Tournament Week: Inside the Ropes and Behind the Scenes on the PGA Tourby John Strege
Professional golf is among the most intimate of sports. Only a thin rope separates the players from the fans. Yet the reality is that the rope is a substantial barrier that permits only a glimpse of the world of professional tournament golf. John Strege, author of Tiger: A Biography of Tiger Woods and Golf Digest writer, takes you through a/b>/b>
Professional golf is among the most intimate of sports. Only a thin rope separates the players from the fans. Yet the reality is that the rope is a substantial barrier that permits only a glimpse of the world of professional tournament golf. John Strege, author of Tiger: A Biography of Tiger Woods and Golf Digest writer, takes you through a high-pressure week on the PGA Tour, providing a vivid portrait of what the professional golfer experiences each day of tournament week.
Los Angeles Times
- HarperCollins Publishers
- Publication date:
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- 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.51(d)
Read an Excerpt
Wall-To-Wall Red Carpet
A rusty nail on a back-room wall was tantamount to a locker in the early days of the PGA Tour. Players were unwelcome in the clubhouse, even the flamboyant Walter Hagen, who knew how to make an entrance and was determined to do so in this case. The pro who once arrived on the first tee attired in last night's tuxedo was said to have brazenly walked through the clubhouse doors, effectively opening them in perpetuity for his professional brethren.
Today's players walk through them and into a world of opulence. The life of a PGA Tour professional is a frill a minute, the red carpet extending wall to wall, inside or outside the clubhouse. Need a car? Here are the keys. Tickets to the Cubs? At will call. Phone service? In the clubhouse. Shoes shined, laundry done, dinner reservations, a massage? At your service.
The perk is part of the mating ritual, the persistent wooing of players by tournament directors attempting to bolster their marquee. Offer the players the world, and they might agree to visit your small corner of it.
This is where tournament week begins, and it does not neccssarily begin on Monday, a fact to which Greg McLaughlin readily could attest. McLaughlin, the tournament director of the Advil (formerly Motorola) Western Open, once held a similar post with the Nissan Los Angeles Open. In 1992, he extended a sponsor's exemption to a sixteen-year-old amateur who was precocious, though not yet a bona fide gate attraction. Tiger Woods gratefully accepted. The following year, when McLaughlin was directing the Honda Classic in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, he again extended a sponsor's exemption to Woods, thenseventeen, and paired him in the pro-am with a foursome of star quarterbacks from the National Football League: Dan Marino, Phil Simms, Bernie Kosar, and Mark Rypien.
The courtesy McLaughlin demonstrated toward Woods and his family during those two tournaments made a lasting impression that continues to pay dividends. Woods has played in the Western Open in each of his three full seasons as a professional and has won the event twice. "Greg McLaughlin is one of my great friends," Woods said, "and wherever he goes I will support him. He's the man who gave me my first shot in a PGA Tour event, the L.A. Open, when I was sixteen. I owe a lot to him. He's been a friend of the family. We visit each other. It's always a pleasure to see him."
It was only logical that he extend an invitation to a prodigy, McLaughlin said. "I viewed it as giving Picasso a paintbrush when he was twelve years old." Still, the promoter's instincts surely helped sway his decision to invite a young amateur who would help boost attendance only marginally in the short term. "I was extremely fortunate to have met him when I did," he said.
Stronger fields mean greater attendance, increasing revenues and expanding the exposure a tournament sponsor receives. McLaughlin's benevolence years earlier created a permanent bond with golf's preeminent headliner, ensuring that Woods is a perpetual entrant in his field, guaranteeing maximum exposure and enormous crowds.
Other tournament directors are without a similar built-in advantage. Their attempts at strengthening their fields have been likened to a college football coach attempting to assemble a formidable roster one recruit at a time, though McLaughlin downplays the notion. "The term recruiting is somewhat of a misnomer," he said, citing a variety of factors that influence a player's decision.
"First is where your tournament falls on the schedule, his and yours. Second is the golf course. Three is a lot of other factors."
A player's decision to schedule a particular event is often based on the level of pampering he can expect. This is not a modern development; the late Ky Laffoon was said to have declined to play in the Western Open for no other reason than the unseemly distance between the players' parking lot and the clubhouse.
Woods will play the Western Open from a sense of obligation to McLaughlin. On the other hand, he might never participate in the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic. Once the curator of talent for his own tournament, Hope in his later years has been largely removed from the recruiting process. Yet, after Woods turned pro in 1996, Hope was personally involved in extending Woods an invitation to play in his tournament in January '97. Woods declined and subsequently was skewered publicly by the tournament director, Mike Milthorpe, for having the audacity to stiff an American icon.
"We wrote to Tiger three times, called his father twice, called IMG twice, and never got a return call," Milthorpe said at the time. "I don't mind him not playing. He can go play in Thailand for the rest of his life. I just think if Bob Hope calls you up and asks you to play in his tournament you say, 'Yes.' Mr. Hope is ninety-three years old, and he has done an awful lot for the game of golf. He won't be around forever."
Woods already had agreed to play in the Asian Honda Classic in Bangkok, Thailand, his mother Kultida's hometown, though more than an appeal to pay homage to his heritage was required to secure his commitment. He received a $300,000 appearance fee to play there.
Hope, incidentally, was not the only icon Woods rejected thatyear. In a letter, South African president Nelson Mandelaattempted to persuade Woods to play in the South African Open.He politely declined, citing a scheduling conflict. So it goes withscheduling. Woods, meanwhile, would never pass on the WGC-American Express Championship, not simply because it offers $1 million to the winner.He is paid corporate spokesman for American Express.Money speaks more forcefully than an anti-apartheid champion or an aging national treasure.
Meet the Author
John Strege has covered professional golf for the past fifteen years. His biography of Tiger Woods, Tiger, was made into a TV movie for Showtime. He is an editor for Golf Digest, and a senior writer for Golf World. He lives in Vista, California, with his wife, Marlene, and their daughter, Hannah.
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