Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods Stirred things up in China this week.
He’s not the first tournament director to express disappointment with the non-participation of players in an event but Giles Morgan, the group head of sponsorship at HSBC, took that to a new level this week.
The World Golf Championship-HSBC Champions event in Shenzhen, China features thirteen of the top twenty players in the world, including seven of the top 10. But it’s two of the missing players—Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods—that drew Morgan’s ire.
“Of course we’re disappointed not to have the two top players in the world,” Morgan said on Tuesday in a story in The Telegraph (UK). “Both have sent me apologies, but this is an event which should be regarded by all players as it is by the tours and the media as one of the top events in the world.
“Therefore I feel strongly the top players should be here. I believe golfers have a responsibility to their sponsors. Without the sponsors there isn’t professional golf. I speak on behalf of the industry.”
Perhaps he does, but over the years the industry has become tolerant of the fact that professional golfers, being the vagabond group they are, will pick and choose the tournaments that suit their personal schedule best.
Officials at every professional golf tournament believe that they have the best event on the calendar.
It doesn’t take the pros long to figure out what courses they like, what tournaments they like, where they get the best treatment and how their year-long schedule best comes together.
So what prompted Morgan to go after the No. 1 and No. 2 players in the world?
Well, starting in August, McIlroy played seven of nine weeks. He was off for most of October before returning to play in the BMW Championship at the end of the month. He’s going to play three of the remaining four events on the European Tour as he tries to win the money titles for both the PGA and European Tours.
Woods has played his first full season since 2005—which for him means 19 tournaments. His schedule is identical to McIlroy’s over the same period, although he came back after the Ryder Cup to play in the CIMB Classic instead of the BMW Championship.
The two got together for an exhibition match Monday in China, but then left the country instead of staying and playing in Morgan’s event. Woods went to Singapore to do a corporate event for Nike, and McIlroy went to Bulgaria to watch his girlfriend, Caroline Wozniacki, play tennis.
Morgan’s unhappiness is no doubt based on the belief that his event is the ultimate finish to the season, even if these guys have played in the PGA Championship, the FedEx Cup playoffs, the Tour Championship and the Ryder Cup as the season came to a close.
But he’s no doubt really ticked off about the fact that both of them were in the country Monday, but chose not to stay and compete. McIlroy hasn’t chimed in on the criticism but Woods was asked about it following his clinic with 12 selected teenagers.
"I was tired and doing these things is easy. Competing and getting ready for another golf tournament, I just didn't want to do that," Woods said. “I've got four more rounds at my tournament in LA and I'm done until Abu Dhabi next year so I'm looking forward to having this extended break.
“This is my off-season now and I'm really looking forward to getting away from it. Competing and playing golf tournaments after a long schedule, the playoffs, the Ryder Cup and a lot of other tournaments, it's been a while.”
Does Morgan have a right to be disappointed that Woods and McIlroy opted not to play in his event? Absolutely he does.
Do Woods and McIlroy have the right to choose where and when they play?
Unless there’s a major overhaul in the PGA Tour structure that would somehow dictate where players must play, players are still independent contractors with the ability to make their own decisions. Don’t look for that to change anytime soon.
Do players like Woods and McIlroy have a responsibility, as Morgan insisted, to the sponsors?
No, not really. To their equipment sponsors, perhaps, but to sponsors of individual tournaments? Not hardly. If they did, they’d have to play every week and that’s not going to happen.
Who knows, the schedule next year might work out that one or both players play in the WGC-HSBC Champions and that would make Mr. Morgan happy. Or, maybe neither one will play and the event will be a really good one, just like this year’s figures to be.
It's not a matter of disrespecting golf or not living up to their responsibilities to golf.
It's a matter of today's reality and how the game is played.