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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.