The American way of life always has been, and I hope always will be, based on competition. The growth and prosperity of the professional golf tour exemplify that system. Both the best tournaments and the best players are thriving. I anticipate some changes in the tour in the next few years, but nothing that will alter its basic, intensely competitive nature. What players draw from the tour will still be proportionate to what they put into it. The same will remain true for sponsors. Eliminate competition from the tour, via regulation or any other means, and it will die. I believe our legislators recognize that fact above all others, and that it will continue to govern their decisions.
Please understand that what I am going to say here about the future of the tour is strictly my personal view, and that my perspective is what will be good for the game of golf five, 10, 20 years from now. The long-term concepts I offer are in no way intended to downgrade the tour's existing sponsors, nor to rob the younger and less accomplished players of the chance to make a living.
The tour is extremely healthy right now, with many more would-be sponsors than available dates. I am convinced, though, that over a period of time the tour must be made shorter and more cohesive—with a definite beginning and a decisive, climactic ending. There are a number of reasons why this is important. The biggest is the physical impossibility of guaranteeing the appearance of enough top players in enough tournaments to make a 40-odd-week schedule workable from a sponsor's view. This problem becomes more acute daily as the sponsors increase the pressure on the Tournament Players' Division of the PGA and on individual players to support their events. In the '60s a $50,000 purse and another $50,000 to run the tournament allowed the sponsor to get by with a field of perhaps half of the top players. Today's pattern of $200,000 in prizes, plus that much or more for organization, is an investment that most sponsors feel can only be justified by a guaranteed 100% field—that is, all of the leading money-winners.
There are two solid reasons why the only answer to this problem is a shorter tour. First, simply playing in 40 or more 72-hole tournaments a year is beyond the mental and physical capabilities of any man whose objective is to win, rather than just to make a living from the game. Second, any outstanding performer who did attempt such a schedule would be certain to lose his competitive edge before June, thus defeating the original object of the exercise. In my own case, 13 years on tour have taught me that I can do justice to the sponsors, the fans, and to myself by playing each year in no more than 20 U.S. events, and a maximum of 25 tournaments in all. I am certain I would be a poorer performer—and, therefore, a poorer attraction for sponsors—if I entered 30 tournaments a year, and I would be ready for the funny farm long before I got to the last one. A lot of the more successful players share my attitude, even though they may not be quoted about it as often as I am. In fact, there has been a definite cut-back trend among the top 30 money-winners for years now, a trend I believe will continue even if the tour is not shortened.
Now, in that light let us study some numbers. We already have the Masters, the U.S. and British Opens, and the PGA Championship. This year we are going to have a TPD Championship over Labor Day weekend, plus three "designated" tournaments; that is, events at which the top players must participate.
In the not too distant future, should the present TPD board's provisional plans come to fruition, the leading players will receive mandates to compete in perhaps another seven designated tournaments. That would make a total of 15 musts. However, the present tour consists of 43 tournaments. Consequently, if the majority of top performers do feel their maximum capability is 25 events a year, the odds against each of the 28 non-designated sponsors obtaining a 100% field are very high—a tough gamble for a sponsor when one considers the stakes. More appealing, from a sponsorship viewpoint, I believe, would be the better chances offered by a 35-week schedule—which also has the merit of enabling the major tour to be contained between January and Labor Day.
Television is another factor adding strength to the shorter tour argument. Although TV income is not now as important to the tour as it once was (increases in prize money have relatively far exceeded increases in TV fees), TV exposure has become the biggest single objective and benefit of sponsoring golf. The result is that today the tour as an entity relies increasingly heavily on TV visibility. There would certainly be a tour of sorts without television, but my guess is that it would be much more similar, in purses and organizational standards, to the tour of the 1950s and early 1960s.
It has been obvious for years now that no other sport can compete with football on television during the fall. Between football and the two October weekends dominated by the World Series, I don't see any way a sponsor seeking heavy national exposure can expect to use golf (or any other sport) as a profitable promotional vehicle. I am sure most tour golfers recognize and accept this situation, and that they are thus particularly grateful to the sponsors of autumn events who have been part of the golf scene for years and to whom great consideration must be given in any long-term restructuring of the tour.
Another reason why the main U.S. tour needs to be condensed is the pressure being put on it by the growth of tournament golf in other countries. As an American professional golfer, my first loyalty always has been and always will be to the U.S. tour and its sponsors. As a golfer, period, I have always tried to do what I could to help the growth of the game abroad.
Until now, the demands of its own players and sponsors have forced the TPD—to my knowledge, often against its inclination—to take what might seem a cold-hearted approach to the needs and pleas of foreign tournaments. If a yearlong U.S. tour were feasible, the TPD might have to maintain that posture. But if, for our own domestic reasons, we decide to restructure and shorten our tour, it would be nice if we did so in a way that contributed as much as possible to the game's growth in other countries.
Recent travels have left me with the impression that golf is growing relatively faster in some areas outside America than it is here, even though there seems to be no end in sight to the U.S. boom. For example, the European and Japanese tours have increased in stature and purse levels to such a degree that top players like Tony Jacklin and Jumbo Osaki need come to America only in search of major titles, not for competitive experience or big money. The Far Eastern, Australian-New Zealand and South African tours are also gaining. In fact, what amounts to a world tour exists right now, but is simply not labeled as such.
According to many of their leaders, all that the overseas tours need in order to become as healthy—and in some cases perhaps eventually as lucrative—as the U.S. tour is the regular participation of top American golfers. Obviously a 35-week season in this country would encourage that, while at the same time allowing at least the most important tournaments on each national tour to be scheduled on some sort of a cooperative international basis.
My arguments so far for shortening the big-event season evolve out of circumstances external to the tour itself. There are also, it seems to me, a couple of solid internal reasons why a shorter tour would be better.
In recent times, the tour has grown quantitatively—more tournaments—faster than it has qualitatively. Not that there haven't been improvements in quality. Prize money is the most obvious area, but there have been others, like the selection and condition of courses. There is no question that the courses we play today are far more challenging and much better groomed than the ones we played when I started out in 1962. Organization is another improvement, especially in the past five years.
I believe a shorter, more cohesive tour would be bound to accelerate such qualitative growth. Better fields would stimulate higher purses and demand finer courses. Higher purses and super courses would fire up competition. Fiercer competition would win more public interest and demand broader and better media coverage. In short, the tour, as the showpiece of professional golf, would become increasingly better equipped to compete for the national entertainment dollar.
Finally, in talking about the tour's future structure, my biggest hope is that the TPD Championship (which could use a more appealing name, incidentally) will one day become a true climax to the season: a sporting event as significant as the World Series and the Super Bowl. National interest in golf in recent years has seemed to taper off immediately after the last of the major championships, the PGA in August. The worst effects of this have been felt by fall tournament sponsors, some of whom inevitably have had lesser fields, smaller gates and less media coverage than earlier sponsors. I think the concept of a true season-ending championship is the Tournament Policy Board's most exciting innovation since the organization was formed in 1969. But I also think the TPD is going to have to go the same way as baseball and football before its big tournament acquires the status of any of the existing major golf championships—in other words, the TPD should stage one final big season-ending event. And we are obviously still a long way from being able to cut the tour off at that point.
On the whole, I believe pro golfers are more spoiled than any other athletes. Traditionally they have enjoyed complete independence in return for taking their chances at prize money. Fundamentally, I think, they will remain independent in that they will never agree to become salaried employees of the sponsors, or to join together in teams, as tennis players are doing.
However, there comes a point when even the staunchest individualist must bend to the collective good, and I think we are approaching that now. For years sponsors have exerted amazingly little pressure on most players, considering the amount of cash and energy they invest in tour events. Now, with soaring prize money and promotional costs, the need for guaranteed strong fields is increasing and sponsors are beginning to apply serious pressure. Thus, if the tour is really going to grow and prosper, the players must become more committed to the sponsors' needs.
Consequently, in principle and as an experiment, I'm in favor of the designated tournament concept introduced by the TPD this year. Carefully used, it is a device that conceivably could lead us toward the type of tour I've described, and at the same time build a tier of major events second only to the traditional Big Four.
My objection when the idea was first introduced near the end of 1973 was not to the idea itself. What upset me was the blockbuster nature of the original approach, which was to be the introduction of 10 to 15 mandatory tournaments in 1974. My reaction was not entirely selfish, although I certainly was not ecstatic about the prospect of suddenly becoming automated. It just seemed to me that, on this scale, there was no way the idea would work because there was no way the majority of the top players would accept it. If it had been forced on them, I think the result would have been total rebellion. This would seem to have been proved at a meeting of the top 30 money-winners at the 1973 Disney tournament, where the players supported the concept, arguing only that if it were going to work it would have to happen gradually.
On this gradual basis—three mandatory tournaments in 1974, one or two more in 1975, and so on—I think the scheme would certainly work from the players' point of view. For example, by the time we get to 10 designated events, the top pros playing today would have become used to the idea of command performances and to the changes in scheduling this involved each year. The younger pros coming to the tour now would not object since they would never have known anything different.
From the sponsorship viewpoint, however, I believe the TPD is going to have to tread very gently with this concept, using it certainly this year and next very much as an exercise in market research rather than as a definite base for the long-term redesign of the tour. I foresee problems. For instance, what happens to a tournament the year after it loses its designated status? And how will all this affect sponsorship incentive? Free competition among sponsors for the best playing dates, courses and fields has been critical to the success of the tour. These and other questions must be answered before the designated concept can be regarded as the solution to a new tour structure.
The opportunity for younger and less accomplished players to make a living from the tour would not necessarily diminish if the season were shortened. If a shorter tour were also a richer tour (as I believe it would be), such golfers would have the same income opportunity as before, even though they might play less often, plus an even bigger paycheck for a week of really good scoring. And yet there is no doubt that such players might find themselves on the sidelines more often than in the past, unable to qualify for the big events.
It would soften the blow for them if there were a way to offer them extra or alternative competitive and earning opportunities. And there is a way—a second tour.
Maybe the present satellite tournaments are the answer to that. They grow ever stronger. Last year there were 26 of them, worth $321,000. Maybe the commercially motivated "mini-tours" that have been springing up all over are the answer; a lot of the players really enjoy these events when they are properly and honestly promoted. Perhaps the answer is a combination of the satellites and the mini-tours.
I am treading thin ice here because I do not have all the facts about the satellite and mini-tours, but from a distance I see a lot of similarity in them. The promotional value in both is local or regional, so that national TV or press coverage is not a sponsorship must, as it is becoming with most main tour events. Both offer a chance to profitably employ golf facilities that might otherwise be underutilized, especially during the middle of the week. Both offer the local amateur enthusiast and the general sports fan interesting golf to watch. Both offer the players solid competitive experience and earning opportunity.
Competitors on the mini-tour are actually playing for their own cash pooled in the form of entry fees. Why not, then, run a second tour on the basis that all players would put up some of their own (or their sponsors') money, to which would be added a local sponsor's contribution, plus maybe even something from the major tour?
I am sure this idea has already been examined by the TPD, and I know there would be some tough philosophical and maybe organizational problems in getting it rolling properly. But it is an idea that might be worth reconsideration since it is certainly close in spirit to what is already happening now beyond the main tour.
Occasionally around the locker room there is talk of assuring sponsors good fields by giving players guarantees, or of paying them on some sort of salary or retainer basis—or even of developing a sort of World Team Golf concept whereby groups of players would compete against each other every week as they are now doing in tennis.
If that ever happens, you can count me out. There is no way in the world I would be interested in that kind of golf tour. To me the game is competition. Put any sort of limit on that and I am going to turn into a full-time golf-course designer overnight.
It may be true that it is pretty easy for me to brush money aside now, but even at the start of my career money was not what motivated me and I have never liked all the emphasis on it in golf and other pro sports. The money mania you see today in pro sports takes a lot of the enjoyment out of them for me. You seem to hear guys talking much more than they did a few years ago about what they get paid for being on a super team, rather than about the way they and the team are going to play. Somehow, it seems to me, a lot of athletes have lost sight of the fact that there is only one valid and certain source of money in pro sports—winning.
In golf, I can understand a guy who cannot really cut it on the tour dreaming of dollars and chasing down every one available to him. What gets to me are the self-admitted noncompetitors—the guys who pick up $100,000-plus a year without ever winning a tournament, and go around telling the world how happy they are to finish ninth every week. Obviously, everyone needs a paycheck, and you can't get away from the fact that money in itself is a major stimulus of public interest in pro sport. But imagine what would happen to the golf tour as a sports spectacle if everyone out there had no objective beyond dollars. I understand why the public and media show so little interest in the tour's noncompetitors, and I'm 100% behind them.
Maybe I'm too competitive. It kills me to lose at anything—tennis, bridge, even Ping-Pong with the kids. I was taught competition as a child and that is how I have lived my life, and that is what I have loved about golf. Without guys like Palmer and Player to compete against, and then Trevino and Weiskopf and others, I would have been happier selling insurance. That's why I'm so glad to see fellows like Miller and Wadkins and Crenshaw coming on strong. To me, their success represents a challenge—the stronger they play, the harder they'll make me work and the more desire I'll have to win. I enjoy that. That way I can continually set new goals for myself. That's life.
It's tough to guess your own future, but this year for the first time in maybe four or five years I have a clean sheet in terms of setting my own goals. My business affairs are in good shape, we have a new addition to the family (Michael Scott), I got a good rest last fall, I'm eager to play, my game seems pretty solid, and I'd still like to win many more major championships before my competitive golf career ends. Every year I concentrate on the four major championships, and this year I'm working toward them and thinking about them harder than every before. And the more I think about them, the more I think that some year the Grand Slam is possible. Unlikely, perhaps. But possible.