Is it discipline or a punishment? Recently, the LPGA Tour enforced its rule on Yani Tseng, and she was not allowed to play in the Kia Classic (a regular LPGA event hosted in San Diego) after missing her Pro-Am tee time.
As you know, tour events are planned to have four rounds of play, beginning Thursday and the final round Sunday. With the exception of the four majors, both the LPGA Tour and the PGA Tour host a Pro-Am event preceding the tournament.
Each of the professionals is teamed with four amateur partners, and they compete as fivesome (using the best ball of the group) with the amateurs using their handicaps. Using this format, the group makes a lot of birdies, and their team score is often below 60.
At some events, the teams use a scramble format, which selects the best drive of the group. Everyone plays from that position, and the best second shot is selected. This continues until the ball is in the hole.
They often start Wednesday, yet there are weeks on the schedule with a Monday event, and a lavish party, including the awarding of prizes, follows the event Wednesday night.
Some of these amateurs are provided by sponsors or a charity, but most amateurs pay a tidy sum to play with a tour professional. To participate in a Pro-Am, one can expect to pay about $5,000, but for the premier events, the Wednesday Pro-Am fee has been nearly $10,000.
You can see how important these Pro-Am events are to the tournament. An average of $5,000 collected from about 200 amateurs, that’s a cool million bucks.
So what happens when the amateurs are ready to go for their Wednesday Pro-Am with their tour player … and the player has not arrived? Not good, of course. But on occasion, life isn’t perfect (even for a tour player).
Two of the most notable tardies over the last several years were Retief Goosen (prior to the Nissan Open at Riviera CC) and Jim Furyk (prior to the Barclays at Ridgewood CC, New Jersey). It seems Furyk had set the alarm on his cell phone, only to have the cell phone battery die.
Both had early starting times, both overslept, both were excluded (disqualified) from playing in that week’s tournament as per PGA Tour regulations. Was this a punishment, or were they being disciplined? In the end, I suppose this was discipline, designed to modify behavior.
But, who gets punished? The tournament sponsors and the patrons. These companies are paying big bucks to bring that tour event to town, and they are repaid through advertising and ratings.
When a U.S. Open champion, Jim Furyk or two-time U.S. Open winner in Retief Goosen, is not allowed to play, it can only reduce your number of viewers.
Thankfully, the PGA Tour changed its position in 2010, following the Furyk incident. Now, a player who is late for his Pro-Am starting time can (must) finish the round and potentially face a penalty for “conduct unbecoming” a professional. If he misses the round entirely (which would be blatant), then the player would not be allowed to play in the tournament.
As mentioned, just a few weeks ago, Yani Tseng had a similar problem. Early tee time, overslept. Unfortunately, the LPGA did not get the memo. Yani, ranked No. 1 in the world at the time, was excluded from the Kia Classic.
Does Yani want to play? Yes. Does Yani need the money? No. Who really gets punished? You know it.
Hopefully, the LPGA will re-evaluate its position and consider the “Furyk Rule.” We’re dealing with adults here and they want to support their tour, their sponsors and their amateur partners. Dear commissioner, let ‘em play.
John Renslow is general manager and director of golf at Alta Sierra Country Club. Please contact John with your questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.