A FORMER SPORTSWRITER for the St. Petersburg Times, Bob Harig covers the PGA Tour and pro golf for ESPN.com. I met Bob at the BMW Championship in St. Louis, the third of four FedEx Cup playoff events. Last week we talked by phone about various PGA Tour subjects, including the return of Tiger Woods.
ARMCHAIR GOLF: As you look back on this PGA Tour season, what's on your highlight reel?
BOB HARIG: Certainly the U.S. Open and the way Tiger won would have to be right up there, especially when you know what he was going through. But even so he hadn't played for two months. He was obviously not at his best. He somehow found a way to make a birdie on the 72nd hole. And then did it again in the playoff to prolong it. The year he had, playing in just six tournaments, was remarkable. Kenny Perry’s great play at age 48, Padraig Harrington winning two majors, especially the way he won them –- those would probably be second and third after Tiger.
ARMCHAIR GOLF: Speaking of Harrington, who is your player of the year?
BOB HARIG: That's a really tough call because certainly Tiger won four times and nobody else won four. But, of course, he only played half the year. Do you take that away from him or not? It's a tough decision. I think if I had to be pressed on it I would have to go with Harrington because it was over the course of the full year. Granted, he only won two times, but they were two majors and we tend to look at majors as a big deal. So I would give the nod to him but with a little trepidation because it's not an easy decision.
ARMCHAIR GOLF: What are your thoughts on the FedEx Cup?
BOB HARIG: They definitely need to do something. You can't have it be decided going into the last event. That would be like giving the Super Bowl to the Patriots before the game. Or the World Series would have been played by the Cubs and the Angels because they had the best records during the year. I have not been one to criticize the FedEx cup. I think what we have, even though it's not perfect, is far better than what we used to have. I think having four events at the end of the year with great fields is a huge step.
After the PGA nobody cared about golf. So I applaud what they’ve been trying to do. They just need to make it a little bit better. My hope is that they come up with a system whereby more people have a chance going into the Tour Championship. Perhaps they do something after the four rounds of the tournament. Maybe they take the top four or eight guys remaining in the FedEx Cup and let them play one day for the big prize. They could play an 18-hole round with the winner getting $10 million and second place gets $3 million and on down. That would be very compelling. I think they're going to figure out something and we'll see how it plays out.
ARMCHAIR GOLF: Pretend for a moment you’re Tim Finchem, and you're not just looking at the FedEx Cup but you’re evaluating the PGA Tour. What would you do to enhance the tour product?
BOB HARIG: It's strange to say but I think they have too many good events. You have majors, The Players, the FedEx Cup events at the end, and you have three world golf events. You add that up and you have about 12 events that everybody plays. If a guy plays 18 or 20 events, that doesn't leave very many others for him to pick and choose from. The rank-and-file events, the backbone of the tour, really get hurt. Places like New Orleans and Houston, the Honda Classic, Memphis, San Antonio –- they don't ever get to see a lot of the top guys.
I wish they would find a way to dissolve those world events. They could move one of them to the first tournament. The season kick-off in golf is very weak. There might be no sport that has a weaker intro than golf. The opening of every other season is celebrated. With golf it's like no one even notices. The Mercedes tournament in Hawaii has a limited field and a lot of guys don't even play in it. Maybe that should be a world golf event. That would help. Going forward, I think they need to look out a little more for their rank-and-file tournaments because without them there is no tour. The tour isn’t just about the stars; it's about 200 guys. If those smaller events don't survive, then where are we?
ARMCHAIR GOLF: Let's talk about Tiger. What do you expect from him when he comes back?
BOB HARIG: I think we have to give him a little time. We have to expect some rust. It's one thing to will yourself to victory like he did at the U.S. Open after taking two months off. He is going to go at least six months without swinging a club. Even for him, don't we have to expect that there is going to be a little bit of difficulty in coming back? I'm not talking about the injury. I think he will be fine physically. I think he's going to be stronger than ever. And having two good legs and a knee that's been repaired and is fully strengthened will be great for him, long term. But I think in the short term we have to expect there are going to be some kinks to work out. His swing is not going to be perfect. Tiger works like crazy on his short game; he's not going to have done that. I think when he first comes back we have to cut him a little slack. By the middle or end of the year, I wouldn't be surprised if he’s back in top form.
ARMCHAIR GOLF: Long term, do you think we’re going to see a better Tiger than we've seen?
BOB HARIG: I don't think there is any question. He has been playing on a bad knee for a long time. He’s going to come back better than ever. It's going to take a little longer to get his swing back. But in a way this is good because he has gotten away from it for a little while. He will be hungrier and he will be healthier.
ARMCHAIR GOLFER: Any up-and-coming players that we haven’t heard a lot about yet?
BOB HARIG: Good question. There are so many guys. Just some of these guys recently who have won fighting for their cards are really good players. This guy who just had an emergency appendectomy -- Jeff Overton -- he has been knocking on the door a lot lately. There’s a guy who could break through and not too many people have heard about him. But he's a really good young player. I probably could name 10 guys like that. The competition is intense. Sometimes it's just a matter of guys breaking through like Kim and Villegas. They've been hanging around and finally this year they won and showed just how good they are.
ARMCHAIR GOLF: You have to play really well just to hang on to your card.
BOB HARIG: It's hard to believe that you could win $600,000 and not keep your card. You've got to put up a big total. That's what these events at the end of the year are meant for. It gives these guys a chance to play without loaded fields.
ARMCHAIR GOLF: One of the latest casualties in the golf writing ranks was Thomas Bonk of the L.A. Times. Where do you see this thing heading as a golf writer?
BOB HARIG: It's bleak right now. I think it's bad for the sport that so many print people are no longer covering it. Newspapers still have tremendous reach and they have all decided that they don't need to cover golf. Their attitude is people can get the information elsewhere. Well then, you're telling them to go elsewhere -- or forcing them to. If you don't cover it with your own guy, human nature says that you're going to give it less attention. So there is a medium that's not getting covered. I don't think it's good for the sport at all. I think they want as many voices and as many publications covering them as possible. You also have probably the most popular athlete in any sport and they choose to ignore it except for getting by with the bare minimum.
ARMCHAIR GOLF: What's the biggest challenge for you in covering pro golf?
BOB HARIG: It's probably access. You've got to be able to talk to people to write about them. The stars in this sport are very sheltered. You're only going to get them for a few minutes here and there at tournaments. This is a sport where you don't have any home games. As a writer, you’re not going to be in front of them all the time. That makes it very difficult. A star player in football or baseball is exposed to the media every day, whether it’s practice or games. That's not the case in golf. The biggest challenge is to get the time you need to talk to these guys.
In the old days the guys needed the publicity. They don't need it so much anymore. They’re publicized so much on TV, have their own Web sites and such. So getting written about is probably just not as big a priority to them anymore. That works against us.
−The Armchair Golfer