ORLANDO, Fla. – In the background, the sound of papers rustling could be distinctly heard, on more than one occasion, as the PGA Tour’s head of communications on Wednesday at last tried to explain the not-so-great Ballot Blunder of 2011.
So, even when finally offering an explanation, two days after the fact, the tour had to script and recite the words of its alibi?
After changing the rules Monday with regard to the timeline of balloting for the top-player honors, an award that world No. 1 Luke Donald seemingly had all but clinched with his clutch victory at the so-called season finale Sunday at Disney World, the tour has been taking some hits in the court of public opinion.
You're about to understand why.
Appearing by phone on the Golf Channel on Wednesday, communications chief Ty Votaw attempted to mount a defense of the tour's decision to hold off on the ballot mailings for two more weeks, but he certainly didn’t say anything to make Donald seem like less of a sympathetic figure.
Moreover, Votaw didn’t engender much goodwill regarding the tour’s ham-handed handling of the issue, which has become a sizeable talking point in some quarters. Below are some excerpts -- and devil's advocate counterpoints -- of Votaw’s comments on the issue during the Morning Drive chat show.
For the purposes of background: The tour said last week as Donald was winning the Disney season finale that it would mail Player of the Year ballots to the membership this week. On Monday,the ballot mailing was pushed back. The delay allows players in the HSBC Champions field in early November the chance to put a final dent in Donald’s status as the perceived POY favorite, well after the tour indicated the season would have formally concluded and the polling period would have begun.
Said Votaw: “A journalist contacted us on Monday to confirm whether HSBC was in fact an official victory … When asking that question, it focused us on what the impact of a potential victory at HSBC would be on information that membership would receive if ballots went out this week as opposed to going out after HSBC."
That's three HSBC drop-ins already. And these are just the seemingly scripted warmup comments.
Votaw: “This is really, in our mind, a question of fairness to HSBC, so it’s result as an official-victory event could be considered by a voting member, just like it was last year; fairness to the voting body, so that the same information is possessed by all voting members when the ballots are sent out; and fairness to all those nominated [for postseason awards], so that their playing records in official events are reflected on the ballots.
“If this change hadn’t been made, you could have had members voting on incomplete information if they voted before the HSBC, versus those who chose to vote after the results of the HSBC were known. So it really came down to a matter of fairness and we felt this was the right decision to make.”
A phone call to Donald to explain this rationale might have been nice. The tour never inititiated contact. And some say Donald is an aloof sort?
Votaw: “Nothing whatsoever about this decision takes away the merits of Luke’s exemplary performance this year in voters’ minds.”
Well, except that another two weeks will have passed, and PGA Tour players have the attention span of most Americans these days – which is to say, about the length of an average text message.
Votaw: “But this is not about Luke Donald. The analysis would have been the same and the decision would have been the same if Webb Simpson had won.
“It wasn’t an oversight brought up by a journalist. The journalist simply asked the question if HSBC was still an official victory.”
Oh, and then the timing gears in the Ponte Vedra Beach drivetrain finally cranked into reverse.
Votaw: “But the analysis and the decision was made after we looked at whether HSBC was included last year as an official-victory event, and we felt it was fair to HSBC as an official-victory event to continue. That would have been disrespectful to HSBC.”
Yeah, by all means, appease all-omnipotent sponsor HSBC, with zero regard as to the fairness to Luke and everybody else who believed he had won the season finale. Trick or treat!
Votaw: “I mean, the answer is, if we had not made this decision, if the change wasn’t made and the results of HSBC were somehow impactful to this discussion, you guys would probably have come on Monday after HSBC and had a nice little animated discussion about how we should have included those results.”
Maybe so. But can we get back to the gratuitous HSBC mentions? That’s only about a dozen so far. Just think if it were a bank with a real U.S. presence.
Votaw: “If you want to characterize it as an oversight, that’s fine.”
Gee, how about if the tour admits it screwed the pooch, not to mention Donald, instead of asking the media to explain and describe the nature of the gaffe?
Votaw: “We corrected the oversight, and we think correcting the oversight was the right thing to do. I’d rather do that than do nothing and then be criticized for not doing anything about an oversight.”
At that point, the conversation swerved into the odd definition of the HSBC event itself, and whether it ought to be included in the Player of the Year discussion anyway. Donald pointed out the quasi-official nature of the tournament on Tuesday, admitting he was hardly doing cartwheels over the tour's ballot blunderings and last-minute inclusion of the China event. To wit, the HSBC isn’t fully official on the U.S. tour. The money doesn’t count, and it’s only considered an official victory if an existing PGA Tour member wins it. For example, last year, European Tour veteran Francesco Molinari of Italy won and was not granted U.S. tour membership.
Votaw: “I’m not sure there are any vagaries about this, because, again, it was considered last year as far as the Player of the Year and it’ll be considered this year as far as the Player of the Year because of the change that we made.”
If that assertion is true, and that's clearly a matter of opinion, then it's the only thing about the whole process that hasn't seemed cloudy.