Answering Critics on the Decision to Keep Sunday Tee Times at the PGA Championship

Answering Critics on the Decision to Keep Sunday Tee Times at the PGA Championship

A success rate of 90 percent is considered very good in most instances. It’s an A- or B+ in school, an outstanding free throw percentage in basketball, and a commendable on-time performance for an airline. Ninety percent of the time, scheduling the PGA Championship to end at 7:00 on Sunday works out great for the PGA of America, the CBS television network, and the viewers at home. This year, we all had to pay the piper, as lightning delays forced an unsatisfying Monday finish to the championship.

Everyone is going to roll the dice when you win nine times out of 10, and the PGA of America is no exception. That’s why the stream of criticism directed at them and my employer, CBS Sports, is so shortsighted.

It’s simple to second-guess decisions after the fact, especially when writers get to go after their favorite target, television. The PGA of America decided to keep the tee times as they were — the decision had to be made Saturday afternoon, when the forecast was less severe and the storms forecasted for Saturday had not materialized — rather than moving them up one hour in anticipation of afternoon storms. If everyone involved could have counted on just a one hour delay (who’s to say it wouldn’t have been three or four hours?) they absolutely would have made adjustments.

Let’s face the fact that sports is a business, and we live in a capitalist society in which the networks, the tournament organizers, and the players all want to get the most amount of money possible out of televised golf. That means the highest possible television ratings — a particular concern for the networks, which contribute well over half of the total purse and have to make up that money by selling advertising. The writers who feel that money is not be a part of the equation should be reminded of stories they have written that were dropped from publications because there weren’t enough advertising pages to compensate for the editorial pages.

You wonder if finishing at 6:00 or 7:00 really makes a difference to advertisers? Ratings for the PGA peaked at 7.2 from 6:00 to 6:30 on Sunday. There are simply more television sets turned on after 6:00, and therefore a better chance to get the casual fan tuned into golf. That means the networks can charge a higher premium for commercials.

I do feel bad for the volunteers and the fans, especially those who paid good money to come out and cheer at Baltusrol. They deserve to see a champion crowned on Sunday, and most years, it happens. The last time the PGA finished on a Monday was in 1986 at Inverness — 20 tournaments exactly between that year and this year, and two Monday finishes. (There’s that 90 percent success rate).

The Monday finish wasn’t what anybody wanted. But it’s naïve to suggest that the PGA and CBS should forego their business plan because of an uncertain weather forecast. When you start aiming at a moving target like that, you end up on the wrong side of 90 percent.

How Will Phil Play at Augusta?

Over the last eight major championships, Phil has won two (the same as Tiger) and played very well in three others, all last year. He did this by hitting a controlled fade off the tee, which cost him distance but helped him play smarter. He strayed from this plan during the first three majors of 2005, and didn’t contend for any of them.

What intrigued me at Baltusrol was whether the course forced Phil to go back to his conservative strategy, or if Phil decided on his own. Most difficult courses have some par fives spread in the middle of the layout, that allow you to get re-energized with a two-putt birdie or an eagle. At Baltusrol, those holes don’t appear until Nos. 17 and 18.

The effect of this is to wear down the field and reward the players who stay patient and get up and down. That’s what Phil did marvelously. Now it will be interesting to see if he sticks with this strategy next year — you never know with Phil. If he does gear down again at The Masters next April, he could be on his way to hoisting many more major trophies in the near future.

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