From the Rough

Golf without discretion

The Jerry Rice train wreck is coming to a Nationwide stop near you

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With one swing of the club on Thursday afternoon, Jerry Rice changed the Nationwide Tour landscape as we know it. The event in Hayward, California, was his first foray into the professional golf landscape, and boy did it show in his game.

Rice, who claims to be a single-digit handicap, looked out of his league playing against a group of guys trying to grind their way to a spot on the PGA Tour. Before the tournament Rice was quoted as saying he’d be happy if he shot “his jersey number” in the tournament. That didn’t happen in the first round, as Rice shot an 83. His second round, a respectable 76, allowed him to save face.

After the tournament was finished on Sunday, media outlets across the country came in with mixed views on his first tournament appearance. From the Nationwide’s perspective, the event was a huge success. Officials at the tournament stop claimed interest in the event had increased from last year. The same could be said for the attendance numbers at TPC Stonebrae. Other claimed Rice’s debut was a big mistake.

While the Nationwide surely enjoyed an increase in notoriety for the week, the way they went about gaining the spotlight was very questionable.

The top 155 Nationwide tour players are eligible to play in the tour’s weekly event. Assuming you were sitting close to the number to get into the event, there’s a pretty good chance Jerry Rice took your spot.

The Nationwide tour could care less. After all, they’re the ones getting the publicity for having a superstar athlete in the field. What they don’t notice is how such exemptions could affect the tour in the future.

And therein lies the biggest problem. Look, if an athlete like Michael Jordan or Jerry Rice wants to play professional golf, more power to them. But unless they can make it through Q School or earn a spot in the event by qualifying, they don’t deserve a spot in a professional field.

Guys playing mini tour golf are playing for their livelihood each week. I would hate to be the guy who has to sit on the sidelines for a week while I watch Jerry Rice play in a tournament where he’ll most likely miss the cut.

Rice was given a place in the Nationwide event in South Carolina (May 13-16), and is rumored to be up for a sponsors exemption into an event in Ohio during the month of July. So it looks like he’s not going away any time soon.

I understand the importance of growing the tour and bringing in a new audience, but not at the expense of the guys playing each week. Jerry Rice has a professional league he can play in if he has aspirations of being a pro golfer; it’s called the Celebrity Tour.

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Written by Jonathan Wall

04/20/2010 at 5:09 pm

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