt. What I was saying was that I believed the message was conveyed to Tiger—if he didn’t already know—that his presence in Ponte Vedra would be greatly appreciated.

Almost as soon as I said it, Ty Votaw, Finchem’s attack-dog when it comes to any media ‘slight,’ was on the warpath, screaming I’d made the whole thing up. For the record, I don’t make things up except in my kids mysteries. (Note to poster a couple weeks ago who said I should keep on writing kids books that, ‘no one wants to read,’ do you think my publisher would still be publishing them if no one was reading them?). I had talked to players before Tiger committed and to quite a few people after he committed. The general sentiment was that The Tour needed Tiger at The Players and his committing to a tournament he’s never liked much on a golf course he’s never liked much was his payback for Finchem’s ‘support,’ last year and that there was no doubt The Tour had let Tiger’s camp know that.

Votaw has apparently never heard of Shakespeare (he doth protest too much) and doesn’t know much about public relations. He turned a complete non-story—seriously, does anyone really care what I think about the issue all that much?—into a national story with his and Finchem’s ‘categorical,’ denials. Years ago, when Deane Beman was commissioner he hired a very smart public relations man named John Morris, who completely made over his image and relationship with the media. Sadly—on many levels—John Morris passed away nine years ago.

Finchem needs a John Morris. I have always liked him and respected him and I think he’s a good guy—rounds of golf with W. aside. I wish if he was truly upset on Thursday he had picked up a phone and called ME because I would have instantly said on the air that he had called to deny what I was saying. Instead, Votaw ran amok.

My feelings about Finchem haven’t changed at all. I still like him and respect him and am always willing to agree to disagree with him or to agree to agree with him. But I think he needs to find a John Morris.

By the way, just in case you were one of the millions not watching on Sunday, K.J Choi won The Players.


Anonymous said...

Ok, John. Next time why don't you REALLY tell us how you feel...

This is why I love this blog.

Anonymous said...

Daaammmnnnn. How many snarky asides can you fit into one blog entry? That was great, but who put the bee in your bonnet?

George said...

I totally agree with the non-major status of The Players Champ. Heck, The Masters wasn't considered a major until well into the '50' was just Bobby Jones' invitational toonament. Self-promotion only helped M. Ali and professional wrestlers. It also proves that the putter is still the most valuable club in the bag.


PeteWill said...

John, For avid golf fans it was a great tournament won by a real gentleman. Seeing Choi and Tom's support for each other on the 17th at the conclusion showed, once again, why golf is the greatest game in the world. It's your blog and I enjoy reading it but I will make two comments not meant to do anything than state a point-of-view. 1) Most people really would never have known the role that Votaw played in countering (or trying to counter) your comment. But, you come across as a little thin-skinned on this. 2) I guess you just can't leave your political persuasions and your disdain for President Bush out of your sports coverage. I wish you would because I read/follow you for your views on sports and I get more than enough politics from other sources...

George Under the Desk said...

This is alsonwhy I love this blog. John is exactly right, the Tour needs an adult un charge of PR who will handle differences of opinion in an ADULT manner. The Ponte Vedre execs are very good at the business of golf, but have rabbit ears when it comes to the media. Who cares if the impression was that Finchem pressured Tiger to play? Tiger and Finchem know what the truth is, maybe Votaw disobeyed instructions not to pressure Tiger and he did anyway? That could explain his reaction, just sayin.

John R. said...

All I know is that I, a non-golfer and occasional golf viewer, always enjoy watching the last day of THE PLAYERS tournament. And this year proved to be no exception, despite not having Tiger to root against! Seeing Choi on the 17th and Toms on the 18th make great putts to wither take the lead or send into Sudden Death was great. Too bad it had to end on a Toms missed short putt.

Gunnar said...

It was really tiring to hear all of the 5th Major talk, I wish they would drop that. It reminds me of soccer fans trying to convince non-soccer fans why it is such a great game (and I'm a soccer fan). If there was a 5th Major, my pick would be Memorial...great golf course, host, nice spot on schedule. You could make a good argument for a 5th Major in Australia or South Africa, too.

Anonymous said...

I think the new Hyundai Genesis is a really nice car.

Anonymous said...

Yes. I would take it over a baby Mercedes any day of the week. I might take it over a standard Mercedes. But I digress.

TomWalsh said...

Love your blog! However, while I agree that Geo HW Bush does not belong in the Hall of Fame, the shot at W is gratuitous. I don't think Bush Sr. even showed up for the induction (shows the importance of that Hall). Whatever, the election's over. It's been over two years. Get over it.

Steve said...

While I dislike your politics, I quite enjoy your writing!!