GOLF'S GREAT, BUT . . . I havent picked up a golf club since I became a father five years ago. And in all honesty, my firstborn did the sport a favor. A hacker like me belongs at a playground on Sunday afternoon, not at my local muni. Even from a distance, though, my interest in golf grows incrementally when the PGA Tour arrives in Memphis for its annual test at Southwinds TPC. This years FedEx St. Jude Classic (May 27-30) marks the 47th consecutive year the games spotlight has been on Memphis. And ever since Billy Maxwell beat local hero Cary Middlecoff at that inaugural Memphis Open in 1958, the Mid-South sports calendar has had a big-league presence. That said, though, the game of golf has some improving to do. Without even touching on the equipment variables that levels the playing field between the greats and the good-on-Thursdays, I have some suggestions for tweaking the venerable old game so that more people like me, Joe Sportsfan, might actually care who wins the Bay Hill Invitational in March, or the Greater Milwaukee Open in July. As things exist now, there are those passionate junkies who tune in every Sunday to see just how Ernie hits that fade, or what kind of antics Monty is up to this week. Then there are sports nuts like me who cant muster the slightest interest in the game except for the four weekends a year a major is played (and, of course, FESJC week). Here are some thoughts on closing the gap between one group and the other.
Establish a standings system . . . without a computer. On a recent web browse, I found no fewer than nine ranking systems for the PGA. Youve got the silly money rankings (how corporate, how inflationary), the Ryder Cup rankings (at least theres a point to these), and the World Golf Rankings (a computer-generated system that includes Points Lost -- huh? -- and Points Gained).
Im for following the lead of, ahem, NASCAR. Come up with a system where the winner of a tournament gets so many points, those in the top-10 get a certain number, and right on down the leader board. Points earned at majors, of course, would be higher than your average FESJC, but other than that, every PGA tournament would be on the same point scale. And heres why: there will always be discrepancies in prize money that one event can offer over another (thank you, sponsors). The game needs to eliminate whatever other incentive a player might have for skipping events. And all non-majors should be treated as equals (at least until the winners check is signed).
On the subject of skipping events, penalize a player -- heavily -- if he misses two consecutive tournaments. These are golfers, people. They do for a living what the rest of us do on vacation. You, as fans, should not tolerate the absence of Tiger Woods, or Ernie Els, or Phil Mickelson, or Vijay Singh. (Els, Mickelson, and Singh have made exactly one appearance each in Memphis. Woods has never played here.) This years FESJC is being held in May, so lets not hear any excuses with the word humidity used. The tournament is three weeks before the U.S. Open, a prime slot for players to tune their game for the Big Daddy. Nonetheless, there is simply not enough incentive for the games very best to play Memphis. Among the top 100 players in the World Golf Rankings, fewer than 30 will be at Southwind this weekend. Whatever the new points system, make a players standing suffer if he ignores the events that helped build the PGA Tour.
Cheer before, during, and after a swing. I watch baseball players stand in a box, 60 feet from Randy Johnson, faced with the challenge of hitting a 90-mph baseball THAT CURVES while thousands upon thousands of people boo, hiss, and scream at him. Then I see the Gallant Woods have a tantrum because a fan of his lucky enough to get within earshot . . . sneezes. This is an affront, I know, to golf purists. The purists can go watch a tennis match. PGA golfers earn far too much coin -- and their fans pay far too much to see them -- for there to exist this code of silence while a game is being played. Ill give a little when it comes to putting. When a player reaches the green, hush yall. But lifes too short not to cheer. Hit the ball, Tigerrrrrrr!
Tag the greats. Back to our new ranking system . . . . Each week, the worlds top 20 golfers should wear an arm band, with their ranking displayed for all to see. If youre like me, from 200 yards, you cant tell the difference between Jim Furyk and Fred Funk. They all wear baseball caps these days. They all wear the same neutral colors. At least help us casual fans distinguish the games elite as they ply their trade. And wouldnt this be a point of pride for the players? If handing over that green jacket each April is such riveting drama, imagine Tiger having to turn in his Number 1 badge on the 18th green at Southwind?