It would be nice if this week were only about the PGA Championship being played at Southern Hills, about Scottie Scheffler chasing a second straight major at his favorite course, about Tiger Woods trying again and about all the anticipation and possibilities that arrive just four times a year on the golf calendar.
The PGA Championship deserves to be about today, about this week, about professional golf as we find it at this moment.
It’s difficult, though, not to look at where the sport is going and wonder how it will look a month from now or two years from now.
The battle for the future of professional golf is underway.
When the PGA Tour last week denied releases to players asking for permission to play in the inaugural LIV Golf Invitational Series event near London, it was mildly surprising because there was a school of thought that the tour might grudgingly say “yes” to London then “no” to the scheduled events in the United States.
Instead, it was a blanket “no,” and now the lawyers are polishing their positions, which we all knew was going to happen. It was probably a central part of LIV Golf’s game plan, believing that the new tour could win the antitrust battle in a courtroom.
Lawyers should play golf, not arbitrate its structure.
With a strategic alliance in place with the DP World Tour, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan stood with his ally, knowing LIV Golf boss Greg Norman and his unlimited Saudi-funded war chest would go on the attack. What Monahan may not have anticipated was the public-relations nightmare Norman created for himself and his employer with his witheringly tone-deaf comments about Saudi Arabia’s murderous regime.
The sweet irony of Greg Norman saying, “We all make mistakes.”
“If you want to go, go.”
As for the structure of professional golf, it may not be about winners and losers at this point.
It may be about surviving.
“Sadness” is the word European captain Paul McGinley used on SiriusXM PGA Tour Radio last week.
“It’s going to drag the game through the courts over the next couple of years, probably through the front and back pages of newspapers,” McGinley said on “The Starter” show. “There’s going to be a lot of conjecture about the game, and I don’t think anybody is going to be the winner in that case.”
The PGA Tour is going to be different after this direct assault from LIV Golf, which is attempting to buy itself into the game’s penthouse. The tour might be better for it, having already made adjustments to how it compensates and treats its top players, with other benefits trickling down to the rank and file.
If some older players defect, it opens opportunities for younger players, and there’s always a market for generating new stars. Scheffler, Collin Morikawa and Viktor Hovland could be used as Exhibits A, B and C.
At last check, all three are committed to the PGA Tour long term.
The tour isn’t going away. The game’s present and immediate future – players such as Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy – are on the tour’s side as, it seems, are most of the younger players.
A manager for several top players said he has not heard of any young players who are planning to take what LIV Golf is offering. Older players, particularly those on the inward nine of their careers, are a different matter.
The names are familiar by now. Sergio Garcia. Lee Westwood. Martin Kaymer.
A pre-Champions Tour of sorts, at least at this moment.
For players in their positions, the temptation of millions being offered to play against weaker fields in three-day, no-cut events is worth considering. Even a player in his 30s, if he’s offered $30 million for four years plus whatever he earns in events in which last-place pays low six figures, it’s something to think about.
Justin Thomas put it perfectly.
“If you want to go, go,” he said.
If it helps a money-grubbing player in a sportswashing scheme sleep better at night by saying other countries have their own human-rights issues, go for it, but he should acknowledge that he is going in with his eyes – and not necessarily his heart – wide open.
“You have a choice; I mean, you really do,” said Will Zalatoris, a member of the PGA Tour’s Player Advisory Council. “You can go if you'd like, but it is what it is.”
What is LIV Golf offering besides generational wealth (which, let’s be honest, is something to think about)?
That’s enough for some players.
But winning the LIV Golf event in Portland, Oregon, in early July isn’t like winning the Genesis Invitational. There’s no history attached, just a paycheck. On the PGA Tour, players can play for both.
Disruption can be good, and sometimes it’s necessary. If you’ve seen the musical “Hamilton,” you understand.
LIV Golf organizers believe they have a better way. What they have is a different way. Not better. Just different.
They can be applauded for their audaciousness and pushing the PGA Tour out of its comfort zone. The immediate challenge for LIV Golf is keeping its idea going long enough for it to take root.
Regardless of how much money the Saudis’ Public Investment Fund has, if no one cares about the product, it will wither away. Having to watch the first event on YouTube wasn’t in the plans.
Maybe Phil Mickelson’s redemption tour happens with LIV Golf. Maybe Bryson DeChambeau jumps. For what it’s worth, Tiger Woods is staying on the other side.
Since the Premier Golf League idea germinated a few years ago, ultimately leading the LIV Golf group to splinter off, the PGA Tour has steadfastly refused to engage in any discussions about such “additive” concepts. That has irked some players.
The PGA Tour isn’t perfect – it should acknowledge when a player has been suspended, and it appears to have been forced into sharing more of its overall revenue with players since these challengers have arrived – but it’s the most powerful force in golf.
It firmly believes that when players join the PGA Tour, signing a membership agreement, they are bound to the rules made by and for the players as written in the handbook. When LIV Golf comes in trying to lure players away, the tour is doing what it should do, protecting its greatest assets.
There are multiple layers to this battle. Sponsors pay a premium for tournament naming rights, and they don’t want a watered-down product. Monahan knows that better than perhaps anyone.
Media-rights deals are contingent on the tour retaining its place, power and personalities. LIV Golf believes it can offer something better. Norman and others knew breaking through would be hard. It may be harder than they imagined.
What has been simmering for a while has reached a boil. What is likely to be a long, ugly struggle involving injunctions and terms such as tax-exempt and antitrust, is just getting started.
If we know little else, we know this week matters more than most. It’s the PGA Championship. At some point, hopefully sooner rather than later, the attention will turn back to who’s doing what at Southern Hills.
Meanwhile, the business of professional golf will churn on.
“Hopefully,” McGinley said, “there is not too much damage to the game by the time we come out the other side.”
Top: PGA Championship week should be about Scottie Scheffler trying to win another major, not rival tour threats and impending litigation, Ron Green Jr. contends.