In a letter sent to more than 200 professional golfers through their managers last week, organizers of the persistent Premier Golf League began with this sentence:
“Your profession is approaching an historic crossroads.”
That was before Sergio García’s meltdown at the Wells Fargo Championship where he began saying his goodbyes to the PGA Tour in an outburst directed at a rules official who, to be fair, had made a mistake. There are likely more goodbyes from players to come.
Give the PGL’s Andy Gardiner and Roger Maddock credit for not wasting any time in getting to their point before detailing why the PGA Tour, the DP World Tour and the LIV Golf initiatives are, in their opinion, flawed models.
“The 'International Series,' funded and owned by LIV Golf Investments (LIV), represents an existential threat, not only to the PGA Tour’s dominance, but also its model. Change is not only inevitable, it is happening – and no amount of purse rejigging, head-burying, ban threatening, alliance-making or 'moving-on' will derail it,” the PGL wrote last week before explaining why it believes its plan – which includes taking partial ownership of the PGA Tour – is better.
That seems to be where professional golf finds itself, facing a choice between the established but evolving way of life, now dripping more money than ever before, or veering off into a new world built on the promise of billions, not millions, more.
It begs the question: Is this about the sport or is it about money and power?
It’s never wise to bet against money and power.
“Change is not only inevitable, it is happening – and no amount of purse rejigging, head-burying, ban threatening, alliance-making or ‘moving-on’ will derail it.”
PGL letter to tour players
What has to this point been more about proposals and posturing and repaid payouts from players who had planned to join Greg Norman’s group becomes a reality next month when the first LIV Golf Invitational Series tournament is played near London.
By Wednesday, the PGA Tour must grant or deny releases to players who have asked to play there, a list that includes Phil Mickelson, Lee Westwood and Matt Fitzpatrick. Add García to that list, too. The tour likely will grant those releases because the tournament is being played overseas.
The bigger question comes shortly thereafter when players seek releases to play in the first LIV event in the United States. PGA Tour bylaws prohibit releases for conflicting events played in North America, and it’s a good bet that some players will ask or have asked to play July 1-3 at Pumpkin Ridge in Oregon anyway.
Go immediately to court. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200 million.
That’s been part of the LIV Golf plan all along, or at least one expected step in the process. If the PGA Tour follows through on its threat to suspend or ban players who play LIV events, Norman’s group will sue. Injunctions will follow, and it will drag on.
The LIV Golf group believes that when top players see others stuffing their bank accounts with enormous paychecks, they will come for the money. That’s what it will be about because there’s no history to be made there, only money for playing 54-hole events with team play and shotgun starts, a concept that may be bold but is unlikely to be popular.
The shadow of the Saudi government’s backing rightfully remains a sticking point for many but not all. The government killed 81 men in a mass execution March 12.“I think Saudi Arabia, obviously, they know they’ve got issues,” Westwood told Sky Sports last week amid rumors he’s all in with LIV Golf. “Lots of countries around the world have got issues, and I think they’re trying to improve. They’re trying to do it through sport, which a lot of countries do. Some countries try to do it, and I think that maybe worries people, scares people, because people don’t like change. They like continuity and for things to stay the same.”
Norman’s group also has disrupted the game by offering big guarantees to the top six amateurs in the world, taking advantage of new name, image and likeness rules while seeking to seed the future of their league with the next generation of players.
If they can’t get the best players today, get the next stars. It’s a slap to the face of traditional amateur golf, but it’s more evidence of how quickly and dramatically the landscape is changing.
Which brings us back to the Premier Golf League, which is asking voting members of the PGA Tour to push members of the Player Advisory Council and the Policy Board to compel the tour to talk directly with PGL representatives, who claim they can generate more than $10 billion in value and the players would own 50 percent of that.The PGA Tour received an evaluation from an outside group regarding the PGL proposal and found it vastly overstating its potential value, and shot down the idea quickly. The PGL argues it was a biased report and didn’t have the true information.
The PGL is where LIV Golf essentially began until one group became two. Now both are challenging the PGA Tour and the DP World Tour.
The PGA Tour responded by striking an alliance with the DP World Tour and funneling cash to new programs and upping payouts in existing programs. It is creating more opportunities for the stars to make even more money and is considering a major restructuring of its fall schedule to feature three small-field, big-money events for the top players. It’s reactionary, but it’s significant.
Both the PGL and the LIV Golf group say they want to enhance the professional game, giving players more opportunities to play where they want, when they want and for more money than before. For some players, particularly in the later stages of their careers, such a move probably makes sense if they can live with the Saudi situation. Money versus morality.
An historic crossroads or a big bump in the road?
Time to find out.
Top: Marquee players like Sergio Garcia may have a path to choose in golf's multidirectional new world order.