The Champions Tour became a bit of a joke this week. It's a shame, because I've always complained about how undervalued and under-promoted in the golf world I feel both the Champions and LPGA Tours are.
But this weekend's ACE Group Classic shows just how irrelevant the Champions Tour is to the landscape of golf.
Fred Couples won the ACE Group Classic last year. He's not defending his title this year. Why? Claims his back has been bothering him and flying would make it worse.
Of course anyone with a bad back will tell you that getting out of bed, bending over to tie your shoes, getting in and out of the car ... literally anything can irritate your condition and set you back weeks. But Freddie's chronically bad back is acting up, so obviously he is sitting at home resting, maybe getting some physical therapy, so that he can play other tournaments down the road including the Masters.
Couples is playing with Bubba Watson and Anthony Kim in California at the PGA Tour's Northern Trust Open.
This should not be allowed to happen.
I'm not blaming Couples because he's not doing anything against the rules. Although you would like to think he would have a lot more respect for his fellow Champions Tour members, the ACE Group Classic and the tremendous golf fans in Southwest Florida (top three golf ratings and one of the best attended tournaments on the Champions Tour every year).
But he's an independent contractor with nothing stopping him from skipping Naples in 2011.
However the PGA Tour (which runs the Champions Tour) needs to realize the mockery Couples just made of an entire Tour. If Freddie is injured, fine, then he stays home. If Freddie has a family medical emergency, fine, then he stays home.
But if you win a tournament and you are not injured or have a family medical emergency, then you have to defend your title the following year. It literally should state that at the bottom of the entry form, 'If you win this event, barring injury or a family medical emergency, you are obligated by Tour rules to defend your title the following year. Failure to do so, shall result in a fine and/or suspension."
It's a severe letdown to any tournament the next year when the defending champion, the guy used in much of the pre-tournament marketing to "sell" the event, doesn't show.
Letdown is an understatement. For a Tour that is fighting to keep its stature in the sports world, it's insulting.
What makes this situation worse is that he's not sitting home on his couch. He's playing golf! If the Tour doesn't want to demand that Freddie defend his ACE title, fine, then at least make it so that he can't play professional golf this week anywhere except here in Florida.
They'll suspend guys from a tournament if he's late for his Pro-Am tee time. They'll DQ a player a day later based on what a TV viewer thinks they saw on a super slo-mo replay. But no one will insist on a simple rule that combines common sense and respect.
If you win then you defend. Only exceptions, injury or family emergency.
Wanting to drive to a tournament instead of fly is not good enough, Freddie. In fact, it's insulting.
And if PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem doesn't see it that way, then he's a joke, too.