For the past number of years there has been occasional noise about an emerging “World Tour or League” that would feature the top 30 or 40 players playing an 18 tournament schedule. It would be well-funded by those wonderful folks from Saudi Arabia and, the viewing public will have the pleasure of watching the same players – only much wealthier due to huge guaranteed appearance fees – play over and over again. It will be something like the scintillating (sarcasm intended) Hero Challenge event that Tiger puts on every holiday season with the 18 players he least dislikes.
Recently the news of this entity has become a bit more urgent. They have even announced who the Commissioner/CEO will be – none other than Golf Hall of Famer Greg Norman. You may recall that it was Norman who tried this sort of thing back in the early ’90s. His plan was thwarted by then- Commissioner Tim Finchem, who turned around and added World Golf Championship events to the Tour calendar. The fact that Norman was given little credit for this effort, really got under his skin. Appropos of this, I recall one of the funniest interview answers I ever read around this time. The interviewer suggested to Norman that some people considered him “thin-skinned”. Norman’s response was something like, “I’m not thin-skinned, what people called me that? Who said that?”
Norman has continued to whine about the restrictions placed on PGA Tour members. He disliked having to request playing non-Tour events and couldn’t understand why as an independent contractor, he and others were limited in that regard. As an outsider, even I understand that the Tour is run by and for the players. The reason the PGA Tour wants its players/members to focus mainly on their events is so the sponsors and the television people continue to pay huge sums which in turn drive up tournament prize money. That’s money that the players put in their pockets. Norman’s claim that he’s doing it for the players is pure hogwash. The top 30 or 40 players are already making boatloads of cash, it’s many of the players who will not be invited to his tournaments that need the money. Money that will be greatly diminished on the PGA Tour if the best players are not available for regular Tour events.
The problem with small field events is that they rarely conjure up much drama. Half of the field is usually out of the running after two rounds and it often comes down to a one-player coronation or a duel between two players. That’s okay once in a while but it will likely happen every tournament. So, there will be no stories of journeymen players coming out of the pack or young players who just graduated from the Korn Ferry Tour or the NCAA emerging and making things interesting.
Greg Norman has been highly successful in many of his business ventures. He has done well with his golf course design, clothing and wine businesses. I don’t know how deeply involved he is in these enterprises, but he likely has expert staff handling the day-to-day operations. A commissioner of a sports organization is not simply a branding exercise. This is a job that requires strong, consistent leadership and management. And, commissioners are rarely popular – they are heavily scrutinized and even booed in public settings. I’m not sure Norman is the man who can succeed in that scenario. Here’s what I think will happen if this Tour gets off the ground in any way: Greg Norman’s name will allow for instant credibility and media coverage, but he, as the leader of this enterprise will fade away within the first year. Dustin Johnson will say something like, “Ah don’ even know who Greg Norman is”, and Rory McIlroy will come to the fore as the voice of reason and will lead a thoughtful contingent of pros who decide to stay the course. The bigger question will be who among the current Tour elite will jump ship first. Once this new league disbands or disintegrates, those players will be back on the regular Tour looking for practice day partners for a long time.