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Shorter season could lead to more travel

Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson were the most vocal about wanting a shorter season on the PGA Tour, although their motives don't appear to be anything alike.

Mickelson has been MIA since the Presidents Cup. He did play two more official events, although not many realized he was at Harding Park (tied for 29th), and he didn't stay long in Las Vegas (missed cut). Lefty also played the PGA Grand Slam of Golf in Hawaii, but not before stiffing the sponsors by not showing up for the pro-am.

Woods' busiest time of the year came after the year ended.

From the Tour Championship in Atlanta, he went to Shanghai to Japan to Hawaii to Palm Springs before ending his season at his Target World Challenge. Woods then said he needed an offseason, so he chose to take time off during the regular season by skipping Kapalua.

The PGA Tour often boasts that its players are independent contractors, which makes the need for a shorter season somewhat curious. Because if that's the case -- and using Woods and Mickelson as examples -- then these independent contractors can make their season as long or as short as they want.

But maybe this isn't about the players.

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said in August that change was necessary to keep golf compelling in a saturated sports market, and the solution was to create a blockbuster finish. Whether that works remains to be seen; most casual fans only care about four tournaments each year, anyway.

If there is something good that comes out of a shorter season, the hope is that more Americans will use the extra time to see the world.

The PGA Tour is the biggest and best, if not the richest. Television now brings the stars to living rooms in faraway outposts. Still, there is no greater stimulus for growth than when starved fans overseas can watch players in person.

"There have been very few years when I haven't gone out of the country to play an event or two," said Jim Furyk, who usually heads to South Africa. "It's interesting to go to new places where fans haven't seen you play. The reaction to my swing is like stepping back in time 10 years ago."

The World Golf Championships were not the answer. Even in its infancy, a dozen top Americans did not go to Spain in 2000 for the American Express Championship, prompting Stuart Appleby to needle the Yankees with this classic line: "They're like a bag of prawns on a hot Sunday. They don't travel well."

One of the letters Michael Campbell received after winning the U.S. Open -- the first player from New Zealand since Bob Charles in 1963 to win a major -- came from Jack Nicklaus.

"He said to me, 'Michael, from now on you have responsibilities to promote this game around the world.' And that's what I'm doing," Campbell said. "I think it's important for guys to go around the world and promote this game. I want to share my success with people from different parts of the world."

Woods gets plenty of respect for his game, but also for his willingness to travel.

Don't get hung up on appearance money. It's part of the game, and always has been. Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Curtis Strange and Greg Norman all cashed in, as are Woods, Ernie Els and Vijay Singh.

But at least they go.

"I'm sure the world golf population would like to see more guys travel," Thomas Bjorn said. "But as long as one guy travels, that's all we need. Golf around the world is Tiger Woods."

Why should anyone else go?

"They miss out by not seeing the world, for their own good," Bjorn said. "I can understand why they don't. They've got it very good here, and they get a lot of things delivered to them. ... But you learn that the world is a better place than we make it out to be. There's a lot of really good people, genuine people. You don't understand that until you go to all corners of the world."

David Toms, Chris DiMarco, Jerry Kelly and Mike Weir understand. They traveled extensively when they had no other place to play. Toms doesn't get out much now, and doesn't apologize. He spent the last three years on the PGA Tour policy board, and believes his support should start at home.

"I've turned down plenty of money to go other places," he said. "One, I don't care for the travel. Two, if it's one of the weeks I'm not going to be home, I'd rather it be on our tour than somewhere in the world."

That said, Toms has never missed a WGC event played overseas, even going to Australia over the holidays in 2001 for the Accenture Match Play Championship.

Clearly, travel is a way of life for international players.

Els had to leave South Africa, and made his first trip out of the country when he was 14. He came to San Diego for the Junior World and beat a local teenager named Phil Mickelson. The European tour schedule is so global that more events are in China than Scotland.

David Howell got a late invitation to the Target World Challenge and came without giving it a second thought. When it was mentioned that London to Los Angeles was a 10-hour flight, he shrugged.

"But it's not a big flight. We don't see it like that," he said. "There's a golf tournament, you go play."

Americans don't always see it that way.

"We fully understand why the guys don't travel because they have it so good at home," Howell said. "For the good of the game, the more times top players turn up together at good tournaments around the world, the better it is for the game."

Starting in 2007, they will have ample time.

December 21, 2005

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