Skins Game on ice

Associated Press
The original Skins Game, a Thanksgiving weekend tradition since 1983 that included players like Fred Funk, might be gone for good.

Each year brought more recognition to Curtis Strange. He was the first PGA Tour player to earn $1 million in a season in 1988, then he became the first player in nearly a half-century to win the U.S. Open in consecutive years.

 

Success brought another perk, even if it sounds silly now to mention it with the others.

He was invited to play in the Skins Game.

"That was huge," Strange said in a telephone interview. "Remember, we didn't play for that kind of money back then. More importantly, it was huge for everyone because of the exposure you got for two straight days. Careerwise, it meant you had arrived."

The original Skins Game has left the sports landscape, maybe for good.

Thanksgiving weekend will have its usual television lineup of NFL games in Detroit and Dallas, college rivalries such as Alabama-Auburn, Florida-Florida State and Southern Cal-UCLA, and many college basketball games.

It will not include the Skins Game for the first time since it became a tradition in 1983, when Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Tom Watson played in a made-for-TV sensation.

Will anyone notice that the Skins Game is gone?

Probably not.

The Skins Game drew a paltry 0.7 rating Saturday and a 1.1 rating Sunday last year when K.J. Choi defeated a field with Stephen Ames, Phil Mickelson and Fred Funk.

The Skins Game was canceled when it lost its corporate sponsor, and Barry Frank, the executive vice president of IMG Media who has produced the Skins Game since its inception, continues the search for another. Golf sponsorship is a tough sell these days.

It is easy to blame the demise of the Skins Game on the players it attracted. The years of Palmer, Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Fuzzy Zoeller and Fred Couples gave way to Funk, Rocco Mediate and Brett Wetterich.

Strange earned $200,000 for his second U.S. Open title in 1989. He won the Skins Game five months later and made $265,000.

Prize money at the Skins Game remained $1 million. First prize was more than that at 27 PGA Tour events last year.

"I don't think it went wrong, it got bypassed," said Alastair Johnston, the vice chairman at IMG who delivered the Fab Four for the inaugural Skins Game. "When the money didn't become competitive, when the silly season became overburdened, when golf was on television 52 weeks, it wasn't something special. There was no point of distinction."

Back then, golf went off the air after the World Series of Golf at Firestone. Then along came an event among four superstars, big money up for grabs on every hole.

"It became a staple of Thanksgiving weekend," Johnston said. "We even thought about using Roman numerals, like the Super Bowl."

It wasn't long before the silly season became crowded -- the Shark Shootout, the Kapalua International, the PGA Grand Slam, Diner's Club Matches, Wendy's 3-Tour Challenge, the Skills Challenge, even something called the Tommy Bahama Challenge.

EVENT WAS NO LONGER A DRAW

Not as many people were watching the Skins Game in the final years.

The Skins Game got ratings in the 8-9 range in the early days, second only to the Masters Tournament. Not even PGA Tour events won by Tiger Woods get that kind of rating now. Last year, the Skins Game drew a paltry 0.7 rating on Saturday and a 1.1 rating on Sunday. Even when Woods played for the last time in 2005, the Sunday rating was a 2.6.

The event will not be held this weekend for the first time since 1983.

-- Associated Press

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