There are missed opportunities, and then there are opportunities you whiff worse than Kevin Na did this weekend at Timberlake's Shriners Open. Of course, Na went on to win the tournament, so perhaps there's a chance, but still ... let's look at this logically for a moment.
Love him or hate him, Timberlake is one hell of an entertainer and attention magnet. And the fact that he loves the game of golf enough to host a tournament and buy a golf course in his hometown of Memphis speaks volumes here. This is an incredible opportunity that the PGA Tour is absolutely punting. Timberlake threw himself into the tournament his first two years, begging players to come to Vegas to play. But, as GolfWorld noted, Timberlake has apparently surrendered to the bureaucratic ennui/mind-numbing conservatism of the Tour and doesn't even bother anymore.
Timberlake has one year left on his commitment to this tournament, and if the Tour lets him go, it would be a mistake not quite of all-Tiger-all-the-time-what-could-go-wrong proportions, but in that neighborhood. Timberlake has the star power and Vegas the magnitude to make this event a must-see and must-visit tournament.
Why not set it in May between the Masters and the Players? Or over the Fourth of July weekend? Make it not just a tournament, but an event, for players and fans alike. Twist arms to get Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler into the field. (It's Vegas. With Woods, that should be about as hard as getting him to breathe. Get Tiger there, and the rest will follow.) Yes, there are schedules and sponsors and existing commitments and TV was happy enough with golf to sign on for another decade and blah blah blah. Golf is a sport that leans conservative, yes, but there are times when you need to understand that driving the green is a better risk than laying up.
Timberlake represents everything the PGA Tour should want of its 21st-century fans, and he represents a gateway to that younger generation the Tour claims it covets so much. He's the modern version of Bob Hope, but apparently some in the Tour are still waiting for the original Bob Hope to come back. It's not happening, and the Tour honchos' kids (and grandkids) don't care about Hope, or Palmer, or Nicklaus or -- if you're not careful -- anybody who swings a golf club.
It's long past time everyone -- Tour, fans, sponsors, players -- realizes these are new days for golf, critical days in the post-Tiger era, and the sport needs to step up and realize when it's got a bright-and-shiny opportunity teed up perfectly. If the Tour can't make this happen, it's one more stumble down the route to "niche" status for golf.
- Justin Timberlake