By the end of the 40th and final day of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship at Dove Mountain, our $9 million golf tournament established a global identity.
“Neither snow nor cacti nor morning frost stays these couriers from the not-so-swift completion of their appointed rounds.”
As a sporting event, it was as slow as the U.S. Mail and, until some guy named Victor Dubuisson started hitting miracle shots from the Wild Burro Wash, often less exciting.
On Monday, after eight years of scars, the Tucson Conquistadores made a trade. They are out of the Match Play business and will immediately step into the lineup of the Champions Tour.
Out goes Bubba Watson, in comes Freddie Couples. So long, Rory McIlroy. Say hello to Tom Watson.
I’m not so sure they didn’t trade up.
“We’re going to bring back the golfers who grew up at the old Tucson Open,” said Judy McDermott, executive director of the Conquistadores. “It’s going to be a party: a two-day Pro-Am and three days of golf.”
The Conquistadores, who were bold enough to take on the flawed Match Play format for eight years, will put up $1.7 million in prize money while they search for a title sponsor. And, as it now sits, they’ll have a captive audience; the “Tucson Classic” is the only Champions Tour event scheduled in March 2015.
Match Play? It has been squeezed off of the PGA Tour’s 2015 itinerary until further notice.
I thought the fate of Match Play was sealed in 2012 when half of the Saturday quarterfinals featured Mark Wilson, Sang-Moon Bae, Martin Laird and Peter Hanson. Accenture wasn’t about to keep spending $12 million a year for its clients to watch four guys even Johnny Miller has trouble identifying.
A year later it was so cold you’d have thought you were in Fargo, North Dakota.
The breakup was mutual.
The Champions Tour is a friendly and familiar blend of gentlemen golfers aged 50 or more. Colin Montgomerie is a regular. Davis Love III just turned 50. Fuzzy Zoeller and Rocco Mediate are likely to enter.
It will be played at Tucson National, which has played host to 31 PGA Tour events. It is more logistically suitable than the Golf Club at Dove Mountain, more walk-able, with shade and almost none of the menacing cacti that often scared golf spectators straight. You won’t be asked to pay $35 to watch a practice round.
“The players on the Champions Tour are enthusiastic about returning to Tucson,” Kirk Triplett, who won the final Tucson Open, 2006, said in a PGA Tour statement. “Living in Phoenix, I love desert golf, so I’m really happy the event will be on our schedule next year. After all, I was the last one to claim that Conquistador helmet.”
The field for the ’15 Tucson Classic will include 80 players. There will be no cut. No one-and-done. One possible negative variable: The tournament will be played March 20-22, which conflicts with the opening weekend of the NCAA basketball tournament.
There’s nothing new about that. Match Play and the old Tucson Open, routinely played in January and February, competed with UA basketball for Tucson’s sports attention.
“We’re going to embrace March Madness,” said McDermott. “We’ll have it on big screen TVs at the course.”
It is easy to pile on Match Play and its format now that it is history. I went to all 40 days and enjoyed it immensely. How often do you see Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods together at the media center at any course, let alone the Gallery Golf Club’s south course?
But the PGA Tour isn’t all glamour any more. This year, more than ever, I’ve found myself compelled to watch Bernhard Langer and Champions Tour TV events rather than the PGA Tour’s non-majors.
Every now and then you’ll see someone smile.
Fourteen winners on this year’s PGA Tour are named Stallings, Reed, Henley, Walker, Hadley, Senden, Every, Bowditch, Jones, Noh, Holmes, Todd, Matsuyama and Crane. If you know their first names, let me know.
Glamour? Tiger Woods played in just four of Match Play’s 30 final rounds in Tucson. Phil Mickelson? He treated Match Play as if it were a contagious disease.
Over the last 15 years, sports in Tucson have suffered every conceivable indignity. We lost USA Baseball, the Copper Bowl, the Diamondbacks, White Sox, Rockies, the LPGA, the Pro Bowler’s Tour and pro baseball teams named Toros, Sidewinders and Padres.
The Champions Tour, bless its soul, is giving us another chance.