(AP) — Ten years ago, the LG Skins Game raised its prize money to $1 million for a Thanksgiving weekend field that included Greg Norman, Fred Couples, Tom Lehman and double major winner Mark O’Meara. The average purse on the PGA Tour that year was $2.18 million.
O’Meara capped off his greatest season with eight skins to capture $430,000. Not only was that the third biggest check of his career (behind the Masters and British Open that season), only eight PGA Tour events offered a bigger first-place prize.
A decade later, just about everything has changed but the size of the purse.
The average PGA Tour purse is now $5.8 million, and even if one of the four players – Phil Mickelson, K.J. Choi, Rocco Mediate and defending champion Stephen Ames – wins all the skins, the $1 million would be equivalent to 105th on the tour money list.
Imagine if the purse were $3.5 million. They could play $75,000 per skin for the first six holes, $150,000 for the next six holes, $250,000 for the next five holes and a $900,000 skin for the 18th.
“I don’t know where it (the money) would come from,” said Barry Frank, vice chairman of IMG Media, which produces the LG Skins Game. “Production costs have gone up tremendously. The cost of doing this is enormous. We have a 50-50 partner (ABC Sports). They don’t want to raise the purse. It’s difficult for us to see it.”
Besides, Frank says the four players invited aren’t exactly slumming it.
“It still seems if you can win $250,000 for a weekend’s work, even for these guys, it’s not chopped liver,” he said. “You don’t have to beat 150 guys to win $1 million as you do in some tournaments.”
The 26th edition of the LG Skins Game starts Saturday at Indian Wells, and for a field that has been sliding in star power over the last few years, it did well to attract Mickelson.
Lefty is good friends with Mediate, a chatterbox who is a modern-day Lee Trevino minus six majors. And having Choi in the field should go over well with the South Korean-based title sponsor, especially with LG’s contract expiring this year.
Mickelson will be playing the Skins Game for the first time since 2003.
“He was interested,” Frank said. “We can’t get No. 1, so you take the best you can get. And he’s the best we can get. He’s got a lot of star power, and he’ll bring some viewers.”
Mickelson says the Skins Game is the only event he plays that he thinks about money standing over a putt.
“One of my best memories of the Skins Game was watching Nicklaus on 18 at Desert Highlands make a putt for $240,000 and throw his putter up in the air,” Mickelson said. “I thought that was a pretty cool moment.”
That was in 1984. That was almost as much money as he made all year, and it remains the largest check of his golf career.
THE OTHER NOMINEES: Bernhard Langer is bound to win at least one award this year on the Champions Tour.
The two-time Masters champion was the only player to be listed on the ballot as a candidate for player of the year and rookie of the year. Langer won three times and captured the Champions Tour money title with $1.65 million.
Other nominees for player of the year are major champions Jay Haas, Fred Funk, Eduardo Romero, along with Loren Robert. For rookie of the year, Langer joins John Cook, Jeff Sluman, Mark Wiebe and Gene Jones.
On the Nationwide Tour, the nominees were the top four players on the money list, headed by Matt Bettencourt.
WHO’S NUMBER TWO?: Phil Mickelson, who has slipped to No. 3 in the world, was asked last week during a conference call to promote the LG Skins Game whether Sergio Garcia deserved to be No. 2.
Garcia had one victory and three runner-up finishes on the PGA Tour and two victories and a second place in Europe. Mickelson had two PGA Tour victories and one runner-up. Garcia tied for second in the PGA Championship, while Mickelson was top 20 in all four majors.
“I won’t answer that directly,” Mickelson said. “But I think that he’s played some wonderful golf this year. I haven’t played to the level that I want as far as wins. I’ll be looking to improve on that.”
Mickelson then was asked if a player with no majors deserves to be No. 2, and this was far easier to answer.
“I think for a long time, I had no majors,” Mickelson said.
GOING LOW: No one has to remind Bill Haas that sometimes going low isn’t good enough to win.
Haas finished at No. 104 on the money list with just over $1 million, but he led the PGA Tour by having six tournaments in which he shot all four rounds in the 60s without winning. If that’s not enough, Haas didn’t even finish in the top 10 four of those times.
Mark Wilson and rookie Michael Letzig had four tournaments with all four rounds in the 60s without winning. Kevin Streelman, another rookie, had three all-60s tournaments without winning, and he led the PGA Tour with 51 rounds in the 60s.
DIVOTS: Barbara Douglas has been appointed to a one-year term as chair of USGA’s women’s committee. … The FBR Open raised $8,652,542 for local charities in the Phoenix area, an increase of about $800,000 from the previous year and more than any PGA Tour event has ever donated. … Ten players on the Nationwide Tour earned at least $300,000 this year. … Patrick Sheehan led the PGA Tour with 124 rounds played this year and averaged $6,499 per round. Tiger Woods, who played only six events this year, averaged $222,115 per round. … Jason Gore led the PGA Tour in total driving but failed to finish in the top 125 on the money list, the sixth time in the last seven years that has happened.
STAT OF THE WEEK: Shigeki Maruyama withdrew from five PGA Tour events, more than any other player.
FINAL WORD: “Their job ultimately is to play golf. We give them a great office and a good salary.” – Tom Pulchinski, tournament director of the $6.3 million Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club.