Bamberger: Stars shouldn't be forced to play

Bamberger: Stars shouldn’t be forced to play

The LPGA requires its players to compete in every tournament at least once every four years. Meanwhile, on the PGA Tour, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson can’t be bothered to take their private jets to Hawaii for a chance to win $1.1 million and a brand new Benz. This situation begs the question: Does the PGA Tour need a rule like the LPGA’s? SI’s Michael Bamberger says no, but Rick Lipsey disagrees. Read their arguments and tell us what you think in our forum.

If you like the awkward life — maybe you tune into NBC’s “The Office” — you’d love to be a fly on the wall when Tim Finchem, the PGA Tour commissioner, has the following conversation with Phil Mickelson, the game’s most popular player, about this new rule designed to spread the wealth and help the second-tier events, the Hartfords, the Flints, the Quad Citieses. The rule is not likely to happen anytime soon, but it’s been talked about for years.

COMMISH: In the interest of fairness, sir, and in the interest of growing the game and supporting our sponsors, I ask you, Dr. Phil, to abide by our new PGA Tour bylaw. There will be fines — starting at $100! — for players who fail to comply, but we really hope it won’t get to that.

PHIL: Dude, you couldn’t get me to play in four straight playoff events. You think you’re gonna force me to make appearances on your junior circuit? I mean, I already play Atlanta and the Presidents Cup. Wake up, fella! This is a star-driven tour. The power rests in Tiger, Vijay, Ernie and, I think you know this, me. Anyway, does the phrase independent contractor mean anything to you? How ’bout free will? Read your Milton Friedman! I’m gonna have to go on TV and call you out again, you commie!

The players are funny. They look like conformists, but a lot of them, and not just the stars, are cowboys at heart. They don’t want to be told what clubs to play with, and they especially don’t want to be told what tournaments to play in. They have no union protection and aren’t looking for it.

It makes sense to force the players to play all the events on an irregular basis, but only in theory. It would violate the free market, capitalistic, survival-of-the-fittest attitude that permeates professional golf. That’s not just a player attitude, but one the tournament sponsors have, too. The events, like the golfers, live in a Darwinian triangle, and it’s crowded at the top. The Charlotte stop, the Wachovia, has figured out how to become a must-play event in a hurry. All it takes is money and ingenuity. That’s the free market at work.

If the Tour required a player to appear at a tournament where he didn’t want to be, you’d have a cranky player and ultimately an unhappy tournament, and that wouldn’t serve anybody. It’s true that a tournament like Hartford — a.k.a. The Travelers Championship, which is saddled with a bad week, right after the U.S. Open — is unlikely to get Phil or Tiger anytime soon. But the bad spot on the schedule forces the tournament’s sponsors to be creative in other ways. A player can fly free from the U.S. Open to Hartford on a chartered jet, paid for by the sponsor. No biggie, but a nice touch. Vijay played last year. Of course, Vijay’s attitude is, “If there’s a purse, I’m there.”

In 2008, Tiger is guaranteed nothing, and neither is Paul Goydos, not in terms of what they will make on the course. The players have to earn it. That’s part of golf’s broad appeal. The tournaments have to earn their standing, too, and they do. Forcing stars to play lesser events would undermine a system that’s working just fine. The good events get better players by word-of-mouth and not, as Michael Scott would say on “The Office,” by mandate from corporate. The players don’t work for Dunder Mifflin.

The show, by the way, airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. Someday there will be new episodes, if the writers’ strike ever gets resolved.

Continue to find out why Rick Lipsey thinks play should be mandated.

Tell us your thoughts in our forum.