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The Youth in Professional PGA Tour

By | March 6th 2009

By The Albatross

As the year 2008 drew to a close there was an almost palpable disquiet as it dawned on many in the PGA Tour that the void left by the recuperating Tiger Woods was affecting, not only the level of play in the Tour but also, and even more importantly, the flow of sponsorships.

For, let’s face it, the sponsors are shrewd businessmen who put their money in golf hoping it will yield a more favourable balance sheet, both in the short and the long term; and also that the resultant increased volume of business will reflect positively, in the bottom line of the Profit Statement.

But if all those high hopes are pegged to one mortal human being, in the shape of Tiger Woods; and that one human being does not seem to have a successor anywhere in the horizon, the whole scenario takes on very high degrees of risk; and looking for surer ways of advertising starts to be a preoccupation of the executives involved. And such a trajectory does not augur well for golf.

The Tour Professionals are millionaires many times over, on account of the perception that golf has a high profile spectator rating: both for crowds turning up on the course and those watching from the comfort of their living rooms. So Tiger haters remain confounded: without him the game slumps; and that fact is supported by figures; and, with him they grouse that the media heaps too much attention on him. The Tour Professionals have themselves stated, time and again, that the man has an aura around him that gives him a presence; which no other current Tour Professional can either generate or propagate. So give it to the man.

The current PGA season has, however, seen a welcome change to that status. First there was Ryo Ishikawa, the bashful prince from Japan. He has a presence. And at 17, he appears set for higher realms. The Japanese sports equipment manufacturer, Yonex, seems to think so too. At the beginning of the year they gave Ishikawa a driver that cost 100 million yen (about US1 Million dollars) to develop. Using that new piece of equipment, Ishikawa hopes to improve his driving distance to 350 yards from his last year’s average of 290 yards.

Then the 18-year old teenage amateur Danny Lee, the South Korean born New Zealander burst onto the stage. He eclipsed Tiger Woods as the youngest US Amateur champion, last year, and with that win he secured a place in The Masters.

So valued is that invitation that when Danny Lee won the Johnnie Walker Classic, early this year, becoming the youngest champion ever in the European Tour, at 18 years and 213 days, he could not accept the winner’s cheque of $US583,000, which was shared out between the three runners up, whom had beaten by a stroke. On rounds of 67-68-69 and 67, he became the youngest amateur to win a European Tour event, eclipsing South African Dale Hayes who won in 1971.

Let’s delve into an element of detail here. As an amateur he could not accept the money prize for that would violate the rules of golf. On the other hand if he had turned professional between winning the US Amateur Championship and the date of The Masters, he would have had to forfeit the invitation and have to qualify via one of the other several channels. And there would have been very little time for that; meaning the risk of missing The Masters was very high. That opportunity cost, at least in Danny Lee’s calculation, was in excess of US$ 500,000.00. Forget the money; take The Masters.

And to confirm the Tour is well and alive, and has a bright and rising future, Rory McIlroy, the Northern Ireland’s 19 year old teenage sensation; currently ranked 16 in the world, shocked the establishment by surviving to the last eight, in the just concluded WGC World Golf Matchplay Championships. And remember this is a competition for the select few! It is restricted to the top 64 golfers on the Official World Golf Rankings; and there are no sponsor’s exemptions!

The only reason anybody outside the 64 would participate would be to replace a withdrawal by one of those so qualified. No such withdrawals happened this year; and that goes to give an enhanced internal rating of the level of prestige this event carries. These youthful players come in to support the likes of Camilo Villegas of Colombia and Anthony Kim of the USA. Commissioner Tim Finchem must have very sound and deep sleep when he reflects on this very high quality line of succession.

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