Do the non-majors matter?
Hartford and their kin are important and here are a few reasons why:
Much like Major League Baseball, the Tour has a distinct rhythm. Every so often, in between birdie-fests, the players are tested in ways they won't be at any other time. The Masters is all about heroism, the U.S. Open tests patience and perseverance, the British Open determines whether you can master the conditions and the PGA Championship is about endurance.
But tournaments like Hartford are like a 10-9 baseball game. There are plenty of home runs and great plays and the fans leave there feeling like they had fun instead of watching waterboarding or some other method of torture. People like birdies and eagles, even if they say they don't like pros shooting 20-under every week. Maybe the Tour could toughen up some of the courses so that 10- or 12-under could win most weeks, but fans still like the action.
They are fascinated by just how good these players are, especially those who trudge outside the ropes for an arms length look at what golf at its highest level looks like.
Middle of the pack
Middle-of-the-road players get chances to make money and win tournaments at places like Hartford because most of the stars aren't there. The Travelers doesn't have a great field, but it has a decent one. Chris DiMarco, Mark Calcavecchia, Darren Clarke and Padraig Harrington are in the starting lineup.
Plus, there are a slew of good, young players who are trying to inch their way up the money list and FedEx Cup points list, hoping to make the field for the end-of-the-year playoffs. That said, there are a lot of talented players on the PGA Tour not named Woods and, frankly, it's a lot of fun to get to know them.
Tournaments like Harford are important to the community. The cities get behind the event because it not only makes a difference in economic impact, but it pulls people together. Let's be clear: The PGA Tour could not exist without volunteers. If it had to pay everyone who volunteers at each Tour event, the players would be competing for $500,000 purses, not $6 million.
Volunteers come from all walks of life and many of them come from the title sponsor's company. Regardless of where they work, all they want is to be a small part of a big event that benefits their city. They often take a week's vacation to perform these tasks, whether it is driving shuttle buses or holding up signs that say, "Quiet please." To boot, they pay for their own uniforms out of their pockets. And, they love it because they love the game and their community.
The next time a Tour player thinks about chewing out a volunteer, they should remember that they might be selling shirts in a pro shop if not for the volunteers.
The Tour is emphatic about saying that charity is the big winner and while it's cliché, it's quite true. No other major sport -- or minor one -- raises as much money for worthy causes as does the PGA Tour. Just this week, Billy Andrade and Brad Faxon held their ninth annual CVS Caremark Charity Classic in Rhode Island in which a couple dozen Tour players -- and two LPGA players -- helped raise a ton of money.
Even if the players received prize money in the tournament, their time is worth much more than money. They came because they were asked and it was for a good cause. And, most importantly, it was fun. Tour players don't have enough fun playing tournament golf.
Tournaments like Hartford are important to the PGA Tour and not just because it benefits players, sponsors and the Tour itself. They are the lifeblood of the Tour not because of the bottom line, but because of the people. Golf is an incredibly difficult game and fans are often awe-struck to witness shots they could never, in their wildest dreams, possibly execute.
But they also love to see them chunk it, skull it, hook it and slice it. It's an identification that no other sport offers. "I could have done that," is the fans' battle cry for each bad shot they see. But when a Tour player hits what seems like an impossible shot, it's a wonder.
The U.S. Open doesn't give us that kind of thrill. Hartford and its brethren do. That's why they matter.
Mike Purkey has been covering professional golf for more than 20 years for a variety of publications, including GOLF Magazine. He is a former president of the Golf Writers Association of America and is a frequent contributor to NBCSports.com.
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