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WM Phoenix Open shows problems with PGA Tour field sizes

WM Phoenix Open shows problems with PGA Tour field sizes

Lee Iacocca, the iconic former president of the Ford Motor Company, once said that executives are often presented with great opportunities brilliantly disguised as insoluble problems, the kind of homespun aphorism you’d expect from a man who only had to navigate challenges like exploding Pintos rather than the mercurial demands of PGA Tour stars.

The quest to find opportunity amid insoluble problems has been turning Jay Monahan’s altar-boy coif from silver to white as he tries to shape the PGA Tour schedule—designated events and not—around constituencies that are always competing but not always convivial.

Like the Goliaths, who understand the competitive need for Davids but who aren’t eager to share too much of the pot with them. And the Davids, who dominate a member-led organization. And sponsors, who object to the perception of a tournament caste system if theirs isn’t among the chosen. And tournament operators, whose financial benchmarks aren’t as flexible as the whims of Tour players.

The interests of all of the aforementioned factions collide at one intersection: field sizes at designated Tour events. Or more specifically, the reduction thereof.

The reality of the ongoing reshaping of the PGA Tour is that greater riches for the elite will invariably come at the expense of the sackcloth contingent, the not-so-silent majority who don’t sell tickets, don’t draw eyeballs and don’t make a bad living. This week’s WM Phoenix Open is a fertile example of the challenges looming with the new designated events.

Put simply, who and how many should be allowed to play?

There are 136 golfers in the field at TPC Scottsdale, including 18 of the world’s top 20. As with most full-field events, scrolling the exemption criteria tends to dilute the perception of an elite meritocracy at work. For example, the local PGA section’s player of the year is competing, a common if parochial tradition on Tour. Fair enough. A horse race is no less exciting for the presence of an ultimate long shot. But an opaque category sure to come under pressure in the new realm of designated events is sponsor exemptions, the system of invitations by which those who pay the bills can reward rising talent or favored partners of their choosing.

Sponsors are, and should be, given tremendous latitude in deciding how their exemptions are used, and at the Phoenix Open WM’s are the customary mix of the welcome, the defensible and the bewildering. Taylor Montgomery is…


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