PGA Tour Confidential: Best Players Never to Have Won a Major, the Tour's Nonprofit Status and Where to Go South for the Winter

PGA Tour Confidential: Best Players Never to Have Won a Major, the Tour’s Nonprofit Status and Where to Go South for the Winter

With his girlfriend on his bag, Sergio Garcia held off Henrik Stenson to win the Thailand Championship, his first victory since last December.
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Every Sunday night, conducts an e-mail roundtable with writers from Sports Illustrated and Golf Magazine. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.

1. Sergio Garcia was the best player in Thailand this week. But is he the best active player to never have won a major? Give us your top three in that category.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): Sergio is close to playing his way back into my top three. I've got Henrik Stenson, Luke Donald and Matt Kuchar ahead of him, however.

Joe Passov, senior editor, courses and travel, Golf Magazine (@joepassov): Sergio is indeed the best active player never to win a major, in terms of talent, in terms of near-misses in majors and in terms of overall success worldwide. Lee Westwood is a clear and convincing second. Tough call on the third, but Dustin Johnson is my pick. Eight wins, a ton of talent and several shattering miscues in majors that could have/should have been his. He's due.

Josh Sens, contributing writer, Golf Magazine (@JoshSens): Sergio isn't even the best player to make a tasteless Tiger Woods/fried chicken joke. In the never-won-a-major category, I'd take Jason Day ahead of him in raw talent and potential; ditto Henrik Stenson; and Lee Westwood on the basis of his many narrow misses; and possibly Luke Donald, though maybe I'm confusing money-made with near-major status.

Eamon Lynch, managing editor, (@eamonlynch): This was his 25th professional win, and he's still only 33, so he belongs on that list. The progress he has made in putting statistics this year goes some way to addressing one of the two main reasons he hasn't won a major. The other reason — a lousy, 'chip on the shoulder' attitude — is his next hurdle. The other spots on this list rotate between Westwood, Stenson, Donald, Kuchar, Stricker, Johnson and Hass, depending on whichever one of them is in vogue.

Jeff Riter, senior editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Group (@Jeff_Ritter): Sergio's in the discussion, but I factor longevity into this ranking, so it's 1) Westwood, 2) Kuchar and 3) Sergio. Westwood is a former No. 1 and has come close numerous times. Kuchar is best at this moment, and Sergio is one notch behind him. Just missing: Snedeker, Stenson, Donald, Stricker.

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@AlanShipnuck): I think that ship has sailed for Sergio — part of being BPNTHWAM is the sense that you're still a threat to win one. He's looked so overmatched whenever he's around the lead at the majors that I don't think anyone believes he's a threat to win one, most of all Sergio. So I'd go 1) Westwood, 2) Donald, 3) tie: Henrik Stenson and Dustin Johnson.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I think Kuchar, Westwood, Garcia, but I wish I could find places for Henrik Stenson and Luke Donald. Oh, the lives we lead and the choices we must make. More than a man can stand.

2. The Thailand Championship was played on a dramatic course, complete with floating island green, and the final round began with a leaderboard featuring Garcia, Stenson and Rose as your top 3, and Fowler and Bubba Watson lurking. So we ask: What is so wrong with tournaments paying appearance money?

VAN SICKLE: Interesting question that no one ever asks. I like it. The European Tour did it for years. Ernie Els has traveled the globe to play golf. Because he likes flying? No, because he likes free money. In a nutshell, appearance money just doesn't feel right. Ethically, it doesn't feel fair.

LYNCH: The PGA Tour's ban on appearance money seems almost quaint in its innocence, especially given how many routes there are around it. Buick sponsored Tiger Woods for almost a decade, a perfectly legitimate relationship that brought Tiger to Buick-sponsored Tour stops that he would never have otherwise deigned to play. Today RBC sponsors a wide slate of players and two Tour stops, tournaments those RBC players will support. It's entirely defensible, but not really that much different from appearance money to guarantee stars show for an event.

PASSOV: If I'm a sponsor/volunteer/tournament director/fan at any one of a dozen PGA Tour events, I'd be drooling with anticipation with that leaderboard and that field. I get that the top guys can't play every week and that courses, cities, sponsors and scheduling play a role in where they enter. I just think you have to level the playing field. Phil's skipping Humana so that he can play Abu Dhabi. At the very least, PGA Tour events should be allowed to match what the opposite tournament has offered.

BAMBERGER: They all pay appearance money, every pro tournament. The rest is semantics.

RITTER: Not sure I have a problem with appearance cash during silly season, but I'd prefer that the fees be publicized so the whole thing seemed a little less shady and nefarious.

SHIPNUCK: I don't have a problem with it — golf would be much more boring from September to January without appearance money, because a lot of big names would be spending their time doing corporate outings or building golf courses instead of teeing it up in Asia and the Middle East.

SENS: It's good for some golfers (the ones getting paid to win around the world, and the ones back home who suddenly have spots open for them in events). And it's good for some fans (the golf-world version of baseball fans who like watching the All-Star game). But it's not a good sign for the Tour in this country. Especially when the best players in the world get so financially fat and complacent that they can't be bothered to play full schedules, which is already happening.

3. ESPN's Outside the Lines examined the PGA Tour's charity giving program this week, concluding that major tax breaks are what allow for such healthy donations. It stated that nearly every tournament operates in ways that fall short of acceptable charitable practices and that the tournaments spend far more on prizes, catering and such than they do on charity. PGA Tour spokesman Ty Votaw defends the practice, saying that questioning the PGA Tour's nonprofit status is disingenuous, considering how much it has donated over the years. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) wants to remove the Tour’s tax-exempt status. Does the PGA Tour deserve its tax-exempt, nonprofit status?

BAMBERGER: Without knowing the fine points of the law, the PGA Tour is about as much a nonprofit entity as I am a hedge-fund billionaire. It does many good things. It puts on a good show. It enriches our lives and its members lives, of course. But it exists to make money. It's just structured not to show a profit.

SHIPNUCK: It's complicated. The fact is that Tour events have a ton of overhead, the bulk of which is the purse and TV costs, and the overall enterprise requires a bunch of staff. So the percentage of money that gets donated is always going to be low compared to other kinds of charities. But the total amounts are pretty staggering. If you take away the tax-exempt status, the whole business model falls apart. The government would get a slice, but the overall size of the pie would shrink dramatically. So paying the bloated salaries of all the VPs in Ponte Vedra Beach is an unfortunate cost of doing business.

VAN SICKLE: It's pretty obvious that the NFL, NHL and the PGA Tour and all of the other major pro sports are businesses. They raise money for charity, some much more than others, but they're businesses. I'd hate to see anything hurt the amount of money the golf charities receive, but Votaw is a smart guy. Take away the Tour's tax-exempt status, and surely he can figure out a way to keep the charity contributions flowing.

LYNCH: Nonprofits are not the same as charities, and I think the PGA Tour fairly qualifies as a nonprofit by the legal definition. I'd also argue that there is considerable value for charities in using the Tour as a marketing platform. Still, a prime requirement of a nonprofit ought to be transparency, but clearly the Tour doesn't think that transparency ought to extend to all areas of its operations, like disciplinary proceedings. That's more bothersome than its tax status for me.

PASSOV: I'm lucky I can get my tax returns filed on time, let alone comprehend what the implications might be for eliminating the Tour's tax-exempt status. Still, I'm inclined to agree with Ty Votaw. If we're thinking big picture, greater societal good and all that, how can there be any harm if a golf tournament winds up being able to give ANY money to a charity after expenses are deducted — whether it's $1,000 or a $1 million? Yes, the PGA Tour deserves its tax-exempt, nonprofit status.

SENS: Does the Tour qualify by strict letter of the law? It sure seems to. Is the Tour's use of its charitable giving for marketing purposes tinged with cynicism? I would say yes to that, too. The Tour is a nonprofit in the way that the opera is a nonprofit: taking advantage of latitude in the law to provide benefits for a very privileged few. Then again, I've tried sitting through the opera. I'd rather watch a Father-Son event.

RITTER: The Tour is a highly profitable nonprofit, which is quite an oxymoron. That charity money still does a lot of good. Do we stick it to the Tour and cost charities future contributions? Do laws care about fairness? I'd like to use a lifeline and phone a tax lawyer.

4. In a recent interview with Golf Magazine, Greg Norman said they if they met in their respective primes, Norman would hold his own against Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods and "probably would have beat Tiger." If this fantasy tournament ever took place, whom would you bet on and why?

BAMBERGER: Where's Big Jack on that list? Woods could have played with Hogan's equipment. He basically did, as a kid. I'm picking Woods if the course has some room, Hogan if it doesn't. But I'm rooting for Hogan. I root for underdogs.

SENS: Tiger, because I think there's no doubt he is the best ever (dominant in golf's era of true athleticism, not golf's era of “it's only for us white guys from a couple of countries”). I'm sure Norman would hold his own, too. His own neck, that is. Denial isn't just a river in the Outback.

PASSOV: The Shark was every bit as good as Hogan or Snead at driving the ball — or even better. I'll give him that. But what could he have possibly meant by "probably would have beat Tiger?" On one hole? For one round? When it comes to pressure putts and big shots at big times, nobody's been better than Tiger — except perhaps Jack. Norman was a phenomenal talent, but at crunch time in the biggest events, he's dreaming if he thinks he would have taken down Tiger in his prime. If this fantasy tournament includes Nicklaus, he's my pick. If it's just these five, Tiger's record speaks for itself. Hogan may have been the best ballstriker, but even in his prime, his putter would let him down. Tiger's never did.

SHIPNUCK: Tiger. In his prime he was the most dominant athlete — not just golfer — of all time. Norman would've gotten his ugly hat handed to him by Snead and Hogan, too.

RITTER: I'd bet on Tiger in his prime, Hogan at the U.S. Open, Phil at Augusta, and Norman at the Shark Shootout.

VAN SICKLE: It's a cliche that the older an athlete gets, the better he was. Norman was a great player for a decade or so, but he doesn't belong in that foursome. He won two fewer U.S. Opens than Andy North, two fewer PGA Championships than Larry Nelson and two fewer Masters than Ben Crenshaw or Jose Maria Olazabal. On any given day or any given week, Norman could go as low as anyone. But he never got it done in three of the four majors. He doesn't even qualify for admission to this foursome.

LYNCH: Tiger: 14. Norman: 2. There's really a debate over who closed better in his prime?

5. An invitation to the Father-Son Challenge appears to be much coveted by many Hall-of-Famers and current stars. Is this must-watch TV? Should lesser events on the PGA Tour offer some kind of concurrent father-son tournament as a way of drawing bigger names?

VAN SICKLE: The Father-Son event is the Silly Season at its finest, although I was always partial to the old Skills Challenge, which was fun until they ruined it by letting amateurs like Mark McGwire play in it. Silly Season events are TV shows more than golf tournaments, although I would say the same about all golf tournaments now. A real Father-Son tournament, open to all comers, amateur and professional alike — now that would be a tournament I'd watch. And try to qualify for.

PASSOV: This is still true silly season stuff to me. Stewart Cink and his 10-handicap son winning the event this year? Bravo — but bizarre. Nevertheless, it was totally captivating on TV, especially seeing the rare — and competitive — appearance from Jack Nicklaus. Everybody loves the family vibe. I think this kind of field on a weekly basis would outdraw the Champions Tour and the LPGA.

LYNCH: Nope. The big names at this event have opportunities to play elsewhere and largely choose not to. Anyway, once a year is quite enough for viewers to listen to announcers take a break from gushing about Tour pros to tell us all how wonderful their kids are too.

RITTER: It's a fun event and the pros in the field obviously love it. Lesser Tour events should do whatever they can to draw bigger names: Father-Son, Mother-Daughter, Player-Caddie, Scramble, Reverse Scramble, whatever. There's plenty of room for more fun in pro golf.

BAMBERGER: I don't know about concurrent, but you could make Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and even Saturday mornings for certain fields in summer, much more interesting and valuable. Talk about underused real estate.

SHIPNUCK: Well, I missed it, so it's not must-watch to *everybody*. I have tuned in the past and it is a fun little tourney. I think the scale of it is just right as is.

SENS: It's good TV if you're stranded on a desert isle and your set only picks up one station. But even then I'd probably rather count grains of sand.

6. If you were going south for the winter for a couple of months to golf, where would you rather go? Florida, Arizona, Myrtle Beach or somewhere else?

PASSOV: OK, I've got an Arizona bias, no question. Still, if it's just about pure value on very good courses, make mine Myrtle — though you'll need some sweaters and windshirts. For December through early February, Florida (south Florida) consistently delivers warm weather and no frost delays — and I love those balmy breezes. From mid-Feb to the start of spring, however, Phoenix/Scottsdale/Tucson is impossible to beat. The Caribbean and especially Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, are really high on that list as well, but it will cost you.

LYNCH: Arizona has a deeper bench of quality courses, but I'll settle for any place where the temperature is similar to my score.

SENS: Arizona because I think the public access courses there are generally better than in Florida. And because unlike Myrtle, you're pretty much guaranteed good weather.

VAN SICKLE: If money is no object, I'd go to Hawaii. No chance of cold weather there. But since money is an object for most of us, I'd be torn between Scottsdale (a little pricey) and Florida (the Tampa-Naples corridor). As a flatlander from the Midwest, I'd have to go with Scottsdale-Phoenix just so I could look at mountains for a couple of months in a row. That never gets old for me.

SHIPNUCK: Australia/Tasmania/New Zealand.

BAMBERGER: New Zealand. Not that I've ever been, but I've seen the snaps.

RITTER: I'd go all the way to Cancun. Nice courses, perfect weather, affordable rooms, great food and all the cervezas you can handle. Who's with me?

The PGA Tour Confidential debate continues Monday on our new weekly show hosted by Jessica Marksbury. Tweet her your questions @Jess_Marksbury.