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The Tail Is Wagging the Dog!

By John M. Ross,
Davis Love III
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Davis Love III has more than 1.2 million reasons to get over his Nissan Open loss. (Courtesy photo)

Million-dollar player contracts and stock market performance statistics continue to vie with sports performance for the fan's attention, and there appears to be no end in sight.

In my young days as a fan, the only time financial matters pushed their way into the sports picture was when Mickey Mantle was gently hassling the New York Yankees for a better contract, or when slick promoters were trying to lure Muhammad Ali into a championship fight with an ever-increasing purse. But, even then, the money involved was like pocket change compared to today's staggering sums.

The leading topic of golf conversation last week was not how Davis Love III blew a three-shot lead and lost the Nissan Open after it seemed to be safely in his pocket. Or, on the other side of the coin, the heroic story of Mike McCullough finally winning a PGA tournament after 612 events spread over 29 years.

What golfers talked about, and shook their heads over in near-disbelief, was the $2 million fee Tiger Woods was getting as appearance money to play in the European Tour's Dubai Desert Classic. Yes, you read that right - $2 million just to show up.

Also fighting for the golfer's attention was the headline that indicated Nike Golf, which has poured enormous sums into golf in recent years, and Buy.com, sponsor of the PGA's Tour development circuit, both are reeling from the recent downturn in the economy. And, as if that wasn't enough to cause confusion, there was also the report that David Duval had accepted a multimillion-dollar deal to endorse and play with Nike products.

Indeed, as has been lamented here many times in the past, it's getting more and more difficult to distinguish the sports pages from the business pages.

Nike golf, which has been making plans to get into club making, took a king-sized hit in late February when its stock did a sudden swisssshhh of almost 20 percent. And that's not to be confused with its Swoosh. Further, the sneaker king's end-of-year figures are so bad that market observers fully expect the decline to continue on through 2001. And that could put a hold on expansion into the club business, and also slow its plans to enlarge its collection of millionaire athletes.

With the Nike Swoosh on almost every jersey you see in pro football games, as well as on so many other uniforms that parade across the TV screen, I find it inconceivable that any company can really afford this kind of spending. And I didn't even mention Tiger Woods' five-year endorsement contract worth $100 million. I wonder what a pair of its athletic shoes would cost if Nike didn't have this promotional expense piled to such incredible levels. Maybe $20 instead of $80-plus.

On top of this, at this time of despair, neither Woods nor the newly inducted Duval are doing much to brighten the picture for Nike. Both have turned in drab efforts over the first two months of the new season and have done little to ease the stockholders' heartburn.

Buy.com, which has been the title sponsor for the PGA's so-called "minor league" tour since it succeeded Nike, also has a sad tale to tell. The Internet retailer, suffering from the downturn in the technology area, has seen its stock go through the trapdoor, plunging from a $35 level at its initial public offering down to less than 50 cents in recent weeks. And there are no encouraging signs anywhere.

Buy.com's contract with the PGA Tour as the umbrella sponsor for the 29-event circuit runs through 2002, and based on the sounds being heard, it is unlikely that will go beyond that date. While it is not easy to find sponsors for a program that operates in the shadow of the main event, not many tournament directors are shedding tears over the potential loss of Buy.com. Some thought the name had some problems; it had no connection with golf and the PGA; and some people didn't understand the name at all.

There seems to be quiet optimism among PGA Tour bosses that they will be able to come up with a replacement if they receive enough advance notice. Some think Buy.com is ready to tell them right now, since they have many other places where the $42.5 million in the golf investment might be used to help right the sinking ship.

Canadian Tour officials can't be very pleased with Mike Weir's decision to pass up the highly promoted opening of that tour's schedule at Myrtle Beach. Weir, Canada's best player since George Knudson, was a cinch to attract more attention to the grand opening in South Carolina, a unique switch in itself, but he elected to follow his usual PGA Tour schedule.

The King and The Bear course at the World Golf Village, St. John's Country, Florida, will be the scene of much nostalgia during the month of March. Designed and completed by Arnold Palmer (The King) and Jack Nicklaus (The Bear) in 2000, it will be the setting for both Shell's Wonderful World of Golf, the long-running TV series, and the popular Senior PGA Tour's Legends of Golf.

Palmer and Nicklaus will play an exhibition match on March 26, to kickoff the Legends event. That will make a lot of golfers feel younger for the day.

The keeper of the PGA Tour record book used to have a nice, cozy job, but this year he's on overtime. For the third consecutive week, a major alteration was made in the book when Australia's Robert Allenby won the six-man playoff at the Nissan Open. It was the largest playoff in the history of 72-hole events, and it was distinguished in other ways, too.

It came on the 18th hole at Riviera, one of the toughest closing holes on the tour. But with the persistent wind and rain, the challenge was made even stiffer. On top of that, Allenby had bogeyed the 451-yard test a couple of times during regulation play, the last one, only a few minutes earlier, had cost him an outright win. This time he choked down on a 3-wood from about 200 yards and dropped it within five feet of the flag. His birdie was only the second one of the entire day on that tantalizer.

Allenby made another notation in the book, one that might stand forever. The thriller was his seventh consecutive playoff win against no losses. Now you understand why the boys call him "Sudden Death."

Incidentally, Davis Love did blow the Nissan, but there was considerable consolation for him at the money window. His wobbly tie-8 finish gave him enough points to win the West Coast Swing and the bonus of $500,000. And that's in addition to the $1.2-plus million he'd already pocketed in prize money for his five events on the swing.

Oooops! Weren't we saying something about the dollars taking over?

(c) Copyright John M. Ross

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