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Out of the Rough: How wrong is 'Pay for Play?'

The PGA Tour has a firm law on its book that forbids players collecting "appearance fees" to compete in tour-sponsored events.

CBS Sports filed a report last week that the Greenbrier Classic, most notably Jim Justice, owner of Greenbrier Resort, engaged in some form of payment to lure stars like Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson into the field.

Steve Elling of CBS cited numerous sources stating that Woods got $1.5 million while Mickelson had to gut it out for just $1 million.

How does the Greenbrier get past the regulations? That part is easy. Justice inked players to, according to Elling, "personal-service deals."

What that means is that if you run a clinic for a few hours, or show up at a party, nurse your Gimlet and glad-hand some other wealthy folks, you live up to your end of the contract without collecting the forbidden "appearance fee."

Technicalities abound in this world we live in. Justice circumvented the system to get his guys. According to the report, he's using his own cash. Other tournaments can't compete with that if they don't have the checking account Justice does.

Also, elite players don't play every week. They tee it up in the four majors, three WGC events, four FedEx Cup tourneys and the Players Championship. That leaves about six extra tournaments available to the schedule. Figure three of those go to favorites of the players, so guys who are shelling out big bucks for personal-service contracts gobble up the last spots on the players' schedules.

"It takes them off the table for us," an anonymous tournament director told Elling. "Their discretionary opportunities are fewer and fewer. We really do become affected by that. On top of it all, then you have openly legal appearance fees being offered by European Tour events."

Ah yes, the European Tour.

That circuit freely admits giving appearance fees to secure players' participation. No one has any problem with that, but Europe is more liberal than America, so who knows.

Are "appearance fees" really a problem?

Hard to say, but isn't a tournament director obliged to put together the best possible field for his or her event? Buying talent is not new to the world of professional sports. Just ask the New York Yankees, but in the hallowed chambers of men's professional golf in the United States, it's outlawed.

The reason for the rule is noble. You don't want the rich to dominate the poor, but, again, in a free market, can you fault someone for going out and doing whatever necessary?

A tournament can become a big-time event on its own. The Wells Fargo Championship is a can't-miss stop because Quail Hollow is spectacular. This event has not been implicated in any "appearance fees" entanglements, but Woods, Mickelson and several other titans of the industry show up. Why, because it's still about the sport and competition in some instances.

At the end of the day, there isn't some rule that forces PGA Tour players to play every event on the docket. The LPGA Tour has something like that on its books, and it's been discussed on the PGA Tour.

But these guys are independent contractors and free to do what they want. It sounds like Woods and Mickelson will go wherever the highest nickel takes them, but it's not totally like that.

What if rich guys like Justice gave $1.5 million to the Tiger Woods Foundation, instead of Woods? It's a big distinction, yes, but somehow more palatable to give to a charity instead of a multi-millionaire. Should it be? Wouldn't Justice, or any tournament chair, or course owner, still be securing that golfer's appearance based on a financial transaction?

The gig is up, thanks in no small part to Elling and his report.

Back-room deals occur and isn't it just easier to admit what goes on and regulate it? Don't let the system get abused, give other players a taste too and ultimately, service the paying customer in the West Virginia area the most by allowing them to see the game's biggest stars up close.

If you think this is morally shady, justice (pun fully intended) occurred.

Woods and Mickelson both missed the cut and started British Open prep work early.

Mr. Justice, for however much he shackled out, got Ted Potter Jr. and Troy Kelly in a playoff.

It was great theater, just not what he paid for.

RANDOM THOUGHTS

- Neither Woods nor Mickelson looked terribly interested or terribly upset at the Greenbrier Classic. Read into it what you will.

- Na Yeon Choi's U.S. Women's Open victory at Blackwolf Run reminds us that one of the single most important events in the last 20 years of professional golf was Se Ri Pak's victory at the same championship at the same venue in 1998. That created the boom of female Korean golfers and they now dominate the tour.

- The U.S. Senior Open takes place this week and my pick is, once again, for the third major in a row, Tom Lehman. He came so close to winning the regular one, so he gets a tiny bit of revenge.

- PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem further explained qualifying for the PGA Tour, starting in 2013. The top 25 on the money list in the 2013 Web.com Tour regular season earn PGA Tour cards for 2014. Then, there will be season-ending tournaments in September (The Finals) with 25 more cards up for grabs. The players eligible for the Finals will be the top 75 on the Web.com money list, those who finished 126-200 on the PGA Tour's FedExCup points race and non- members who earned enough FedExCup points from their performance on tour to place them 126-200 on the official FedExCup points list. Q School is irrelevant.

- Movie moment - Listen, you don't see movies with a 5-month-old screaming child. Just don't have time for it. I hear "Citizen Kane" is good.

- TV moment - I truly believe Chris Berman has a niche. I think it's on Sunday during NFL Sundays and Mondays. He is really good in that role. He is not in golf, nor is he when does the Home Run Derby. It sounds like he gets an atlas of the corresponding city then says, "Fielder hit that one to (insert city semi-close by with a funny name)."