West's role at Riviera not for show

May, 28, 2009

From Justin Timberlake to George Lopez to even Tiger Woods, celebrities have staked their names to several PGA Tour events in recent years, with varying degrees of involvement in the actual day-to-day operations of these tournaments.

Jerry West

Ray Stubblebine/AP

Former Lakers legend Jerry West isn't just lending his name to help the Northern Trust Open.

Thursday's announcement that NBA all-time great Jerry West will take over as the newest executive director of the Northern Trust Open, however, is hardly a similar situation. The longtime Los Angeles-based event will not be referred to as the Jerry West Open or the Northern Trust Open hosted by Jerry West. His likeness will not adorn billboards adjacent to the freeways. He will not spend tournament week leisurely hanging at the first tee while spinning a basketball on his finger. And most importantly, he will not be a laissez-faire leader.

No, this is a unique circumstance for West in that it's an actual, honest-to-goodness job that he is embarking upon. That's not to say other celebs haven't worked diligently in their roles with the tour, but in many ways those positions came with a sole prerequisite of being famous and a foremost job description of figurehead. Call it a matter of name value and recognition over anything else.

Then again, it doesn't exactly hurt that the guy known as "Mr. Clutch" owns one of the most recognizable faces in L.A.

Among West's duties in the position will be speaking engagements and driving both sales and support for the tournament. The PGA Tour hasn't been bashful about its desire to establish itself in some of the country's largest cities in recent years; though the longtime Chicago-based event may be in longterm doubt, tournaments have been added in Washington, D.C., and Boston recently, with the late-season New York event creeping ever closer to the core of the Big Apple. It's no secret that tour brass wants to capitalize on the L.A. market as well, recalling the glamour years of the once-prominent event.

West's new job

The man known in basketball circles as "Mr. Clutch" is bringing his skills to the world of golf, as NBA all-time great Jerry West has been named executive director of the PGA Tour's Northern Trust Open. Story

"Riviera is a great course, the city of Los Angeles offers one of the most dynamic, diverse communities in the world, and Northern Trust is an incredible title sponsor," said PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem. "Adding a legend like Jerry West to the mix -- someone who brings unlimited enthusiasm and love for the city of Los Angeles, the game of golf and local charitable programs -- will no doubt help us make the Northern Trust Open one of the best stops on the PGA Tour, as well as one of the most impactful events on the city of Los Angeles."

What can West do to rekindle the prestige previously associated with the festivities at Riviera? One thing, first and foremost: Get the game's No. 1-ranked player on speed dial.

Woods competed in his hometown event during all but one professional season from 1997-2006, famously failing to ever find the winner's circle. (He owns two runner-up finishes and two other top-10s in nine appearances there as a pro.)

If West and others from the Northern Trust could lure Tiger back to their lair, it would be a major coup, one that almost instantly vaults any tournament into the PGA Tour's upper echelon. That's easier said than done, of course; Woods hasn't made the trip since being caught without an umbrella during the rain-soaked second round in '06, leading to a withdrawal the next day due to a case of the flu.

Without Woods, the Northern Trust has enjoyed golf's next-best thing the past couple of years, with Phil Mickelson -- the game's second-biggest drawing card -- claiming each of the last two titles.

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And yet, the news hasn't all been positive for this tournament. The title sponsor came under intense scrutiny in February. After being encouraged by the U.S. government to participate in the TARP Capital Purchase Program -- which was part of the federal bailout of the banking industry -- it held what were described as "lavish" parties during tournament week, which included musical acts such as Sheryl Crow and Chicago. Though company officials insisted none of the bailout money was allocated for the tournament or tournament-related activities, various politicians -- most notably Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) -- voiced their public dismay for such actions.

"We deeply regret that some of the events associated with the Northern Trust Open have distracted from the positive nature of an event that has raised more than $50 million for charity since its inception," Northern Trust president and CEO Frederick H. Waddell later wrote in a letter to members of the U.S. House Financial Services Committee. "We will redouble our efforts to ensure that these activities are appropriate given the current environment."

In his new role, West won't be expected to sweep the prior criticisms under the rug, nor will he act as a savior for a tournament that apparently needs a little saving. Instead, "Mr. Clutch" will be focused on simply improving the event in all aspects. And unlike some celebs in similar positions at prior PGA Tour stops, he will actually be working every day to accomplish that goal.

Jason Sobel is a golf writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com.

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