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 RICHARD GILLIS
 The Golf Business

What we need from Tiger 2.0

When the history of the last twenty years comes to be written, there will be a niggling question hanging over professional golf. As the people of Europe faced the greatest economic and social challenge since the Great Depression of the 1930s, what was it the best golfers in the world were doing?

Answer: They were Racing to Dubai!

Watching professional sport in the late 20th Century requires a certain suspension of disbelief. Of course we accept that money is a key feature – there’s a hint in the word ‘professional’. But if money is all its about, then we have a problem. Here’s ten reasons to question the role of the Money List:

1/ IT’S MORALLY BANKRUPT

Professional golf is up there with hedge fund management as the skill most over-rewarded by today’s economy. The rise in prize money over the past twenty years is all down to the way we watch television. As the number of channels has increased the value of the live moment – whether it is The X Factor final or the final holes of the Open – has sky rocketed. The argument often put forward in favour of the Money List – that it is a meritocracy – is deeply flawed.

2/ IT’S CREATED AN INTERNATIONAL ARMS RACE

That golf would be spread to new territories was the argument for its inclusion in to the Olympics. But those territories are priced out of the market by the fees required to join the Tours. Even China is having second thoughts. Before Christmas players visiting China took home US$19.5 million in prize money, plus untold millions in appearance fees. “The last thing we want is to blow up expectations, given the (recent) appearance fees and purses,” said Tennei Chu, whose family owns China’s Mission Hills, host of the WGC World Cup. The Chu family’s great rivals – the Shis – put up a $5million purse for its unsanctioned Lake Malaren Shanghai Masters event a week before the WGC. Rory McIlroy went home with the $2 million cheque, the largest prize in the modern game. In the face of such ostentatious exhibitionism, the Chinese government is cracking down, worried that golf is played by a very rich elite. Game of the people anyone?

3/ IT IS A FAILURE OF THE IMAGINATION

The Money List is a marketing construct designed to tie together otherwise unrelated events, an attempt to add ‘narrative’ to the season. But even formula one, hardly a paragon of financial restraint, has a points system and a championship that takes the viewers minds off the Moolah for a few hours every other Sunday.

4/ THE SEASON HAS A NARRATIVE ALREADY.

The professional golf season is based around four major Championships. That’s the narrative.

5/ ANY COMPETITION THAT REQUIRES FOREIGN EXCHANGE CALCULATIONS TO DETERMINE THE WINNER IS JUST WRONG

Last year the race to be the top European came down to a straight fight between Luke and Rory. McIlroy could have pipped Donald by winning the last two events. But the Order of Merit is based on euros and the US is in dollars. If results had gone differently the winner would have depended on the exchange rate going into the final week. How much fun is that?

6/ IT’S RIGGED BY THE BIG EVENTS

The enormous cheques paid to the winners of the four WGC events (themselves a transparent attempt to use money to rival the history of the majors) skews the money list to the point of absurdity.

7/ IT DIMINISHES GOLF’S HISTORY

In 1968, after 23 years on tour, Arnold Palmer became the first player to earn more than $1 million in his career. In 1985 Curtis Strange won 3 times, earning a total of $542,321. Based on normal rates of inflation Strange’s $500k would have been $1.013 million twenty years later, or a 100% increase. But inflation on the American tour has risen by well over 1,000%. The FedEx Cup alone is more than Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player earned collectively in their whole careers. “The all-time money list has no real importance,” said Greg Norman, “it is an insult to the guys who paved the way.”

8/ IT ENCOURAGES MEDIOCRITY

Last year Matt Kuchar set a record for most money earned without a victory ($4,233,920). Jason Day ($3,962,647) also broke the previous figure in this category, two of 13 players on the PGA Tour to make $2million without winning.

9/ IT’S BORING

Nobody cares. Even Luke Donald, who won both US and European lists last year admitted that he’d willingly trade them for a major.

10/ IT FAILS IN ITS MOST BASIC JOB

The man who made the most money from golf last year was Tiger Woods, who finished one place below Roland Thatcher at number 128. This is the era of transparency of Wikileaks and open government, so let’s include appearance fees, inducements by event holders and sponsors. This hidden money distorts the playing calendar, falsely raising the profile of some events over more established national Opens and allows money to trump history. The Money List is an anachronism, a throwback to the boom years. Now, as the people who watch the game live in an entirely different world from those who play it, golf is out of step.

May 2012

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine

 






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