Lipsey: Tour should mandate appearances

January 11, 2008

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 Rick Lipsey says yes, but Michael Bamberger disagrees. Read their arguments and tell us what you think in our forum.

A few years ago, the LPGA tour began requiring players to compete in every tournament once every four years. The new rule has been a boon to the LPGA, helping to spur interest. Events in outposts like Corning, N.Y., and Sylvania, Ohio, are not only surviving, they’re thriving.

The PGA Tour desperately needs a similar rule. Much of the mind-jarring success of major pro sports, as measured by attendance and revenues, stems from the fact that fans everywhere can see their heroes live and in person once in a while. It’s one thing to watch Tiger on the tube, but it’s an altogether different experience — more riveting and impressive — to watch him in the flesh.

But over the last few years, the Tour’s biggest names have been playing less and less. Phil Mickelson used to play 23 to 26 times a year, but now that’s down to about 20. Woods averaged 20 starts during his first few years as a pro, but he’s dramatically scaled back and last season played just 16 events.

You could argue that while stars are scaling back, they’re winning more. That’s true. Finally, Mickelson is winning majors, and Woods, well, he wins everything. But winning isn’t everything with fans. The less the luminaries play, the further detached they become from their constituencies, and no sport can survive without sated fans. Also, companies won’t keep paying $5 million to $10 million to sponsor events where names like Furyk and Weekley are the main attractions.

You rarely hear it, but golf is not thriving. The number of players has been flat for years, TV ratings are definitely not rising and the equipment industry isn’t growing either. What is growing, in my opinion, is the divide between everyday golfers and Tour players, who in addition to playing less and less are often indifferent toward fans. And this divide, I think, is significantly contributing to golf’s stagnation.

Woods, Mickelson and the Tour’s other big names all moan when asked if they should play more. They say their schedules maximize their performances. Perhaps, but what about maximizing the enjoyment of golf fans, especially in places like Madison, Miss., and Verona, N.Y.?

Major League Baseball, NASCAR and the NFL would not be nearly as big as they are, and perhaps wouldn’t survive, if they only played games in a few select cities and beamed those games to the rest of the country. I don’t think the PGA Tour can survive by doing that either. It won’t be easy for Tim Finchem, the Tour’s commissioner, to make it mandatory for Woods et al to play all over the place. But Finchem needs to do it, and soon.

Continue to find out why Michael Bamberger thinks play should not be mandated.

Tell us your thoughts in our forum.