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Sports Weekend | Golf

It's Not for Show: New Players' Assn. Driving for Dough

October 09, 1998|THOMAS BONK

In professional golf, it's what passes for a controversy these days. Forget square grooves, never mind whether a lunar orbit is acceptable for a golf ball struck by a club with more metal in it than a tank, ignore Payne Stewart's knickers.

We're talking money here, the love of which is root of all sports. That's what has gotten many people's attention with the Tour Players Assn.--did someone say union?--the new hot button that's being pushed in a sport where the combination of plaid and polyester used to be the thing that upset the fine sensibilities.

So far, there are 53 dues-paying, PGA Tour-playing members of the TPA, which wants more input in the running of the PGA Tour. Basically, the TPA supports a financial guarantee for players who miss the cut--$2,000 has been loosely proposed--being included in more big-money events, more representation in decision-making, and a better accounting of where PGA Tour revenues are going.

At stake is money, a lot of it. New television revenue amounts to $400 million over the next four years--and TPA hard-liners point out that only about 18% of that goes into tournament purses.

The TPA, led by journeyman pro Larry Rinker, believes that the rank-and-file player has been overlooked. But Paul Azinger, an established star, calls the idea of paying players who miss cuts "socialist."

Although it's hardly unusual in pro sports to pay players who lose early--first-round losers in major tennis events earn about $12,000--it could be debated that golf's play-for-pay status makes it unique. As Jim Colbert once said, "If you aren't making enough money, then make more birdies."

And inferences that the PGA Tour is somehow hiding information are misguided.

At the same time, there are some legitimate concerns that the PGA Tour would do well to take reform into consideration.

The players have a minority of four on the nine-member Tour Policy Board and those four are hardly rank-and-file. Mark O'Meara, Davis Love III, Tom Lehman and Jay Haas are all multimillionaires.

There needs to be improved communication between the PGA Tour and all of its members, not just the most successful, taking into account that golf is how all these guys make their living.

How PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem handles the situation will be interesting. When confronted a while back with the so-called World Tour, backed by Greg Norman, Finchem said it was a bad idea, then wound up putting four tournaments on the PGA Tour schedule that sure looked like World Tour ideas.

You could see the smoke rising off Norman's brow. The difference this time is that it's Larry Rinker's brow. Get Tiger Woods or David Duval involved and see how fast Finchem reacts.


Arnold Palmer waded into the growing debate on the Tour Players Assn. when he was asked his thoughts about the new group and if he believes tournament golfers should get guaranteed money.

"It sounds to me that they don't trust the people they're electing to serve on that [PGA Tour policy] board," he said. "I don't quite understand that. That means there are some questions in the integrity of the players they elected to do the job.

"When I started playing the tour, there were 150 players and 15 money positions and there were no guarantees at all.

"The players have to work and really put themselves to the task at hand. What I think you'll have is people out there who really should be looking for other work. Giving players some reason to hang on, hoping they'll make it when they've been there long enough and haven't proven that they can isn't what I think is the way to run it."


John Daly shed enough weight during his conditioning program to be playing in the Dunhill Cup at St. Andrews, Scotland, but he may wind up spending another week playing golf in Great Britain--at the World Match Play Championships at Wentworth, England.

Stewart Cink dropped out and organizers have asked Daly to fill in. To do so, Daly must petition the PGA Tour to be released from his commitment to play the Las Vegas tournament.

Is it going to happen? Depends on Finchem's mood.


Last year, No. 125 on the money list, which is the cutoff to keep a PGA Tour card, was $179,273.

This year, it's probably going to be about $240,000.

Call it inflation or high tide in the talent pool, but the risk-reward factor out there in pro golf never has been greater. Already this year, 19 players have won at least $1 million.

Still, there's a fierce battle to make the top 125 and stay on the tour. The biggest casualty may be Sandy Lyle, the 1988 Masters champion whose 10-year exemption is just about up. Lyle is 140th on the money list.

Other notables on the cut line include No. 121 Blaine McCallister, No. 125 Mike Springer, No. 128 Doug Tewell, No. 129 David Ogrin, No. 133 Rinker, No. 134 Clarence Rose and No. 158 D.A. Weibring.

For Rinker, there's even more at stake. It's going to be hard to recruit for the Tour Players Assn. if he's playing the Nike Tour.


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