JUST FOR SHOW?: Australian says Michelle Wie has not earned a spot at the John Deere

Today’s golf column in the National Post:
JUST FOR SHOW?: Australian says Michelle Wie has not earned a spot at the John Deere
Robert Thompson Column: On Golf
Source: National Post
Mark Hensby is spitting mad and he’s letting the world know about it.
Who is Hensby? Well, he’s a pretty solid Australian golfer who happened to win the ever exciting John Deere Classic last July. He also finished tied for fifth at this year’s Masters.
But he isn’t a name anyone recognizes and most sports fans couldn’t pick him out of a lineup. No one turns on their television hoping to watch Mark Hensby hit a golf ball, regardless of how good he is.
That’s why the John Deere Classic has decided it needs a draw to gain any interest in its tournament this year, which falls a week before the British Open.
So tournament officials are trotting out what has become golf’s best freak show this side of John Daly: Michelle Wie.
That’s right, the Big Weisy has accepted a sponsor’s exemption into one of the numerous PGA Tour stops that no one pays attention to. Get the television cameras ready.
But Hensby doesn’t approve.
It turns out that Hensby has the crazed notion that one should actually accomplish something in the sport before being invited to play a PGA Tour stop, even one as low on the pecking order as the John Deere.
It isn’t clear exactly what Hensby’s criteria is — maybe a U.S. Amateur or at least a Public Links championship. Wie has one Women’s Public Links title, but that came two years ago. Since then, her parents have paraded her out to a couple of PGA Tour events and a handful of LPGA events. She’s played well, but hasn’t won much of anything, including amateur events.
Hensby doesn’t think that’s enough to warrant a special invitation.
“I don’t think a 15-year-old girl who’s done nothing at all should get a sponsor’s invitation to a PGA Tour event,” Hensby told an Australian reporter this week.
In what is becoming a fairly common mantra, Hensby didn’t blame Wie for accepting the invite. He blamed her parents.
“But I don’t blame the John Deere Classic or Michelle. I blame her parents, and the people running her affairs,” he said.
The reality is the latest Wie invite demonstrates many of the problems facing the PGA Tour. Too many events simply don’t include any of the game’s top stars. At the same time, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem is trying to nail down a television deal that will at least rival the US$900-million arrangement that runs out next year.
If Tiger isn’t in the field at an event like the John Deere, and more moderate draws like Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson stay away, who is going to bring in the viewers?
Similarly, sponsors who pay millions annually to have their name attached to PGA Tour events expect to get something in return for their patronage. And names like Hensby, Pampling, Petrovic and even Weir don’t cut it.
This situation hits close to home for Canadians. The Canadian Open, stuck with a poor date that falls after the completion of the four majors, rarely gets the game’s best players to head north. And the PGA Tour is not doing much to encourage them.
Rather than fixing this ongoing problem, Finchem apparently is willing to allow the draw to be Wie, even if she doesn’t deserve to be there.
But how long will viewers be content to watch every putt Wie takes along the way to missing another cut? The novelty just won’t last.
The most important question is when does Finchem force his top players to add additional tournaments so they don’t need to turn to Michelle Wie to draw sponsors and fans?
Wie might well be a boon to the John Deere Classic in July. Television cameras will show up and she’ll draw big galleries to follow her around another generic TPC course in Silvis, Illinois.
But her appearance is a simply a bandage on a much larger wound. The real cure is to have Woods or Mickelson or the like stop by for four rounds every few years.

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Jeff Lancaster

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  • Someone mentioned what I believe to be an excellent concept for getting “name players” at all events: Require all Tour Pros to attend each tournament at least once in three years. They could then arrange their schedules so they don’t play more than they want, yet still give sponsors (who fund the big paychecks) a draw at every event.

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