An Improper Send-Off

By Thomas Boswell
Friday, June 23, 2006

Golf is the game of sportsmanship and proper manners, the sport that exemplifies respect for others. We even use it to teach values to kids, to instill the idea that conscience defines character.

So this is a week for golf -- at least the crass, ungrateful, traveling-circus PGA Tour version -- to hang its head in shame.

It's no accident that all of the world's four major championships are run by organizations other than the PGA Tour. The tour keeps pumping its own Players Championship to join the elite. But it'll never happen -- not as long as the tour humiliates itself, shows its true colors and drives itself down the scale of social respectability with disasters such as the one it is perpetrating in Washington this week.

Even a golf tournament deserves a decent burial. The funeral for the summer pro golf stop in Washington is being held at TPC Avenel this week. The PGA Tour didn't even have the decency to close the casket.

Washington has supported the PGA Tour since 1980, always with huge crowds that were far bigger than the usually mediocre fields merited. Local volunteers gave millions of dollars worth of free time, just as they do at every tour stop around the country. Without the goodwill of this free workforce, the tour would not have a viable economic model. And exclusive Congressional Country Club has hosted the event eight times, including last year, effectively closing its famous course to its own members for a month.

For this, what does the public get from the PGA Tour?

Sergio Garcia, the defending champion of the Booz Allen Classic, did not come back to Avenel yesterday even though his picture is the only one on the cover of the tournament program. The first rule of decent behavior (and marketing) in pro golf is that the defender comes back, even if he has to play nine holes from a litter before withdrawing. If you take the big check one year, you show up the next. You don't claim the classic dubious excuse -- a bad back -- when you played in the U.S. Open the previous week. Of course, Sergio's back will be healed when the U.S. Open returns to Congressional in 2011.

But Garcia's absence is the rule this week, not the exception. Nobody's showing up for the Booz. The '04 champion, Adam Scott, also withdrew. Even modest drawing cards such as Chris DiMarco, Aaron Baddeley and Geoff Ogilvy pulled out, even though their names had been used to advertise the tournament.

However, as a final kiss-off -- just in case anybody didn't get the message -- even the commissioner of golf swore off the Booz this week. On Wednesday, Tim Finchem didn't show up at Avenel, instead doing a news conference via telephone. Finchem cited bad weather in Columbus, Ohio. What's the matter, Tim? Didn't they have flights from Columbus to Washington yesterday morning?

Finchem doesn't want to face the music here. He just wants to take our money -- more than a quarter of a century of it -- and run to Memphis, where FedEx's $40 million to sponsor the year-end series led to its annual tour stop moving to the week before the U.S. Open, the slot so coveted by the Booz.

Luckily, most in golf are several cuts above the tour's decision makers. And some of them are here. Don't hate the players. Ireland's Padraig Harrington had his heart broken at the U.S. Open, finishing bogey-bogey-bogey when three pars would have won him the title.

"I don't think I've ever been as tired, as deflated from an event ever in my life. . . . Yes, I definitely did consider pulling out," said Harrington. "I feel gutted."


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