We all want to hear one thing from our sports idols: “I play for the Love of the Game”. Even though we know it’s BS, it’s still a nice mental salve. Our egos do tend to take a bit of a blow when we realize that our athlete worship is being wasted on rich guys with titanic egos who couldn’t urinate on one of us if we were on fire. Yes, you do get the occasional story of running into a sports star (invariably a lower-echelon guy) in a bar somewhere having a drink with the proles. And there are sports where the profile is lower and the contact more possible in unusual circumstances.
For instance, there’s no lower-profile sport here in Chicago than professional hockey. Rocky Wirtz is trying to cure the sexually-transmitted disease commonly called Stupid, Greedy Idiot that infected the brains of his grandfather and father like so many syphilis spirochetes, but the damage done will take generations to heal (hockey fans from elsewhere are totally perplexed by Chicagoans’ complete and utter apathy toward an Original Six team; hey, maybe if the teams’ games had been broadcast locally…). But the players, even the young and overpaid ones whom Rocky is trying to use as a basis for hope and attraction, are unusually approachable. Take the case of three young prominent Blackhawks on their way to the United Center who showed their support for Anonymous as Anon was protesting opposite a Scientology stress test tent in downtown Chicago a few weeks ago. Of course, we wouldn’t have known who the guys were if Meatwad hadn’t been a Hawks fan and recognized them immediately.
But I digress. One of the big blind spots of people in regard to Love Of The Game Guys is the case of golfers. They’re eminently recognizable due to the fact that they wear nothing that obscures their faces on TV. They’re on TV frequently. Most tournament winners in the US pick up seven-figure checks with victories. And yet thanks to things like the arduous Q-School routine for the lower echelon, Monday qualifying, Wednesday pro-ams, and…okay, John Daly falling off the wagon again right in front of a branch of his major sponsor, they’re expected to have a human element. It isn’t helped by things like Boo Weekley going on talk shows and behaving like a Larry the Cable Guy routine. Golfers aren’t allowed an ego. They aren’t allowed to divert from Love Of The Game. There is something of a social contract going on where unabashed money grabs aren’t tolerated by fans, so much so that the Silly Season Events that are taking place now, the ones where golfers pick up six-figure appearance fees, are quietly ignored. After the Tour Championship, golf fans occasionally look at the scoreboard for the fall events and dream of Kapalua in January.
So there’s a big potential for cognitive dissonance when something comes along to shatter misconceptions, and that’s what happening right now. In case you missed it, and unless you’re a golf fan, you did, Anthony Kim and Camilo Villegas are now paid-up members of the European Tour. Two of the hottest young golfers on the planet, who might be the participants in the Next Great Rivalry as soon as the 2009 Presidents’ Cup, are, in golf fans’ minds, taking a step down. Despite all the work of Seve Ballesteros (please, please, get well, Seve), the Euro Tour is still seen as inferior to the PGA Tour. There’s a mindset, especially among American golf fans, that Monty would trade all eight of his Orders of Merit for one win on American soil. This attitude, of course, is very provincial and someone xenophobic, but it’s there, and it can’t be denied.
So, therefore, one has to wonder why Kim and Villegas forked out the thirty-two-hundred dollar membership fee to play some tournaments in Europe, with all the jet-lag and potentials for foodborne illness this entails. We Americans (and Columbians) would like to believe that they’re just going to show off how good they are to the Euros and inspire dreams of them someday coming to America to ply their trade. Yeah, right. Two simple facts motivate these guys:
1) The Euro Tour now has its own version of the FedEx Cup. And this version has twice as much bonus money available.
2) The Euro Tour allows appearance fees, which the PGA Tour doesn’t.
And let’s not forget 2a) The dollar’s in the toilet against the Euro.
In other words, it’s a money grab. And it’s a money grab that doesn’t entail too much additional effort, as I’ll demonstrate later. Yes, there are also additional benefits to be had. Kim and Villegas are good-looking rich guys in their mid-twenties. They get the same reaction from certain elements of humanity that Russian grand dukes did a century ago in Monte Carlo. And don’t think that because they’re athletes, there would be some kind of “oh, I can’t do this, it might ruin my game” thing going on. Kim is a well-known party animal. So, yeah, there’s females to be had. And with the money that’s being thrown around, and the high profile that golf has right now, they can get supermodels if they want.
How much has that bonus money affected golfers? Eight of the top ten golfers in the World Rankings are now members of the Euro Tour. The exceptions are at One and Two, and Two is about to join the bandwagon. Phil Mickelson, a man whose public image tends to disguise some of the most rapacious, repulsive behavior of any active athlete today, is going to hop on board. The money’s just too good. Lefty completely avoids entire stretches of the schedule because of a demonstrated lack of success. Wouldn’t it be better for golf for him to at least show up at those events to increase the level of interest in them? No, not for him. He can’t pick up an appearance fee, and he tanks so badly in those events that he regards them as a wasted three days, heading home on his private jet after his MC is registered. Besides, any Love Of The Game has long been burned out of Lefty. He’s the Terrell Owens of the PGA Tour, only with better press.
And then there was One. But what’s his excuse? Tigger has never been averse to making easy money. That’s why he’s getting into course design in a big way, with three projects now underway, including what’s going to end up being a fabulous course in Mexico. He says that he doesn’t have time to fit the Euro Tour into his schedule.
If he actually kept a straight face while saying this, he’s a better actor than anyone thought.
He doesn’t have time? The guy who only plays fifteen or sixteen events a year doesn’t have time for the Euro Tour? The one guy who could put golf over the top in Europe doesn’t have time? If you still had a conception that Eldrick Woods does stuff for the Love Of The Game, this should banish those thoughts forever.
There’s a simple fact: Mistah Woods, along with the rest of the PGA Tour contingent, would not be too hard-pressed to include Euro Tour appearances into their so-called busy schedules. This is because of the nature of the Euro Tour. The Euro Tour is a misnomer. They have events all over the world that count as part of the tour. Events in the Orient, the Middle East, and South Africa are Euro Tour events. The Euro Tour only requires twelve tournaments for participation. Included in that number are all four majors and the three WGC tournaments, six of which take place in the United States. And Tigger always shows up for those.
Ignore the fact that his knee’s still recovering. How many additional tournaments would Tigger have to add to his onerous schedule in order to be a full Euro Tour member? Let’s break it down:
As said, the magic number here is twelve. Let’s get the first seven out of the way:
US Open *
WGC Match Play *
WGC CA Championship *
* – Tigger is defending champion. He’s won the Masters and the Bridgestone four times and the Open and PGA three times. He’s the three-time defending champ at the CA and has won six times in total at Doral. He’s won two Match Plays. In other words, he tends to like these tournaments and do well in them.
Now, is there anything on the Euro schedule that might appeal to him? Oh, yes, there is. He always plays in the HSBC in Shanghai, the traditional kick-off to the Euro Tour season (well, not this year, since it starts next weekend and he’s still not healthy). He always plays Dubai, where he’s designing a course. So that’s nine. We only need three more.
Well, he could do the Abu Dhabi two weeks prior to Dubai and spend a week dicking around in the Emirates being treated like God On Earth, growing his design business by networking with incredibly rich people with way too much in the liquid assets department. There are certain wealthy Arabs who’d masturbate on the Kaaba for the opportunity to have Tigger design a course for them. So let’s put that down on his list. Only two more to go.
How about showing up a week early in the Sceptered Isle and participating in the Scottish Open? Lefty does that every year as his tune-up. But Tigger doesn’t like to play between the US Open and Open Championship. It would be a nice gesture to the Home Of Golf to participate in its national open. Good press, Tigger. Think about it. So let’s tick that one off. Only one to go. And there’s a perfect opportunity: a return trip to Scotland the week after the Tour Championship. The Dunhill Links. At St. Andrews. You love St. Andrews, Tigger. You won two Opens there. You said, when asked your five favorite courses, that there was only one, St. Andrews. You know you want to. Give in, Tigger.
So, to summarize, in order for Tigger to meet Euro Tour qualifications, he’d have to add a grand total of three tournaments to his schedule. In our scenario, we have him playing Abu Dhabi (where he can rake in one of the fattest appearance fees in the game), the Scottish Open, and the Dunhill Links, three tournaments where he’d be the prohibitive favorite to win. This still leaves him playing less than twenty tournaments a year. And you know what? With that particular schedule, he’d have an incredible opportunity to be the first man to simultaneously win the PGA Tour money title and the Order of Merit. He loves distinctions like that. It’s one thing he plays for.
So why not do it? Maybe he’s thinking about this for 2010. We have no clue. But a twenty-million-dollar bonus purse isn’t chicken feed, even for Tigger. You think that Veej didn’t like getting that nine million for the FedEx Cup? And you’ll be having another mouth to feed soon, Tigger. Think of the children.
And think of the other children while you’re at it. In all of the premature obituaries for Seve, one theme that kept being expressed time and time again was the fact that Seve was the primary inspiration for the generation of Euros that are truly making golf a world sport. One thing that the Euros showed during the Ryder Cup, despite the loss, was the depth that Euro golf now possesses. The Who Are They roster of the Euros masked all of the great young players that are coming up in the world. Some of them will go over to America full time. Others, the Robert Karlssons of the world, will only enter our radar screens during the majors and proceed to surprise us when they hang around the leaderboard well into the weekend. And it was one guy who set this in motion. We already know how many children were inspired to pick up a club when they saw Tigger. The first of that group are now entering the PGA Tour. How many children elsewhere can be inspired if, only for a few weeks a year, Tigger goes global?
Despite the fact that it would be done for the worst of all possible reasons, from the perspective of a sports fan, the results would be incredibly positive for the game. And that’s reason enough to add twelve days of work a year.