CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — No longer can anyone say the World Golf Championships are only played in America.
In an announcement that raised several questions, not to mention a few eyebrows, the HSBC Champions in China was promoted Tuesday as the fourth WGC event on the schedule.
But this one is not like the other three, and not just because of its location.
The HSBC Champions in Shanghai will be played Nov. 5-8 – one week before the PGA Tour season ends at Disney – but it will not count as an official PGA Tour victory, nor will any earnings from the $7 million purse count toward the U.S. money list.
“So it’s a WGC with an asterisk,” Geoff Ogilvy suggested.
However, the winner will be eligible for the winners-only Mercedes-Benz Championship at Kapalua.
“A double asterisk,” Ogilvy added.
It will be the only WGC in which the world ranking is not part of the criteria. Instead, the 78-man field will be determined largely by tournament winners from around the world – the four majors, three other WGCs, 23 select events on the PGA Tour and European Tour, nine from the Asian Tour, and five each from Japan, South Africa and Australia.
Tiger Woods already has said he will be there, giving the tournament instant credibility. He was runner-up the two previous times he played in Shanghai, but now that it’s a WGC, it will be the only world championship he hasn’t won.
Sergio Garcia is the defending champion. And the fact it falls two weeks before the inaugural Dubai World Championship means the tournament likely will have a strong presence from the European troops – Padraig Harrington, Paul Casey, Henrik Stenson, Rory McIlroy.
But it raises a question that has been brought up before.
If you take a World Golf Championship out of America, will the Americans go?
Even when these WGCs were part of the PGA Tour schedule and counted as an official victory with official money, there was no guarantee the Americans would leave home. A dozen of them, including five of the top 10 in the world ranking, skipped out on the American Express Championship at Valderrama in 2000.
That prompted this famous line from Stuart Appleby: “They’re like a bag of prawns on a hot Sunday. They don’t travel well.”
A year later at the Accenture Match Play Championship, 38 eligible players – half of them from the United States – stayed home for the holidays instead of traveling to Australia.
The PGA Tour can only hope history doesn’t repeat itself in China.
And some of the skeptics already are lining up.
“If it’s not going to have the same field as the rest of them, it’s not really a world event, is it?” Robert Allenby said.
He was talking about the world ranking not being used for China – the previous tournament insisted that it keep the character of its field by emphasizing champions – but he also alluded to the strength of the field.
With very few exceptions, anyone eligible for the WGCs in America typically show up. A year ago, the WGCs had the highest world ranking points of any tournament behind the four majors and The Players Championship.
Will that be the case in China?
“We expect our players to support the event if they’re eligible. We’re anticipating they will,” PGA Tour spokesman Ty Votaw said. “We should wait to see how that plays out.”
PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem described this development as “one of the most significant steps ever taken in the globalization of golf, and one of the most logical.” Indeed, it makes perfect sense to add a WGC event in China, a burgeoning golf market. Plus, the HSBC Champions is known as Asia’s major because of its high quality.
How does it help the PGA Tour?
Even if not all the eligible players attend, it elevates the status of a tournament halfway around the world. And as PGA Tour board member Stewart Cink points out, it gives the other umbrella sponsors of WGC events – Accenture, Bridgestone and CA – access and exposure in a market where they have a presence.
The biggest challenge – not just for the Americans – is that WGC events do not offer appearance money. Marquee players hardly ever play in Asia without getting something under the table.
But the schedule might allow for such players to make up for that. The Barclays Singapore Open, where Phil Mickelson typically plays, is the week before the new WGC event, and the Hong Kong Open is the week after. In Woods’ case, he will get $3 million the following week by playing the Australian Masters.
What it might hurt is the Fall Series on the U.S. tour, particularly the Viking Classic in Mississippi the week before China, and Disney the week after. Then again, those tournaments weren’t exactly attracting the top players, anyway. The FedEx Cup already minimized them.
But when the money and victory don’t count in the PGA Tour record books, what’s in it for an American player?
The $7 million purse is the largest in Asia, but American-based players compete for prize money of $6 million or more 25 times throughout the year without having to get a stamp in their passport (assuming they have one).
Perhaps Sean O’Hair summed it up best.
“It’s a chance to compete against the best players in the world,” he said. “I’ll go.”