Time ripe for Major move

Matt Kuchar

Consider a couple of scenes from the golf world this year, with emphasis on ‘world’.

Inbee Park began her bid to become the first golfer to capture four straight Majors in one season by teeing off at 7am in the opening round at St Andrews. It was a strange starting time for the star attraction — except it was prime time in South Korea.

Luke Guthrie had just started his second PGA Tour season when he packed his bags, along with a two-litre bottle of Mountain Dew for his caffeine fix, and flew from Las Vegas to Shanghai for a European Tour event just for the experience. He nearly won. Hello, China.

One of the rules officials at the HSBC Champions was a Chinese woman who has a Ph.D in golf. Tiger Woods only has a Masters (okay, four of them).

Jordan Spieth wandered down to the caddie’s bar Saturday night with his Texas Longhorns cap turned backward and his eyes on a TV showing the USC-Oregon State game from Friday night that had ended eight hours earlier. He was a long way from home, but for a moment, it sure didn’t feel like it.

One of the biggest celebrations of the year starts this week in Australia — Adam Scott finally returns home with his green jacket.

Americans can be found over the next month from the Pacific Rim to Down Under. Rickie Fowler went from Malaysia to Shanghai to Australia, and then he was headed to Los Angeles for intense gym work before returning to Thailand. Tiger Woods was in China, Macau and Singapore doing corporate outings and an exhibition before going to Turkey for his second regular European Tour event of the year.

Matt Kuchar is representing his country at Royal Melbourne again, this time in the World Cup.

Graeme McDowell, who grew up in the North and lives in Orlando, spent two weeks in Shanghai and then flew home to Florida for a week going back across eight time zones to finish his European Tour season in Dubai. Then he goes to Australia and Los Angeles.

Now, throw out 153 years of championship history and ask yourself this question: If golf were starting from scratch and there could be only four Majors, would three of them really be in America?

Little wonder it makes perfect sense for the PGA Tour of America to explore the possibility of occasionally taking the PGA Championship overseas. The key words are ‘explore’ and ‘occasionally’.

“I would say we’re more than halfway through a serious analysis,” PGA chief executive Pete Bevacqua said over the weekend. “What’s important is we boil down our missions to two pillars — serve our members and grow the game.

“The ultimate test will be can we check both boxes? Does it make sense to occasionally play the PGA Championship overseas? Would growing the brand globally help our members? Would it grow the game? Part two is easy.”

The assumption would be to look at Asia, though the HSBC Champions already bills itself as ‘Asia’s Major’ and likely will be even further established when, or if, the PGA of America ever decides to start accumulating stamps in its passport.

The most obvious hindrance is television, which was driven home by a tweet from Bob Estes to Dustin Johnson. “Just woke up to find out that you won.” The tweet was sent Sunday at 7:30am Texas time, about five hours after Johnson completed his three-shot win in the HSBC Champions. Estes missed an extraordinary display of golf — Johnson, Ian Poulter and McDowell each closed with a 66 from the final group.

Then again, if the PGA Championship were to leave America on occasion, that’s at least a decade out. It wasn’t long ago when the Masters showed only three hours of the final round. Or when golf in America was only televised on the weekend. How will sports even be broadcast a decade from now?

Bevacqua has only to look at other sports to identify a trend.

The NBA is playing pre-season games in China. The NFL is making London a regular part of its schedule (yes, that team from Jacksonville really is part of the NFL). The Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks will open the 2014 baseball season in Australia.

“The world is getting smaller,” PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said. “Things are coming together. It’s more a question of the best players in the world are going to play, and it’s going to be a big deal wherever it goes. What’s best for that tournament long-term? And what’s good for golf globally given the options?

“I don’t think there’s any reason not to think of those things.”

It’s a new world of golf. It’s a big world, yet one that is shrinking.

For years, the PGA Championship has been looked upon as the ‘other’ Major because it lacks a clear identity the other three enjoy.

The Masters and Augusta National. The Open Championship and links golf. The US Open historically as the toughest test in golf.

The PGA Championship has a chance to identify itself as the only international Major. It’s worth exploring, because it’s clear that’s where golf is going.

* Phil Mickelson is starting his 2014 schedule in the desert — not California, but Abu Dhabi.

Organisers have confirmed Mickelson will play in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship on January 16-19. It will be the first time since 2011 that Mickelson will play the Abu Dhabi event.


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