The most-talked-about subject on the PGA Tour these days is the draft — as in tournaments’ drafting players, like the NFL draft.
Title sponsors and TV networks have long anguished over the most stubborn issue in professional golf: strength of field. The players are independent contractors and behave accordingly. They must play at least 15 events a year, but if they don’t want to play a certain event for any reason, they don’t, and the Tour can’t make them. That was fine when times were good, but such permissiveness won’t cut it anymore, and that’s why there’s so much chatter about a one-in-four requirement mandating that Tour members appear in each tournament at least once every four years. But many believe a draft is a better option.
Here’s how the selection process might work. Not counting the Fall Series, there are 41 tournaments on Tour, but the Mercedes Championship, four majors, three World Golf Championships and four FedEx Cup playoff events already have a de facto draft because of the requirements for inclusion. At the same time, the encumbered events that take place opposite the WGCs and the British Open can’t be part of the draft since the best players will have already committed elsewhere. That leaves 25 tournaments.
Each would be assigned a point-allocation fund based on its strength of field from the previous year, with the weakest picking first. The top 75 money earners from the previous year would be eligible for the draft, and each player would have a point value, which would skew higher for the top players. Tournaments would get to pick one player from the top five; two from the next 10; three from the next 15, and so on.
It might look like this:
|Group One||Players 1-5||1 pick||Point Value 200,000 each|
|Group Two||Players 6-15||2 picks||Point Value 100,000 each|
|Group Three||Players 16-30||3 picks||Point Value 66,000 each|
|Group Four||Players 31-50||4 picks||Point value 50,000 each|
|Group Five||Players 51-75||5 picks||Point Value 40,000 each|
That would ensure that a minimum of six of the top 30 and 15 of the top 75 players would play in every tournament.
Players would be allowed to opt out of three of the 25 tournaments, but they would have to declare which three before the draft. That leaves 22 events for which a player would be eligible, and he must play in at least eight. The host organization would be on the hook for the travel expenses of drafted players.
Let’s look at a few examples of how this might work. We’ll take the Memorial. It always enjoys a great field, and last year was no exception, so it would be allocated the minimum of 100,000 points to work with. Next consider the John Deere, which doesn’t draw the stars, so it would get the maximum 500,000 points. The Deere gets the first pick.
Here’s where it gets fun. Let’s suppose Tiger Woods doesn’t want to play the week before a major, so he uses one of his exemptions to opt out of the Deere. On the other hand, Phil Mickelson likes to play the week before a major, but the British is the next week and he has to travel and acclimate and prepare. So maybe Mickelson uses one of his exemptions as well. Now they’re left with Sergio Garcia, Kenny Perry and Vijay Singh as their Group One available picks. Perry will probably play the Deere anyway because he’s probably not going to the British, Garcia will likely be getting ready to play the British, too, and that leaves Singh, who would be a good choice if he hasn’t opted out. Even if he has, the Deere could forgo a Group One pick and take three players from Group Two. That would cost them 300,000 points and limit their other picks, but that’s the beauty of the system.
With such a system players could still plan most of their schedules in advance and commit to the events they want to play, but the draft also gives each tournament a way to guarantee more to its sponsors and to television. There will have to be some accommodation for injuries and the events that take place the week before the British Open, for which travel is a factor, but there are all sorts of tweaks that could make the system fair for the players as well as for the sponsors.
Maybe the draft isn’t the answer, but the Tour had better come up with some way to ensure that every sponsor sees some of the top players each year, or those sponsors won’t be around for long. In 2008 Buick celebrated its 50th anniversary with the Buick Open, making it the oldest corporate sponsor on Tour. Last year it was the official car of the PGA Tour and supplied courtesy vehicles to dozens of Tour events. Three players from the top 30 showed up. Happy anniversary, boys.
Jim McGovern is a consultant to title sponsors of PGA Tour events.