Is There More to Professional Golf Than the Majors?/Mason Rudolph

Is it just my imagination, or has the steam run out of professional golf? By that, I mean has the Tour stopped being a tour and become instead a series of exhibitions held between major tournaments?

Long ago, when the tournament players came to your town, everybody was there. They had to be. Prize money was pretty low, so you had to play to make a living. Remember those golf shows, like All-Star Golf, Challenge Golf, and Big Three Golf? The prize money for winning one of those shows was $3,000 and the loser got $1,000. When you consider that winning a tournament in those days (early 1960s) was worth from $3-5,000, those shows were a big deal. All the big names played in them. All the big names came to your town, too.

The tour meant something because each tour stop meant something to the players. Now, I ‘m not so sure. Jack Nicklaus won all those majors, and that was his personal quest, but since he was in a class by himself, no one thought how many majors you won should define anyone except him. How could it?  Who else could try to win that many? So the week-in, week-out tour was still a Big Deal.

Then Tiger Woods came along and took up the challenge. The press responded in spades. Features stories were about Tiger winning the last major, or whether he might win the next major. The “Best Player Without a Major” became a serious topic of discussion, rather than just an idea some bored golf writer had one day.

Now, it seems we just mark time until the next major. Play from January to March is all about who is going to qualify for the Masters. Then it’s the lead-in to the U.S. Open. Yes, The Players is in that gap, but it’s just a glorified tour stop. Then the British in July, and the season is over, because even though there’s the PGA in August, it doesn’t get much respect.

Tour Championship? FedEx Cup? Are they still playing? I thought it was football season!

The tour used to excite me. Now, my golf season revolves around the U.S. Open and The British Open.

What about the women? The LPGA is professional golf, too. I don’t want to leave them out of this discussion, but was there ever any steam in that tour?

Let us note the passing of Mason Rudolph April 18. He was, for me, one of the quintessential tour players in the 50s and 60s. Never a major winner (there’s that again), he nonetheless played in 430 PGA events and made the cut 409 times (95%), winning five times. His secret to consistent play? He always played for the fat part of the green. Earning sure money was more important to him than winning tournaments. Nothing wrong with that strategy. He was 76.

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