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MY OWN collection of PGA Tour media guides is a modest one, starting with the 1984 edition. Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player had full pages then, but Paul Azinger—looking as if he had walked off the set of A Clockwork Orange and with his career earnings listed at $10,655—warranted only a five-line write-up and a mug shot, nestled between the bearded Adam Adams and Miller Barber, in sunglasses and an Amana hat. Tom Place, a retired Tour official, has a serious collection, starting in the '30s and going right through 2009. (Nicklaus and Player, in one of the charming quirks of golf publishing, still have full-blown entries in the current PGA Tour media guide.) This year's book is the end of the line. In '10 the guide goes digital. Too bad.
You can understand why bosses at Tour HQ have stopped the presses. The Tour prints about 13,000 copies of the Tour Book, as old-timers call it, and gives away most of them—to players, to industry leaders, to Tour employees, to golf writers. It's a big loser, moneywise. The new "media guide" will be updated weekly, says Ward Clayton, the guide's editor. That's better if you think golf is a stats game. But it's not.
With a collection of books, you can flip through and see changes in hair lengths, collar styles, wives, money ranking, hobbies. (Heights and weights are permanent fixtures.) Fred Couples, over his long career, has gone from looking like John Travolta's Saturday-night wingman to a silver-haired golfing eminence. Try thumbing through your laptop.
When Place edited the book, it was done in a narrative style. Each exempt player had a page, and each page told a story. In 2003 the book grew in size, storytelling was much reduced and in its place came a massive amount of statistical information. It was the beginning of the end.
What the Tour officials don't seem to understand, and this starts with commissioner Tim Finchem himself, is that golf is a story: The round is a story, the player is a story, the player's year is a story. His off-course life influences his on-course life and vice versa. Nobody's ever going to talk about how many greens in regulation John Rollins hits. But knowing how Camilo Villegas found his way to the game makes you care about him.
"It's become a Tour of statistics," says Place, who began at the Tour when the press office was "a two-man staff and a girl in the office." (Now the staff numbers 27.) The modern book, Place says, "is about performance. The old book was about, What kind of guy is so and so?"
And now even the modern book is being retired. For years I'd get the new media guide and check out how many players listed "hunting and fishing" under special interests. I'd see if there were any new Tour agronomists. I'd study the list of the Tour's corporate sponsors. I'd look for the names of newborns. I'd see to whom John Daly was married. When I flipped the pages, the whole thing—the PGA Tour—would come together for me.
If you can read like that on pgatour.com, I'd like to know how.