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On Mickelson and Pro Golf in the Carolinas

By Shane Sharp, Contributor

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - For the record, there was no crow served on my plate Sunday after Phil Mickelson won the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic after a five-month layoff.

Okay, maybe a crow appetizer or two, and a little crème de crow soup.

But that's it. No main course or major entrée.

Yes, Lefty looked dominant on the resort courses of Palm Springs last week. Mickelson blistered 320-yard drives down the middle of the fairways, pulled wedged shots back on a string to the cups, and flashed that sheepish grin in an "I told you so" fashion that was directed at his critics (me among them) that said he had no business taking five months off from his job.

My criticism of Mickelson wasn't so much that he skipped the last part of the Tour's 2001 regular season and its silly season to be with his new daughter. It was that he bailed on the first two events of the 2002 season to go on a ski trip with his family.

The PGA Tour is a business, and you should report to work even if you've already made millions of dollars.

ESPN and ABC analyst and sometimes Tour player Curtis Strange agreed with me on this, and to me Strange is one of the straightest shooters in the broadcast booth. Before Mickelson even teed up his first ball early in the week, Strange made it clear that he disagreed with Lefty's decision to skip the Mercedes Championships and the Sony Open.

You see, Strange never had half the talent that Mickelson had, and he worked harder than any player during his prime. To Strange, its wasn't about the money, it was about Mickelson's responsibility to the fans and the Tour.

What if Mickelson had participated in the Aloha Swing? Hindsight analysis says that he wouldn't have been in contention on Sunday at Kapalua with the gale force winds - Mickelson is an incredible talent, but he's not a grinder. He would have, however, finished in the top 20 and made a buck or two.

At the Sony Open on the Big Island, he would have slaughtered the Waialae Country Club and the watered down field that was sans Tiger Woods. At worst, a top five finish. At best, a victory, and coupled with last week's win, he'd be off to one of the hottest starts of his career.

I digress for two reasons: One, it doesn't matter now, and two, Mickelson doesn't need more wins. He needs a major and perhaps, like Tiger, Lefty is beginning to plan his season around the four big-ticket items. If that's his plan, then my hat is off to him because he's too good to just make a living nickel and dimming on the PGA Tour.

Who'll Stop the Bleeding in the Carolinas?

Okay, Senior Tour, the joke isn't funny anymore. First, you pulled the plug on the Tour Championship in Myrtle Beach, moving it from the lush live oaks of the Grand Strand to some farm out in Oklahoma. Now, you've nuked the Home Depot Invitational in Charlotte, the Senior Circuit's second longest running event.

And even before Hale, Bruce, Tom and Jack got yanked from the Carolinas, the LPGA scrapped its City of Hope Classic in Myrtle Beach. Little did we know back then that when the ladies packed it in, the rest of the professional golfing world would follow.

Even the Buy.com Tour, the PGA's developmental league, had its fill of South Carolina, eliminating its stop at the Country Club of South Carolina in Florence.

One could make an argument that the Carolinas are the richest golfing soil in the world. The Sandlapper and Old North States include the recreational golf meccas of Pinehurst, Myrtle Beach, Charleston, Hilton Head, the hundreds of quality public and private courses huddled around the Charlotte, Raleigh, Greensboro, Greenville metro areas, and the hordes of scenic tracks stashed in the mountains and scattered along the outter banks.

The two states can still lay claim to two PGA Tour events - the Greater Greensboro Chrysler Classic and the MCI Heritage of Golf in Hilton Head. But when over 50 percent of your professional golfing events disappear faster than an errant approach shot into a murky pond, you have to wonder what gives.

For true fans of all professional golf, there remains a glimmer of hope: Last October, the LPGA did announce its intention to hold an event at the Regent Park Golf Club (pictured) in Fort Mill, S.C, just south of Charlotte in 2003, and management at the TPC of Myrtle Beach claims that they are fighting for a new Senior Tour event. But with attendance figures dwindling and television rating plummeting, the Home Depot Invitational may be gone forever.

Shane SharpShane Sharp, Contributor

Shane Sharp is vice president of Buffalo Communications, a golf and lifestyle media agency. He was a writer, senior writer and managing editor of TravelGolf.com from 1997 to 2003.


 
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