In a shuttle van to the range at the 1999 B.C. Open, Phil Mickelson
(below) and I were discussing a Tour proposal to reduce the size of tournament fields. As I recall, Phil was in favor, arguing that all sports are star-driven. I saw his point but countered that those stars needed someone to beat and that after star power the second-biggest draw in sports was the rise of the underdog. I also noted that the Tour had to provide opportunities to develop future stars. Thankfully, it was a short ride, but in truth Phil's side had already won the debate.
While not quite the world tour Greg Norman suggested in the mid-'90s, the World Golf Championships, or WGCs, began in 1999. A collaborative effort by the International Federation of PGA Tours, the four WGC events host the top players from all the world's tours at international sites (in theory). The WGCs have become the smallest, highest-ranked official fields in golf, and three of the four pay out more money than any of the majors. The WGCs may not have the prestige of majors, but they have the same star power because in the hunt for World Ranking points these tournaments are like hobbled wildebeests on the savanna. And the big boys are sharpening their fangs as a fifth WGC is set to begin in South Africa in 2013.
The WGCs have been great for the game's best, and with the majors they help expand the game globally. But by focusing on the top players, the WGCs have diminished events that lack that concentration of star power. They've diminished the whole for the demands of the few.
Brandel Chamblee is a 15-year Tour vet and Golf Channel analyst.