Molinari's Win Is Big For Italy, The Move Of The RBC Open Is Big For Canada
We sit in the golfing trough between the 147th Open Championship and the 109th Canadian Open, two of the longest-running tournament dates on the calendar. After the Open wound down in Carnoustie, Scotland, with Italian Francesco Molinari as champion, many of the top players were already on a red-eye flight back to Canada to fulfill their obligation of playing Canada’s top tournament at Glen Abbey in Oakville, Ontario.
Many Canadians hope that, at long last, a Canadian will win the Open, ending a 64-year drought for native and adopted players. But while the sport honours traditions, they’ve also shown in the last while that they are not going to be hidebound by tradition either.
Faced with a challenging media landscape and competition from other sports, the people who run the Pro Tour have decided to make some major changes to their schedule. Most of the changes involve finding a better sweet spot for television coverage, protecting their prime assets away from the colossus of NFL and college football in the U.S.
The Canadian Open is one of those events that will be affected by the seismic shift in dates next year. Once a midsummer staple— it was called the unofficial fifth major for decades— the Open was bounced to September and then to the week following the Open Championship. Because of the travel involved after the British Open, Tiger Woods has not been to Canada since his legendary 18th-hole bunker shot in 2000 that clinched his win at the Abbey.
Trying to get players to commit to the awkward date was alleviated somewhat by a deal that required RBC-sponsored players to appear at the Open if they wanted to get paid. Still, it was hard to convince today’s rich players to flip the switch on a five-hour time-zone change.
Now, with the change of dates, the Canadian Open moves back to June— in the week before the U.S. Open. Yes, it will mean Canada’s national tournament will still be outshone by another prestigious major. But the proximity of the Canadian tournament site to the U.S. Open site will relieve a lot of the travel hassles for players.
Some players may not want to play the week before the great major, but there will also be many players who’ll look at the RBC event as a tuneup for the next week. On balance, its a vast improvement for Canada.
Moving the Canadian out of late July allows the PGA Tour to concentrate on its FedEx Cup format— its version of a playoff run. With the Canadian moved— along with the fourth major, the PGA Championship— the FedEx championship series can wind up before it conflicts with the NFL at Labour Day. And the Tour schedule can conclude with either the biennial Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup.
Yes, the PGA is moving— to May. It bumps the TPC event in Ponte Vedre— with its island green—back to its original March date. This way, the PGA Tour can market a major event for TV in every month from March till September. After the TPC, April brings the Masters, May the PGA, June the U.S. Open, July the Open Championship, August the FedEx Cup playoff and September either Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup.
There are going to be unhappy people— the early June date could preclude cities on the weather-erratic Prairies or Maritimes from ever staging the Canadian Open. PGA fans will resent losing their 50-yer stature as the final major—“Last Chance For Glory”. But truth be told, the PGA has lost some lustre of late, and the May date will probably give it a spruce-up.
What’s remarkable about this shuffling is the pro-active strategy of the PGA Tour as it confronts the realities of TV-plus-digital world coverage, plus the decline in golf interest in many markets. In the cutthroat environment of today’s globalized pro sports, if you’re standing still you’re losing. For instance, pinning hopes on majors means concentrating the word’s very best players from the Americas, Europe, Australia and Asia in more events with worldwide audiences ad at time they'll have a clear window..
As Tiger Woods proves, names sell the product as much as the Masters theme music. No one is watching the Barbasol Championship unless it has name recognition— that’s why they let LPGA star Brittany Lincicome play this past weekend.
The moves also raise the very real possibilities of doing more shared events with the European PGA Tour— possibly adding a major tournament in the Middle East in February or even January. Good for the stars, hard for the up-and-comers. And a added incentive as legalized gambling makes its move in the U.S.
Sports with individuals, not teams, have the flexibility to make these moves. But there’s a lesson as well for the established North American leagues: continuously expanding the same old/ same old formats via expansion and endless playoffs will leave you behind if you don’t aim for global coverage.
We’ve said before this is what soccer has done in a phenomenally successful way. The PGA Tour has decided to take its example to heart. It says here that their boldness will be rewarded.
Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy.is the host of the podcast The Full Count with Bruce Dowbiggin on his website is Not The Public Broadcaster (http://www.notthepublicbroadcaster.com). He’s also a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster, he is also the best-selling author whose new book Cap In Hand will be available this fall.