There's plenty of news besides the grooves controversy at this week's Northern Trust Open at Riviera, and Jill Painter of The Los Angeles Daily News has all of it.
Painter reports that the Charlie Sifford Exemption, given for the first time last year and intended to reward a minority player who represents the advancement of diversity in golf, will now be called the Northern Trust Exemption because Sifford, 87, asked to have his name taken off the award. Something doesn't smell right here. Painter reports:
Reached by phone at his home in Cleveland, Sifford made it
clear he was unhappy about something relating to the exemption but
referred questions to his attorney. "Because
of Charlie's current state of health and his current situation, he's
ditched any appearances, endorsements or business activities," said
Gerald Roisman, Sifford's longtime attorney. "At this point, he's
cutting way, way back." Roisman declined to go into details on Sifford's health,
nor did he elaborate on how the partnership ended.
A Northern Trust spokesman and Ty Votaw of the PGA Tour both claimed that naming the exemption after Sifford was always supposed to be a one-year deal. Naming an award after a Hall of Famer is never a one-year deal in the rest of the world. Very odd. An exemption by any other name feels just as sweet, though, and this year's recipient will be University of Southern California player Joshua Wooding.
The Northern Trust Open has other issues, too, like the gigantic shadow of Sunday's Super Bowl. This is the first time this tournament has been scheduled opposite the Super Bowl, a date that frequently has fallen to the Phoenix Open. Painter, again, considers the dilemma for fans who want to watch the sporting event of the year but also, if Mickelson or another big name is in contention, want to see the tournament finish.
The Northern Trust is contracted to end on NBC at 3 p.m. (Pacific time), which will put it up against the endless Super Bowl pregame shows. The Super Bowl will kick off at 3:25 p.m. (Pacific time). Painter predicts that Sunday's winner at Riviera could finish in front of sparse crowds as fans leave the tournament early for Super Bowl parties.
Los Angeles fans are fickle, and some who normally attend
the final day might not go at all. Others might attend but leave when
the leaders are at the turn, the equivalent of Dodgers fans taking off
during the seventh-inning stretch. "I'd like to think (fans) will come, but it presents
challenges to corporate sponsors, no doubt," said Mike Bone, general
manager of the Northern Trust Open. "We can be concerned about it, but
there's not much we can do about it."
One last thing about the Northern Trust Open. Its new executive director is Jerry West, the former basketball great who is now 71. Painter profiles his new role:
It appears 70 is the new 50. West is tanned and fit and
alive with the hustle and spark that made him a revered player and
general manager for the Lakers for four decades. West spearheaded the trade to bring Kobe Bryant to the Lakers, hired Phil Jackson and then rebuilt the Memphis Grizzlies. West
needed a new challenge, and now he's wheeling and dealing in a
different arena. He's charming players, fans and corporate types in an
effort to give more to Los Angeles-area charities and reinvent the
Northern Trust Open, the fourth-oldest event on the PGA Tour.
West is a longtime sports power broker and, as Painter reports, he knows how to sweeten the deal to attract the top players.
West convinced Anthony Kim, who's 47 years younger, to
put the Los Angeles event back on his schedule. He helped entice him
with his personal Lakers seats. West did the same for Stewart Cink. A
nice breakfast at Sherwood Country Club was all Y.E. Yang needed to enter. This is not a job for West. It's a labor of love. "This gives him purpose," Karen West said. "He cares, and this gives him something to do. He enjoys golf."
Next year, Yang's going to want those Laker seats.