Commentary: MONEY CANNOT BUY RESPECT (Published August 22, 2007)
Looking out over the veranda at storied Olympic Club in San Francisco reminds us of what truly stirs the soul of golf. It is not money. This week the 107th U.S. Amateur is being contested on the West Coast. On the other side of the continent, in Rye, N.Y., the PGA Tour embarks on its "new era in golf" with the playoffs for the marketing contrivance known as the FedEx Cup.
One event reeks of tradition, and while maybe the desire to excel in it isn't as pure as it once was -- a pro career and endorsement deals usually await the winner at the end of the rainbow -- it is still played by golfers who at the end of the week know they are guaranteed nothing more than a trophy and some personal satisfaction.
The other embraces the modern-day idea that anything tied to the umbilical cord of high dollars makes it important. The FedEx Cup might be a novel concept in the game -- though not in sports, since the PGA Tour nakedly appropriated its format from auto racing. It might even draw a few more eyeballs than the U.S. Amateur because of its world-class professional field that is missing No. 1 Tiger Woods but still features the rest of the big names in the sport.
Which is the bigger prize?
Well, with $7 million purses each of four weeks and a $10 million (deferred) payoff for the winner of the PGA Tour playoffs, the FedEx Cup seemingly is positioned to bring excitement to the professional game that has been lacking following the year's fourth and final major, the PGA Championship.
The only problem is, what, other than money, are the boys really playing for?
Not much. Which is probably why there is so little legitimate interest in it -- even within the ranks for the golfing faithful. Tiger Woods has won five tournaments this year, including the PGA, to add a 13th major to his stable. He is averaging more than a stroke better than No. 2 Ernie Els in scoring average. He is the game's top player this year. We don't need a playoff to determine that.
The PGA Tour has lost sight of the fact that it exists to facilitate a golfer's desire to play the game for a comfortable living while he prepares for the only tournaments that really matter: the four major championships, none of which the Tour owns.
The Tour dearly wants to insinuate itself into notable golf history. It already has accomplished that. Further efforts come off as cheap and pathetic and actually do damage to its reputation rather than enhance it.
So, who is the top amateur player? That is to be determined over a week of performance on one of America's most celebrated courses, just as it has 106 previous times. And the title is something that will have meaning for a player the rest of his days. Other than his professional majors, which accomplishment means the most to Tiger Woods? His money titles? His player of the year awards?
Bet he would choose his three straight U.S. Amateur crowns. Bet he chooses the crown that made him a national champion and links him to Nicklaus, Palmer, Jones, Ouimet and even Charles Blair Macdonald, one of the godfathers of American golf.
Bet he could win 10 FedEx Cup titles and never feel much of a sense of accomplishment.
Money doesn't buy happiness -- nor respect or honor or prestige.