The Year of the Layup: Are Today's PGA Tour Professionals Soft?

Michael FitzpatrickFeatured ColumnistMarch 1, 2010

SCOTTSDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 28: Rickie Fowler waits to play his second shot on the second hole during the final round of the Waste Management Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale on February 28, 2010 in Scottsdale, Arizona.  (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Here’s a question for you: If your boss approached you with the following three choices, which one would you choose?

1) You could attempt to win an account that has eluded the company for decades.  If you’re successful, you will be given a $1 million bonus and your job will be secure through 2012.

2) You could attempt to win the new account, but if you fail, you will only be given $165,000 and you may or may not have a job in 2011.

3) You could not even attempt to secure the new account and you will still be given a $648,000 bonus and your job will be secure through 2011.

The likes of Rickie Fowler, Michael Sim, Tim Clark, and Bubba Watson were more or less facing this exact same choice, and each of them chose option No. 3.  

Fowler, who was trailing by one stroke at the time, could have easily reached the par-five 15th in two with nothing more than a four-iron yesterday afternoon.

However, if he missed the tight island green, his earnings could have gone from $648,000 to less than $240,000.

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Last year, the 125th-ranked player (last player to secure a 2010 tour card without having to attend Q-School) on the tour’s money list earned $662,683.

Fowler opted for choice No. 3, laid up, secured a $648,000 pay day, and can rest easy in knowing that his job will be secure through the 2011 PGA Tour season.   

Michael Sim also chose option No. 3 when he decided lay up on the par-five 18th hole while trailing Ben Crane by just one stroke during the final round of the 2010 Farmers Insurance Open.

Despite having just 246 yards to the green—a distance Sim had covered with a 2-iron a few holes earlier—Sim decided not to take any chances.  He laid up, secured the biggest single pay day of his career, and took a large step towards obtaining his 2011 tour card.   

Tim Clark and Bubba Watson also chose option No. 3 at the Bob Hope Classic and subsequently lost out to one of the few players in the field with the nerve to take the bull by its horns—Bill Haas.

Needless to say, we as golf fans want to see guys go for it.

Would Tin Cup still have been a popular film if it ended with Roy McAvoy laying up on the par-five 18th in order to secure a big pay day? 

Although circus folk and Time Square scam artists may tell you differently, as far as anyone knows, human beings have never been able to read the minds of other human beings.

We don’t know whether or not Fowler truly believed he had a better chance to make birdie with a wedge in his hand from 80 yards than with a putter in his hand from 35 feet yesterday.

We don’t know whether or not Michael Sim truly believed that he couldn’t get to the 18th green in two during the final round of the Famers Insurance Open.

Pressure can do funny things to a player’s mind…just ask Jean Van de Velde.

But here’s another question for you: If Rickie Fowler were faced with the option of going for the green in two on the 15th and having a chance at a $2 million pay day and a two-year exemption, or laying up and receiving a $150,000 pay day, do you think he still would have decided to layup?  

Do you think Michael Sim still would have laid up on the 18th hole at Torrey Pines if he were put in a similar situation?

Over the past decade, many writers, analysts, and golf historians have unpopularly implied that today’s touring professionals are softer than those of years past because whether they win or finish 15th, they still leave with truck loads of money…thank you, Tiger Woods.

Walter Hagen needed to win golf tournaments because he needed the cash.

Byron Nelson needed to win golf tournaments in order to afford a ranch in rural Texas.  

Ben Hogan needed to win golf tournaments in order to climb his way out of the poor house.

When Jack Nicklaus first started out, he needed to win golf tournaments to support his young family. Otherwise, it was back to work at his father’s local pharmacy.  

Today, 21-year-old Rickie Fowler is going to get onto his private jet and fly back to his mansion whether he wins or finishes 25th.

Michael Sim is probably looking at adding several thousand square feet onto his home thanks to the $395,733 he earned for laying up and finishing second at the Famers Insurance Open.

Now, this is in no way an attempt to say that all professional golfers are soft these days, because that is simply not the case.

As with any sport, some players are soft while other are fearless.  Some players are in it for the money while others are in it to win it.

But one can only wonder whether or not Michael Sim, Rickie Fowler, Tim Clark, and Bubba Watson might have made some different decisions down the stretch this year if there was a larger discrepancy between the money awarded to first and second place finishers on the PGA Tour.

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