Local PGA stop ill-timed but vital

Think of the guy who asks his boss for a raise when the company’s profit margin is down 15 percent. Think of the chef at a local resort preparing a meal for visiting dignitaries. Think of the quarterback waiting to release that deep pass down the sideline.

Timing. It pretty much separates success from failure.

It’s also the albatross that continues to impede the growth of a local PGA Tour event, one element that might always label the annual occasion here as insignificant to the average sports fan who likens rising from his couch on a weekend of college and pro football to attend a golf tournament with medieval torture.

The good news: Frys.com Open officials had a news conference Wednesday to announce Shriners Hospitals for Children has agreed to a five-year commitment to act as the event’s host organization. You’d have to search far down the list of potential organizations willing to make such a pledge to discover one more valued and credible.

Twenty-two Shriners hospitals throughout the United States, Canada and Mexico provide special pediatric care. They treat children with orthopedic conditions, burns, spinal cord injuries, cleft lip and palates. They do it all for no charge. They do amazing things for sick kids.

The bad news: The tournament — to be contested Oct. 11 to 14 at TPC Summerlin and TPC at The Canyons — exists within the game’s purgatory known as the tour’s Fall Series. It falls in a time when Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson have ended their respective seasons and one has retired to his yacht and the other to youth soccer fields, when the only two players in the world capable of moving that fan off the couch and into his car and out to the tournament have stashed their competitive clubs in the corner for a rest.

The encouraging news: Those running the event here aren’t fooling themselves into believing otherwise. They know the deal. They had better know it if they want to have any chance at increasing attendance.

Even then, it’s an overwhelming challenge.

This story has been written for years. It never changes and won’t until an existing PGA Tour event during the spring folds and a spot on the schedule opens and tour officials decide Las Vegas is the best option from the fall to move dates. Until then, the chances of Woods or Mickelson playing here in October are like Smith’s not stocking Halloween candy.

“There are mountains to climb to get this thing where we want it,” said Jack Sheehan, a Las Vegas author and golf historian who attended the news conference. “Five years ago, we had a women’s tour event, a Champions tournament and this PGA event. Now, we’re down to one.

“The (Shriners’ commitment) is a very positive step in keeping this tournament here. What if we had lost it?”

It’s a good question.

Here’s another one: Would enough people have cared?

Approximately 11,000 showed up to watch last year’s tournament, won by Troy Matteson, one of those terrifically talented golfers the casual fan couldn’t pick out of a lineup if his life depended on it.

Officials hope to at least double the turnout next month. That’s not just any mountain to scale. That’s Everest on top of K-2 on top of Lhotse.

But they seem to be giving themselves a fighting chance by making the tournament more fan friendly. They have created a 22,000-square-foot section called “The Hill” around the final three holes at TPC Summerlin where you can eat and drink and watch approach shots with one eye and your favorite football team on television with the other. Saturday will be dedicated to honoring veterans and holding job fairs for military personnel. Tourney officials have promised to eliminate what have become annual parking nightmares.

It’s a start. It’s not Woods and Mickelson. It might never be again. It’s time to move past that story line. Like golf. Hate it. Doesn’t matter. The difference between having a PGA Tour event and losing one is part of that desired appearance of whether your city includes big-time sports or not. If you care about that in Las Vegas, an announcement such as Wednesday’s is important.

“We can’t do anything about the field except try and attract the best possible one,” said Gary Davis, executive chairman for the tournament. “We still have some of the best golfers in the world coming here every year. They might not be household names in America, but they’re great golfers.”

It probably still won’t be enough to draw the football fan away from his couch, but that shouldn’t stop pro golf from continuing to occupy space in the local sports landscape.

Said Sheehan: “Not every boxing match had Muhammad Ali.”

Ed Graney’s column is published Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. He can be reached at 383-4618 or egraney@reviewjournal.com

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