Originally created 03/06/02

Majors Tour a glorified silly season



No one should have been surprised to see Fred Couples' name behind a proposal to start a new circuit for major championship winners over the age of 37.

The idea is to have elite fields playing for guaranteed money. Not many people will remember who won, and even fewer will care. It sounds a lot like the silly season, and everyone knows who's the king of that.

A year ago, Couples played in 19 events on the PGA Tour and earned $385,984. Then he played in the Wendy's Three-Tour Challenge, the Hyundai Team Matches and the Williams World Challenge, and walked off with a $330,000 windfall.

The only difference is the "Majors Tour" wouldn't include Dottie Pepper.

Or Scott Hoch.

Instead, it would feature a bunch of major championship winners who would rather play meaningless golf for free money than work on their games and try to compete against Tiger Woods, Ernie Els and the best players in the world.

Who said golf was ever supposed to be easy?

"If I play like I did last year and keep deteriorating, and the PGA Tour is tough, there's nowhere for me to play golf," Couples told the Los Angeles Times.

Solution No. 1: Get a real job.

Solution No. 2: Don't get a real job, and make a ridiculous amount of money playing in corporate outings. Or the Canadian Skins Game.

Solution No. 3: Practice harder.

"This has less to do with being 40, and more to do with motivation," said 42-year-old Olin Browne, a two-time winner and member of the PGA Tour policy board.

One of the concepts behind a Majors Tour is to give the stars a place to play during that black hole in their careers - ages 43 to 50 - in which they are supposedly too old to compete and too young for the Senior PGA Tour.

While eight players over 40 won on the PGA Tour last year, only seven tournaments since 1997 have been won by players 43 and over.

Still, the idea of a Majors Tour speaks to a growing sense of entitlement in professional golf. Blame some of that on the senior tour, golf's greatest mulligan, for making players believe they should get paid handsomely for playing a game most of their working lives.

Curtis Strange started his career in 1977, when only the top 60 on the money list kept their cards.

"You were gone at 40 unless you were a hell of a player," he said. "You had to get a club job or do something else for a living, and no one wanted to do that."

In today's all-exempt tour, 230 players have some sort of status. It used to be who would keep their playing privileges; now, it's who ranks high enough to get a courtesy car.

Hal Sutton, another policy board member, gave an impassioned speech during a mandatory players meeting last year in which he tried to remind his peers how far they had come. He retraced his routine from his rookie year in 1982 - renting a car at the airport, buying coupons at half-price for lunch, paying for golf balls on the practice range.

"And that was all to play for a $63,000 first prize," Sutton said.

"Too few people are thinking about the game. They're mostly thinking about themselves. I think some people need to step back and took a good look from the perspective of what's in the best interest of the game."

Whether the Majors Tour even gets off the ground remains to be seen. All it needs is a television contract and major corporate support, no small task considering the PGA Tour has at least five tournaments trying to find a title sponsor.

"On a scale of 1 to 10, I think it has about a zero chance of happening," said Peter Jacobsen, who speaks from experience - his company runs the two-day Fred Myers Challenge, which has an operating budget of $8 million.

Can it work? Probably, although it would cripple the senior tour and players would have to give up their PGA Tour membership.

At what price?

Mark O'Meara could win a Majors Tour event and collect $500,000. Or, the 44-year-old could win a PGA Tour event, collect twice that much and move closer toward serious consideration for the Hall of Fame.

Lest anyone thinks he's too old, remember that O'Meara was a 9-iron away from winning the Buick Invitational last month, a field that included Woods and Phil Mickelson.

Hoch is not eligible for the Majors Tour, even though his career - 10 victories, only once in 22 seasons out of the top 40 on the money list - is superior to several players who have one major and not much else. Still, he made the Ryder Cup team last year and won twice at age 45, including a final-round duel against Davis Love III in the Western Open.

Sutton has won six times since turning 40. Raymond Floyd won at Doral when he was 49. Jack Nicklaus won his sixth green jacket when he was 46.

"If you have any desire to be the best, this (Majors Tour) is not for you," Sutton said.