Monday, April 21, 2008

EDS Threatens to Drop Byron Nelson Championship

The title sponsor of the Byron Nelson Championship is EDS, and the CEO of EDS isn't happy about much when it comes to the tournament these days. He doesn't like the date. He doesn't like the field the tournament is drawing. He's so unhappy that he's publicly threatening to remove his company from its sponsorship when the current deal expires in two years:

For EDS to remain title sponsor, the PGA Tour needs to help get marquee names back, Mr. Rittenmeyer said. He told Tour commissioner Tim Finchem last week that the tournament needs a date that is more popular with players.

"Our title sponsorship comes to a close in two years, and if he wants us to continue, he's going to have to come to the table and help us," Mr. Rittenmeyer said.

EDS has a right to complain about the change in date. As the Dallas Morning News article quoted above points out, the Nelson was played the second week in May for 25 years. But then the tour decided that time slot would help elevate its own event, the Players Championship, and bumped the Nelson ahead several weeks on the schedule.

But the EDS can attempt to force its way into trying out as many different spots on the schedule as it wants; it won't help. Or it might only help marginally. Tiger Woods will never be back. Phil Mickelson is iffy. Those are the only two stars who really make a big impact on ticket sales. The overall quality of the field might improve slightly with a better date (and so ticket sales might improve slightly); and the fact that the golf course has been greatly improved since last year with a refurbishment led by D.A. Weibring will certainly bring kudos from the players who are there.

But the person who isn't there who matters the most is Byron Nelson. And that's the problem. As I wrote a year and a half ago, a few days after Mr. Nelson's passing, Lord Byron was what drew Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els and Jim Furyk and Vijay Singh to Dallas every year. The man. The legend.

And his passing was guaranteed to weaken the tournament, just as Ben Hogan's passing weakened Colonial. There's nothing that the PGA Tour or EDS or anyone else can do about that.

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