KING ABDULLAH ECONOMIC CITY, SAUDI ARABIA | There was something rather mesmerising about the secrets wafting across the desert sands during last week’s Saudi International. Some were borne by proud Saudis in gleaming white thawbs; others by the players. And all were to do with the proposed Premier Golf League.
To a man, those players whom organizers were chasing to become one of the league’s optimum 48 competitors said that they did not know enough to venture an opinion, while those doing the soliciting were similarly refusing to give anything away.
Along much the same lines, the relevant players had an agreed line at the ready when they were asked for their thoughts on the PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan’s recent e-mail which warned of the ramifications presented by a rival tour. Namely, that they had not had time to read it.
When GGP put it to Patrick Reed that it must have been a very long and complex e-mail (it was in fact 12 paragraphs), he came up with a deliciously appropriate answer. Since he hadn’t seen it, how would he know?
Graeme McDowell, the eventual winner in Saudi Arabia, was the first to have trouble sticking with the party line. After a few unsuccessful attempts at saying nothing, the Northern Irishman let slip with the thought that more money was hardly a necessity: “Most of the guys are pretty happy with what they’ve got at the moment. How could things be better than what’s on the table right now?”
And what he had to say was endorsed with vigour by Gary Player when he turned up at the end of the week. Player said of the league, “I don’t like it.” Furthermore, he thought the concept of a tour featuring no more than 48 players was selfish – and that it was madness to think that so small a field would necessarily include players with the so-called “it” factor. He also mentioned the words “greed” and “loyalty.” In his opinion, greed was all too much in evidence in the modern game. As for loyalty, he felt it was in short supply among those who had so much reason to be grateful.
Greg Norman who, like Player, had flown into Saudi Arabia for a Saudi Golf summit, took the opposite view. Twenty-five years after his idea for a world tour had come to nothing, he claimed that this new edition “has every chance of getting off the ground” and that it would be thoroughly good news. “Formula One did it,” he continued, “tennis has done it, soccer has done it and so has cricket. It was pretty much the PGA (Tour) that stopped my tour; maybe the time is right now.”
Norman liked the way the ideas men were talking: “You’ve got to look forward to where we are headed and take the important next step.” He did, though, accept that there might be a problem with the world ranking in that it belongs to the present tours but, against that, he did not go along with the notion that best TV deals were all in the hands of the PGA and European tours. “What about Apple and Amazon? Streaming is the future,” he declared.
Norman’s highfalutin thoughts were hardly calculated to impress the regular players any more than they would have impressed Player.
On the same day Phil Mickelson was quoted as saying his discourse with the Premier Golf League organizers with whom he played in the Saudi International pro-am was “fascinating,” Spain’s Álvaro Quirós, a dedicated European Tour man, said that such a league could only take away from the stature of both the PGA and European tours. “How could it not?” he asked.
“With the greatest respect,” he continued, “those who are interested in going down this route would only want to do it for the money. They’ve got plenty already but, more often than not, they want more. It’s what a lot of money can do to you.
“They may tell you that they want to play in an environment where it’s the best against the best on a regular basis but, if you look at it, they’ve got that already with four majors and four WGCs.”
For every snippet of hard news that had come by way of the media last week, a rumour was taking off ...
Warming to his theme, Quirós went on to advise that people should be wary of golfers who claim that they are only playing in this event or that because they want to grow the game or because they love the courses involved. To him, money is almost always in the picture.
For every snippet of hard news that had come by way of the media last week, a rumour was taking off, with one admin man, who admitted that what he had to say was no more than “good hearsay,” passing on the following Tiger tale. Believe it if you will, the player had turned down an offer from Premier Golf League personnel of $100 million. The accompanying highly plausible guesswork is that Woods is far too much of a traditionalist to want to risk losing his chance of adding to his haul of majors.
It was Rory McIlroy who had been the first to prophesy that the most likely result of all the shenanigans could be that the league would serve as “the catalyst for change which could help the tour (the PGA Tour in his case) to grow and move forward – and reward the top players the way it should.”
Away from the vexed question of the money side of things, there were more than a handful of suggestions as to what changes might be necessary. One highly rated Englishman spelt out a few areas in which he felt the European circuit could do with “a bit of a shake-up.”
He included slow play, and picked up on the comments of the caddie who said that while the new slow-play policy was saving time, “knocking 10 or so minutes off a round taking over five hours is not going to make any kind of an impression on people doing the spectating.”
Also on his list was the need for more work on the rules, with particular reference to what happens at weekends. “The field isn’t protected when it comes to rules infringements. Things are fine on the Thursday and Friday when the players go out in groups of three but, come the two-balls on the Saturday and Sunday, it’s just one chap’s word against another’s.”
To no-one’s great surprise, it was a Ryder Cup man of some stature who made the best fist of summing up the Premier Golf League situation as it embarked on a new week with rather less in the way of oomph than had applied at the start of the Saudi International.
“While we’re waiting for the men behind it to tell us more, they’re waiting for us to get back to them.”