Fifth installment of The Primary Cut – weekly insights from the world of golf player management and other golf-related industry and player news.
1. One strike and you’re out?
The PGA Tour plans to start its new drug-testing program as early as July, with penalties for a positive test ranging from a one-year suspension for a first offense to a lifetime ban if a player is caught three times.
The Tour’s plan was approved by its infamously passive policy board (comprised of four player directors, four independent directors, and the President of the PGA of America), which nevertheless is as close to an actual players’ union that there is on Tour (since the sixteen-member players advisory council (PAC) does not actually vote on the Tour’s proposals). Players may be tested randomly an infinite number of times, before or after practice or actual competition, at any PGA Tour sanctioned event. Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said that players will receive a manual next month as part of an education program that will extend through June, with testing to follow. The manual will contain a list of prohibited substances that fall under 10 categories, ranging from anabolic steroids, to human growth hormones, to narcotics to beta blockers. Allegedly there will also be a hotline set up for players and their managers.
If you’re thinking that the approved penalties are a bit draconian relative to other sporting bodies, you’re right. Some might be surprised that given the number of reported cases of alleged false positives, the policy board didn’t fight a bit harder (or at all?) against Finchem on this one. It is also unclear as to what appeals or arbitration process will be available to purported violators. However, Finchem did mention that the Tour would disclose violations and report the penalty, which is noteworthy because the Tour has never before publicly disclosed fines for things such as conduct unbecoming of a professional.
2. Bringing ‘sexy back’ to the Fall Series
Pop/Hollywood star Justin Timberlake will host the PGA Tour’s Las Vegas event, formerly known as the Frys.com Open, beginning in 2008, in a five-year arrangement announced this week by the Tour. The event will be renamed the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. Timberlake becomes the 14th celebrity in PGA Tour history to host an event, joining the likes of Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. That’s good company, although Timberlake may have a little ways to go to be mentioned in the same breath as those guys.
Timberlake’s Open will be played Oct. 16-19 at the TPC Summerlin as part of the Tour’s fledgling Fall Series. As part of his involvement, Timberlake will play in the Wednesday celebrity pro-am and host a concert during tournament week. Is this just commissioner Finchem’s way of injecting a little glamour into the post Fed Ex Cup season, which was ravaged by critics this year as being devoid of drama— reflected by absolutely dismal Golf Channel ratings?
3. From Asia With Love
Phil Mickelson sheepishly slogged his way to victory at the HSBC Champions in Shanghai last week. And this week, rising star and Nike-sponsored K.J. Choi opened with an eight-under-par 62 for a one stroke lead in the opening round of the UBS Hong Kong Open.
This is all great publicity for the Asian Tour, and more importantly for the growing golf movement in Asia. The Asian Tour is the official regional sanctioning body for professional golf in Asia, and per its website, “the mission of the Asian Tour is to expand tournament golf so as to substantially enhance the careers of its members, thereby developing and growing golf in Asia while maintaining a commitment to the integrity of the game.” The Asian Tour is an official member of the International Federation of PGA Tours, and thus its events provide Official World Ranking status.
If a young professional is unable to navigate the pitfalls of Q-school, or make it onto the Nationwide Tour, the next best available option may not be the hordes of mini-tour events in the U.S., but rather the plethora of opportunities overseas, such as the European, South African or Asian Tours. Though a long way from home for most, these Tours not only introduce players to different cultures and to some of the most exotic locations in the world, but they also test the player’s game under varying conditions and course setups unavailable domestically. What better way to prepare oneself for the rigors of the pro game than to play abroad? And the money is not bad either. The Asian Tour, for example, continues to grow. In 2008 the Tour will stage a minimum of 27 events, with over $27 million in total prize money. That’s already twice the amount of prize money from 2004! And the Tour’s corporate partners now include UBS (naming rights sponsor to the UBS Order of Merit and Official Financial Services Provider), Sofitel (Official Hotel), Srixon (Official Ball), Pin High (Official Apparel Partner) and ESPN Star Sports (Official Regional TV Broadcaster)—i.e., sponsors that are not going to disappear overnight. And while China is the focal point of development with seven events on the Tour’s schedule, other parts of the region are showing growth as well, including Thailand, Singapore, and India. This means higher rating and even more revenue for the Tour, in all likelihood. Former U.S. Open Champion Michael Campbell and Fijian star Vijay Singh both kick started their careers on the Asian Tour, and along with Englishman Lee Westwood, all three opine that the Tour has more potential for growth than any other tour in the world. Want your client to be a part of that growth? Applications for the Asian Tour’s Q-school are still being received for the next Stage One event, December 5-8, in Kota, Kinabalu. Wherever that is, it’s probably a nice course.
The LPGA announced its 2008 schedule, which will feature 33 events and prize money of more than $58 million, the highest ever in LPGA history……Jason Gore, described by some as one of the most engaging and popular personalities on the PGA Tour, finally found an equipment sponsor after leaving Nike Golf last March when Cobra Golf announced the two parties agreed to terms. Gore actually started using Cobra clubs right after leaving Nike, but he played without an equipment deal for the entire summer. Speculation in the industry was that Gore wasn’t happy playing a Nike golf ball and wanted to revert back to using a Titleist Pro V1. Gore currently plays Cobra Pro MB irons and a Speed Pro driver, and now will also carry a Cobra golf bag and wear the Cobra logo on his headwear. And he should have no troubles playing his ProV1, as Titleist, FootJoy and Cobra comprise the major golf brands of Acushnet Company, an operating company of Fortune Brands, Inc.……Gore’s signing adds to an already impressive client list for Cobra that also includes 2006 U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy, Camilo Villegas, Ian Poulter, Kevin Na and J.B. Holmes. Cobra knows how to market, as evidenced by their use of funnyman commentator David Feherty in commercials, and is definitely trying to appeal to the younger demographic. And in Villegas, the company has perhaps golf’s most marketable player worldwide aside from Tiger. Villegas has a Q-rating that rivals another young international star, Sergio Garcia, but he lacks the Spaniard’s PR baggage.
– Jason G. Wulterkens