Michael Tothe, first-year tournament director of the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial, is preparing for his initial taste of tournament week as the primary person overseeing all aspects of Fort Worth's annual PGA Tour stop.
Tothe, 40, has served as the tournament's director of sales and sponsor relations for the past four years. He moved into his current role after predecessor Peter Ripa resigned to accept a similar post with the Farmers Insurance Open in San Diego.
Colonial's field in Tothe's first year at the helm will feature two of the top 10 players in the world golf rankings (Matt Kuchar, Hunter Mahan), one more than last year. Other notable names include rising star Rickie Fowler, the No. 6 player on the season money list ($2,461,254); 2011 FedEx Cup winner Bill Haas and Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 British Open champion and last month's runner-up at the Masters.
Tothe weighed in on several aspects of his new role as he prepares for Thursday's opening round of the 66th annual Colonial tournament:
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On pressure he feels to secure elite players, most notably Tiger Woods, who last played at Colonial in 1997:
"I think there's some pressure. I think that would be huge. But I don't think it's anything that I, myself, would be doing. It's the event itself. It's the title sponsor. It's how we conduct our business ... We would welcome the opportunity to host the former No. 1 in the world, Tiger Woods, absolutely. But you can't control the weather. And you can't control what the guys may or may not be doing the week of the event."
What tour players move the needle in terms of ticket sales and TV ratings:
"Phil [Mickelson] moves the needle. Tiger moves the needle. [Rory] McIlroy moves the needle. Bubba Watson, no question, is at the top of everyone's mind right now, with the green jacket. I think Hunter Mahan moves the needle. I think Dustin Johnson moves the needle. I think [Rickie] Fowler moves the needle ... With us, our past champions. Those guys, locally, move the needle. Our champions from the last five years are stellar."
On whether Woods, who remains within striking distance of Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 major titles despite recent struggles, is a "must-get" competitor for today's tour events:
"We've ridden the wave. We have not had Tiger since 1997. We've survived. I think we're in a better position without him than events that have had him for two, three or four years and then he doesn't come back ... But is it survival for us? No. Is it a must-have for us? No. Would we like to host him? Yes. Is he the best player to ever play the game? There's some room for argument there. I might say, 'Yes.' Will he win again? Will he win majors? Yes. Will he beat Jack's record? I think he will, if he stays healthy."
On what lures top players to Colonial:
"I don't think it's whether you have dry cleaning or how pristine the practice range might be. All tour events do a good job with that ... It's just that extra-special touch that sets up apart. With us, I think it's the history and the tradition and the fact that we're an invitational."
On plans for the future as tournament director:
"I think I would like to go to Memorial the week after our event and say 'thank you' to the guys. I think it's important, as the new tournament director, to reach out to each player that has committed to the field and introduce myself and let them know how appreciative we are ... Operationally, there are things we can improve upon and we are improving upon. We want to overdeliver [for Crowne Plaza, the title sponsor]. We want to ensure they're here for a long time because they're such a great partner."
On the biggest challenge for this week:
"The daunting thing for me is the unknown. People say you've been here since 2008, but I focused so much on revenue and sales and product delivery. Now, you're focused on every aspect of the event. I feel this first year, for me, is to learn and absorb. And for 2013 and beyond, to implement strategies that strengthen our event."
On the secrets of successful player recruitment:
"You're respectful of their time ... There are guys that say, 'I would not miss it.' There are guys that say, 'maybe.' I don't think it does us any good to push or, in certain cases, to ask, 'Why not?' Every player is different and every situation is different ... Maybe the golf course just doesn't suit him."
On having to accept that some players may not like the course layout:
"You do. My theory, a little bit, is golf right now is a long-hitter's game. It's grip it and rip it. We saw that with Bubba [Watson] at Augusta. We see that with Dustin Johnson. We see that with Gary Woodland. But I also don't think that is the long-term way to play. At some point, I think we'll return back to the shot-making ... In our case, it is a little more of a shot-makers' course."
On a poll of 80 anonymous touring pros, done earlier this season by GolfWorld , that showed Colonial ranked among the five most popular courses with PGA Tour competitors:
"That's special. I think that's special for the members. It's special for the community ... In our case, the golf course is something most guys want to play. And the history. Having your name on the Wall of Champions. I think that still means something."
On community involvement during Colonial week:
"What's amazing is the community and how they feel about this event. In Fort Worth, it's the stock show, it's the car race and it's Colonial. The community really rallies behind this event and I think that's what Crowne Plaza really loves about Colonial."
Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760