Gary Van Sickle’s Mailbag: Appearance fees and recreating 16th at TPC Scottsdale

Van Sickle says that recreating the magic of the Phoenix Open's 16th hole at other Tour events is harder than it sounds.
Ross D. Franklin/AP

Have a question for Gary Van Sickle's mailbag? E-mail [email protected] or ask it on Facebook.

So far, this looks like potentially the greatest year in golf history. Why do I say that? Because I have now played golf at home in the Pittsburgh area in January AND February. This is unheard of and raises the all-but-impossible opportunity to play golf in every month on the calendar in 2012.

As a true Midwesterner, I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop on this unusually warm and crazy winter. The worst March in recorded history has got to be waiting for us and chuckling. That's how I feel. But then I am known for being slightly pessimistic.

I always expect nothing when it's time to answer reader mail for the Van Cynical Mailbag. I'm never disappointed:

Hey, Vans: Tournaments in East Asia and in Dubai pay appearance money to get Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and other stars to play in their tournaments. John Deere is never going to get Woods or Mickelson or any big star to play without appearance money, so why not let the two PGA tournaments with the weakest fields pay appearance money? Isn't it unilateral disarmament if foreign tournaments pay appearance money but not the PGA? You could rotate the appearance money option among the 10 weakest fields every year. This plan would have the additional benefit of keeping the most popular players happy with the PGA and playing in the USA instead of overseas.
— Darryl Miyahira
You're not getting it, D-Man. The events like the Deere that have the worst dates are stuck with those dates because they didn't have the money to buy a better date, much less have an extra couple of million around to buy players. Bidding for Tiger starts at $2 million, man. You were half right, though –the "Deere is never going to get Woods or Mickelson." The British Open is the following week and no serious contender wants to arrive on Monday, feeling jet-lagged for at least two days, and get only one or two decent practice rounds in.

Besides Tiger or Phil, who would cost a tournament millions they don't have, who else are you going to buy that's going to make a difference to the field? Is Dustin Johnson going to sell any tickets? Webb Simpson? Rickie Fowler, maybe, and he's not ranked among the world's top 20. Plus, if Phil is going to play the week before the British, he'll take the appearance money at the Scottish Open, so he can acclimate to the time difference to prep his game.

Sure, Abu Dhabi bought a good field, but even with all that oil money involved, the end result of the appearance fee spree was that it had a laughably small purse by current standards. Appearance fees would only widen the gap between the haves and have-nots on the PGA Tour, if not kill off the six smallest events because they don't have the money to compete. That's why appearance fees are a terrible idea.

Hey Gary, I enjoy Golf Channel tournament coverage and was wondering about its choice of lead announcers. Is the Kelly Tilghman experiment over? We don't see her in the broadcast booth any more.
— Jimmy Almond, Atlanta, Georgia
Have some Almond Joy, Tilghman hasn't gone anywhere. At the Hawaiian events, Kelly was more involved in player interviews — she did a good job trying to get Matt Every to explain himself, for instance. She's still going to be the host-anchor on some telecasts, but not as many as in past years as they use her in a variety of roles.

Hey, Van Cynical, how come Golf Channel didn't show Phil or Tiger live during Thursday's telecast from Pebble Beach? All I saw were occasional highlights. What's the deal?
— Doug S., Scottsdale
Pebble Beach is a CBS production, Doug, and CBS opted not to pay for the extra crew and equipment that would've been needed to show roving live play from the other two courses, Monterey Peninsula Country Club's Shore Course and Spyglass Hill=, the latter being where Phil and Tiger played Thursday. Golf Channel sent its own cameramen out to shoot footage of Tiger, then had to have a runner bring that video back to the production truck at frequent intervals, edit it and then work the highlights into the telecast. So instead of bitching (that's usually my job), you should be thankful Golf Channel went out of its way to get any of Tiger's round on the air. It required no small effort.

Gary, I followed Luke Donald around the first round in Abu Dhabi. He wasn't more than 20 yards behind Tiger and Rory when they all hit drivers. Has his short-hitting been exaggerated or is he hitting it longer now?
— Stuart Williams, U.K.
Twenty yards is two clubs, Stu, the difference between a 9-iron and a 7-iron. That's significant. I wasn't in Abu Dhabi but roll could've been a factor — Rory and Tiger usually hit high shots that don't roll out much, maybe Luke sneaked up on them due to roll with his lower ball-flight. Luke ranked 157th and 179th the last two years in driving distance. Distance-wise, he's still in the bottom 25 percent on Tour. Let's see how he stacks up to the big hitters on a slow, wet American track. I don't think he's gaining on them. Which makes his No. 1 world ranking all the more impressive.

Mr. Cynical:Last week you answered a question about appearance fees on the PGA Tour. Did the Tour EVER pay appearance fees? A pal seems to believe several players, including Nicklaus and Norman, were paid to play in the Greater Milwaukee Open back in the Tuckaway days. Fact or fiction?
— James Joseph (Jimmy Joe) Meeker, Ponca City, Okla.
Well, Mr. Meeker, the old GMO used to get around the appearance fee rules by having a supporting sponsor hire a player for a one-day outing or appearance early in the week, like Lee Trevino for a reported $50,000 back in the '70s when that was big money. I don't know for a fact that the Bear and the Shark got paid, but I'm pretty sure they didn't show up in Milwaukee because they were dying to have a brat and see beautiful downtown Franklin, Wis.

What do you think of making more holes on the tour like the 16th at Phoenix? It is tough to talk about growing the game yet ignore the attendance records of that tournament every year due to it's fun, spectator-centric atmosphere.
— Golf Cheapskate
It's hardly a new idea, Cheaps, but how do you recreate what Phoenix does? You can set up another Birds Nest party each night and charge $35 for admission and $150 for VIP admission. Do you think that's going to fly at Akron or Greenbrier or John Deere or Bay Hill? Not a chance. How many courses on Tour can handle a crowd of 100,000 if they could somehow attract one? Damn few.

Bigger still, who's got on-site or nearby parking for 50,000 or 60,000 cars? Nobody, that's who. Nothing deters attendance like having to park five miles away and ride a shuttle bus to the course. That's a total drag.

Let's say you do surround a par 3 with corporate suites with seating for 15,000 or 20,000? Who pays to erect those structures? How many tournaments can actually sell those suites for the week? It's just not realistic for most events. You need a highly motivated, charity-driven group like the Thunderbirds to put something like that together.

The HP Byron Nelson Championship has the Salesmanship Club, the only group who can match the Thunderbirds in manpower, clout and will. But minimal parking around the TPC Las Colinas probably prevents the Byron from duplicating Phoenix's success.

Have a question for Gary Van Sickle's mailbag? E-mail [email protected] or ask it on Facebook.