It's Time for Team Golf

Tired of sating your appetite for pro golf with synthetic televents? Ashamed that you have watched placekickers and daytime Emmy nominees hack themselves to bits? That you know who won the Welsh Open because you were watching it on cable at 2 a.m.?

Let's face it, Ronald McDonald's Wonderful World of Three Tour Stableford Skins lacks -- consequence, let us say. These synthetic "tournaments" inevitably have a telltale odor to them, because based on how the players are selected, they are more like a payoff than a playoff.

But take a whiff of this: Team Golf.  

It might sound wonderful, it might sound terrible, but it might be inevitable. And there are lots of reasons -- apart from choosing the Ryder Cup team -- that the PGA Tour and the PGA of America ought to do everything possible to incorporate it into the pro schedule.

Obviously, the increasing importance of the Ryder Cup and the creation of the Presidents Cup have focused more attention on match-play events. Just because it wasn't right for the PGA Championship doesn't mean that domestic, professional match-play competition should only live on in the columns of sportswriters grousing about TV's chokehold on the game.

Because what's fun about the Ryder Cup, apart from the excitement of international competition, are the mano-a-mano fights to the finish. And maybe the time is right for the PGA Tour to consider a way to bring about team events without going to the ends of the earth for competition.

Now few would argue that stroke play is a purer and perhaps more honorable test of golf. Whatever the reasons, we seem to feel that a golfer shouldn't be judged by his eagerness to crush an opponent -- whatever the stakes. But only in the Ryder Cup do we get to see the top pros playing with the different distractions of team match play: worrying about what the other guy is doing, or how much pressure he'll put on his pals with a bad shot or putt. Only in the Ryder Cup do we get to savor the spectacle of battered pairs and foursomes coming to the 18th green with nerves scarred and egos shredded. Good clean fun, that is.

But even more important is the nature of the matchups. It's a thrill to watch the best battling the best toe-to-toe: if we enjoy watching Ballesteros going against Azinger, why not make it possible to see Azinger slug it out with Tom Watson? 

National team-play events could do a great deal for pro golf -- but staking Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup berths on national team-play could do even more for the game. In fact, the most useful thing about a golf league could be as a solution to the problem of choosing our international teams.

The most frequent complaint made about the tour is that the players are not trying to win, they are trying to make money. You hear this so often from former greats, TV commentators, writers, fans -- from just about everyone except the guys who get their golf balls for free so long as they make enough cuts to avoid Q-school -- that it's become trite.

But if the money list is a heck of a way to run a tour, it's decidedly not much of a measure of which players will make the fittest competitors for international match play. Does it make sense that the last guy makes the team because he earned a buck-fifty more than the next guy in Phoenix? At the very least, team matches could supply a significant factor in choosing an international team.

But as much as anything, team play stands a chance of giving fans what they want. Under the aegis of an established organization like the PGA Tour or the PGA of America, team match play could be a dignified and vastly popular complement to the regular tournaments.

Here's how: First, reserve six spots on the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cups teams for the individual points-winners from the team competition. Establish four regional teams (using time zones -- with strict residency requirements -- would be preferable to allowing equipment manufacturers to start bidding wars) perhaps even allowing Nike Tour players, perhaps even Senior Tour players, to compete. Exempt the top players, based on earnings, for a given region. Allow players with Ryder Cup credentials -- top five moneywinners, winners of majors in the last year -- to pass on team play if they so choose.

Three pairs of events over the course of a year would furnish every possible matchup, with win-loss totals and point margins supplying the finalists not only for prize money, but for individual consideration for the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup teams. Have the scoring system emphasize Sunday afternoon singles matches, then, at a post-season final, match the two best teams on Saturday with additional solo matches for an individual championship on Sunday.

Imagine the potential pairings: Mickelson vs. Couples. Or Daly vs. Reid: "The Long and the Short of It." Irwin against Stewart. Pavin against Azinger. . . Precisely the kind of head- to-head dogfights that professional golf lacks but once a year.