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Certainly most of the sponsors don't think it is fair to them. "We would have protested vigorously if our playoff purse had been split," says J. B. Hines, chairman of the Azalea Open. "It detracts from the tournament," says Doug Eason, executive secretary of the Houston Golf Association. "It takes away gallery interest and would make a playoff just a lackadaisical match," says Curtis Persons, co-chairman of the Memphis Open. All of these tournaments had playoffs this year. None of these sponsors think their prize money was split, however.
A somewhat different attitude is taken by Dr. R. Philip Smith, a wealthy Seattle physician and sportsman who was co-chairman of last week's Seattle Open. "I don't believe that the pros split the playoff purses," Dr. Smith says. "But I wouldn't be upset if there was a playoff in my tournament and the players did split the purse—provided it wasn't publicized. But out of the top 30 pros there isn't one who doesn't think he can't beat Arnold Palmer every day. My feeling is that these players would never be willing to split."
Somehow, in all this discussion, hardly anyone involved gives much thought to the paying customer. Yet, as Christy O'Connor, a leading Irish professional who has been the second largest money winner on the British tour this year (playoff purses are split there, too), says, "If the public thought splitting was going on, it would not be very good for business."
At the Seattle Open, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED informally questioned several dozen spectators, some of whom had been following tournament golf for as much as 30 years. Only one of these had even the slightest notion that it was a fairly common practice among the golfers to split a playoff purse, and most said that they wouldn't enjoy a match nearly so much if they knew the contestants had split the money in advance. "I think such a thing would prostitute the whole sporting phase of the game," said one man, who was surprised at the very suggestion purses are split.
"Why, you've ruined it for us just by bringing it up," added a lady who was standing near by.
Now that golf has millions of spectators, it is going to have to consider carefully what that lady in Seattle said. It may be that the ethics of professional golf are so high, its reputation so sound and the determination of its players so unquestioned, that there is no chance the sport will be tarnished by purse-splitting. If that is the case, and the pros still want to split, fine. But they ought to announce it publicly before a playoff begins.
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