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Thursday, July 29, 2010

For Love or Money?

Jim Caviezel as Bobby JonesWhile I love the movie Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius, there's one part that always bothers me. It's where Bobby Jones says "to be an amateur is to love the game" and he refuses to turn professional because "when you play for money, it's not love anymore." Those may not be exact quotes, but they're close. (The pic of Jim Caviezel as Bobby Jones is from the IMDb database.)

Is he right? Are love and money at opposite ends of the spectrum?

The question always comes up in one form or another. This week has added more fuel to the fire because Lexi Thompson didn't get into the Women's British Open. When she turned pro, she lost her Curtis Cup exemption into final qualifying -- an amateur perk -- and couldn't make it to the regular pre-qualifying round because it was the day after U.S. Women's Open. The debate rages: Should Lexi have held off turning pro until after the British Open?

The implied questions, of course, are "Did she get greedy?" and "Is she in it for the money now?"

At only 15 years old, Lexi can't join the LPGA for another three years. Nevertheless, in three pro events (one of which I think she missed the cut) she's earned $315k, which would make her 18th in earnings. (God only knows what kind of endorsements are being lined up for her.) Wouldn't you love to be the kid who went back to school this fall and your "What I Did for Summer Vacation" essay said you made a half-million dollars (I bet she'll make at least that much), beat all but one of the best lady golf pros while chilling out in France, and became a media sensation?

Does anybody really think this is just business for Lexi? Does she seem to be burdened by efforts to make some cash? Personally, the only thing that seems to bother Lexi is her lack of options right now -- she wants to play!

Lexi seems to be surrounded by people who care whether she has fun or not. Her brother plays the men's tour and they're close, so she's under no illusions about what professional golfers have to deal with. And I want to reprint here a comment Court made on this post a few days ago:
Lexi and Nicholas both use Blue Giraffe as their management company. (I think Goydos and Appleby are with them, too) One of the guys there is a friend who really enjoys working with the Thompson family. They are a sharp, level headed family with no intention of rushing Lexi or trying to force the LPGA's hand. She's going to play her 6 LPGA exemptions and pick up another 8-10 other spots on other tours around the world - but she's a high school student first.
All these things tell me that Lexi doesn't feel any conflict between love and money when it comes to golf.

It's no secret that I'm a huge Jones fan... but this is one area where the nicest thing I can say is that he's all wet. If Jones is right, no one can ever make a living doing something they love. If you sell some of the quilts you made because quilting helps you relax, or turn your favorite hobby into a part-time business, your motives will have to be questioned. And heaven forbid that your blog becomes an overnight success -- selling advertising will end all the fun!

Money isn't the only thing that can steal your love of golf. Jones appears to have had his own struggles with unwanted fame and the need to prove himself, both of which can be bigger burdens than money. His drive to win the Grand Slam, followed immediately by his retirement from competition, indicates to me that golf had ceased to be fun for him some time earlier. Having never played golf for money, I don't know that he was in a position to be an authority on that.

Can money steal your love for the game? Sure... but I think it's only a problem if you aren't that good. Let's face it -- if an amateur expects to play a lot of tournaments, golf can get expensive. If you want to compete a lot, and if you're good enough to win a tournament against professionals, why shouldn't you get the money they would get? And if you're that good, the money ceases to be an issue because you'll have plenty.

Lexi celebrates at EvianThe problem comes when you have to struggle to make enough money to keep going. Even an amateur will learn to hate the game then.

Here's the big question: This putt won Lexi nearly $243K. Does she look miserable to you?

Here's hoping we all learn to hate golf that much.

And since everybody is throwing in their two-cents about the "should you lose an amateur exemption when you turn pro" debate, I'll add mine: I understand why the rule was made. Simply put, the lure of big money is a temptation to some players who aren't ready to turn pro yet or simply shouldn't turn pro, period. The "pros lose it" rule is an attempt to nip that temptation in the bud. And because of that -- because most amateurs won't be capable of doing what Lexi's doing -- I don't have a problem with it.

But I also think the Ladies Golf Union made a mistake scheduling the pre-qualifying round when they did, and because of that Lexi should have been exempted, NOT into the Open itself, but into the qualifying finals based on her performance at the U.S. Open. If she could hold her own as a new pro against established pros so soon, I think she earned the spot. But women's golf, not Lexi, lost out here; Lexi will be there next year, but women's golf needs her star power now.

12 comments:

  1. It would be intreating to see what Jones would have said about making money from golf had he not been extremely wealthy.

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  2. You have to back the movie up a bit to when Jones was sitting at the table with Hagen talking about winning. Jones said he played because he loved it. Hagen said that he played to win because he HAD to.

    You're talking about the scene when he is sitting at the bar and the press guy comes up asking his dumb questions and Jones explains the meaning of the word Amateur.

    Hagen didn't say that he didn't love the game. What he did say was that he couldn't afford to be carefree about it anymore. His next meal could depend on making a putt or a recovery shot from trouble. He HAD to win - and that's what had to outweigh loving the game.

    What Lexi is doing is getting a taste of being a pro without the pressure of HAVING to win. She's still a high school kid living with mom and dad. If she misses every cut from now until she graduates college (just adding a few more years to the equation), she doesn't have to worry about her next meal because her parents are there for her.

    You put a scenario out there about an amateur who is making a living playing - I assume you mean through wagering on the coruse. I would put it to you that that person isn't truly an amateur since he is making a living under the table playing golf for money.

    Women's golf has as much Lexi-power as they are going to get for another 2-3 years. If you start selling out rules and principles for publicity, you become corrupt. The LPGA will have her in as many big events as they can and will have her card ready when she is eligible.

    Women's golf isn't going anywhere. Women's PROFESSIONAL golf is making adjustments, and seems to be doing pretty well under Michael Whan and this new batch of players. They'll be fine without a full time Lexi. What they DON'T need is another Michelle Wie - and Lexi Thompson isn't going to become that.

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  3. Oh - by the way - Jones did come from a fairly wealthy family - but he earned his degrees and established himself financially. He didn't live off of family money.

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  4. Actually, my amateur example just assumed they were trying to play several of the regular amateur tournaments. Nobody waives their travel or housing expenses just because they don't get paid... and those expenses aren't getting any cheaper. I seem to recall Tadd Fujikawa saying he almost had to turn pro to try and help cover travel expenses. (I suspect endorsements are a bigger part of the picture here than winnings are.)

    Money or no money, Jones himself said he couldn't have afforded to chase the Grand Slam without the Curtis Cup team paying for him to travel overseas. Some things don't change.

    I didn't say Lexi needed to be full-time yet -- in fact, I think I said I was ok with the rules as they are -- just that the Women's British would have benefited from her presence since she's getting so much attention right now... and they lost that benefit because they made a poor scheduling decision. All Lexi wanted was a chance to qualify, and I think she should have gotten it. I think you could even argue that they should have exempted her into the British after her performance at Evian last week to rectify both the poor scheduling decision that kept her from pre-qualifying and a failure to let her into final qualifying after she played so well at the Open. (If mere participation in a Curtis Cup merits a pass on pre-qualifying, shouldn't a T10 at the U.S. Open be good enough?)

    I'm not advocating a change to the rules; they were intended to protect amateurs and I think they're pretty good. All I'm saying is that Lexi was prevented from having a chance to qualify because of poor scheduling by people who should have known better, and almost everyone agrees that Lexi's play merited the right to qualify.

    As for Hagen loving the game, I think you proved my point. Given the emotional distress that Jones went through while competing, he clearly wasn't any more "carefree" than Hagen. Jones himself proves that the "love vs money" argument doesn't hold water. If you choose to stay an amateur, there's nothing wrong with that... but it certainly doesn't make your motivations any "purer" than a pro's.

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  5. If you agree with the rules, why would you say that Lexi should have gotten a pass into the qualifier ? She wasn't qualified to receive the pass into the final round before the US Open, which was when the question came up. And this discussion is really dumb, since it amounts to saying that the Ladies Union should have been able to see into the future.

    We'll have to agree to disagree. If your livelihood depends on your success at something you used to do purely for fun, then there are a lot of added pressures. Right now, we're finding out that Michelle Wie isn't a great money player. Her strong finishes as a 13 and 14 year old came as an amateur with no pressure, but since she turned pro, she's done practically nothing outside of her one win and one exciting Sunday last year early in the season.

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  6. My problem isn't with the rules, Court, but with the timing of the pre-qualifier. By scheduling it the morning after the U.S. Open, they made it impossible for any pro playing there to have an opportunity to qualify for the British.

    In Lexi's specific case, what bothers me is that a player who was considered good enough to bypass the pre-qualifier as an amateur was denied the chance of even trying to qualify as a pro simply because of poor scheduling by the ruling body. Lexi had qualified for the U.S. Open, and the LGU essentially said that qualifying for the U.S. Open disqualified her from trying to qualify for the British Open. That's not a rules problem; it's an administrative problem that never should have happened.

    Yes, I think Lexi should have been exempted from the pre-qualifier (that was knowingly set up so no pro at the U.S. Open could possibly make it) based on her play at the U.S. Open, which was far better than her play at the Curtis Cup and possibly better than any player at the pre-qualifier, BECAUSE OF THE POOR SCHEDULING. I don't think they treated her fairly by scheduling it in such a way that she would have to skip a major she already qualified for just to get a chance to qualify for another.

    If you disagree with that, Court, that's fine, but it's not a dumb discussion for one simple reason: The LGU didn't need to "see into the future" to know that their pre-qualifier was scheduled at such a time that any as-yet unqualified pro playing in the U.S. Open, an event considered the biggest major on the LPGA Tour, wouldn't have an opportunity to get there. The dates of the U.S. Open have been known for a long time -- for example, did you know that the 2015 U.S. Women's Open will be held at Lancaster Country Club in Lancaster PA on July 9 - 12, 2015? It's posted at the USGA site. You don't need a crystal ball to know it... or that you would making it impossible for some pros to even attempt to qualify for the Women's British by scheduling the pre-qualifier on July 13, 2015.

    To me, that's a problem that should be addressed... right along with the stupid practice of setting the U.S. Senior Open the week right after the Senior Open Championship. Can you say "idiotic"?

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  7. Oh, and I don't think Michelle's problem is money pressure. It's the pressure to live up to your own press... something I think Jones also knew much too well. That has nothing to do with being an amateur or a pro, or love or money... it has to do with being human.

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  8. She didn't seem to have that problem until she signed the contracts. Then again, her performances didn't start to nosedive until she tried playing against the Euro men and they didn't play the "be nice to the little girl" games. They put her in her place, then it was ok for the US men and she went on that string of DFL's. But it all started when she turned 16 and started collecting checks.

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  9. I'll grant you that the timing is suspicious... but it's also the time when teens become really self-conscious and -- dare we say it? -- believe that they rule the world.

    I suspect it's a little of both. As far as she was concerned, I don't think it was the money itself so much as the expectations of the sponsors and her really wanting them to like her. Growing up is never easy, is it? ;-)

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  10. Plus, some of the problems have to be placed on the injuries. She never should have tried to play through them... and I'll agree with you in advance that she tried (at least in part) because she was making so much money from endorsements.

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  11. For the record, Lexi is home schooled so the entire class already knows how she spent her summer.

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  12. Thanks for the info, Diane. I didn't know that. But even if she wasn't homeschooled, I bet everybody knows how she spent her summer. ;-)

    (Now wouldn't that be an interesting remake of "I Know What You Did Last Summer"?)

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