ST. SIMONS ISLAND, GEORGIA | On a chilly November night when wind-blown and moss-draped live oaks paint shadow pictures on windows, it’s tempting to wonder whether what Shakespeare called the winter of our discontent already has arrived.
Half a world away, Rory McIlroy suggested last week that Greg Norman “exit stage left” as LIV Golf CEO to ease the animosity that continues to boil between the PGA Tour and the rival tour while Jon Rahm popped off about the Official World Golf Ranking with a dash of salt thrown onto the Norman roast.
Meanwhile, on this side of the Atlantic, the PGA Tour’s 2022 schedule came to its annual pre-Thanksgiving conclusion last week at Sea Island Golf Club where Davis Love III serves as tournament host, de facto mayor and defender of the tour against those who believe they have found a better way.
“I don’t think we sit down with anyone unless they say, ‘Hey, we give,’ ” Love said last week, pointing to LIV Golf’s lawsuit against the PGA Tour as an Everest-sized impediment to any potential global golf summit.
Love said that after spending Wednesday morning playing the pro-am with tour commissioner Jay Monahan, who has said as much previously.
That’s where we are, so pass the turkey, please.
The RSM Classic is a perfect off-ramp into the tour’s version of an offseason, a six-week break between official events, even though Tiger Woods’ three upcoming exhibition starts may get more attention than Santa Claus in December.
The Sea Island event has a boutique feel to it, more cozy than crowded, more laid back than loud. Wool caps and puffy vests were pulled out like holiday decorations to ward off the drop in temperatures that rustled the palm trees.
The RSM Classic doesn’t draw the eyeballs or the stars that many other events do because of where it sits on an 11-month schedule. It is, however, a charming example of what the PGA Tour does so well.
It is embraced by the community, the locals chipping in to do their part, and set against a beachy backdrop, it provides a proper test to players, many of whom can change the arc of their careers with a good finish.
As battlegrounds go, it’s one of the prettiest.
“The whole bus works if we just keep it going down the road. Somebody's trying to knock our bus off-track, and we have to defend that.”
Davis Love III
The RSM Classic has a stake in what’s happening beyond which players choose to take LIV Golf’s millions and those who remain loyal to the PGA Tour. This event lands at the end of the calendar year, and there is still a lack of clarity about what the fall portion of the tour season will look like this time next year and beyond.
Love said the RSM Classic is set for next year and, he’s pretty sure, for 2024 when the tour’s new schedule model is fully realized. It could be the last chance for some players to keep their tour privileges next year, giving the event an added edge.
This is where Talor Gooch won a year ago, briefly vaulting into the FedEx Cup points lead. Even after accepting LIV Golf’s offer, Gooch told Love that he would be at Sea Island, though the host warned him that wouldn’t be possible despite whatever assurances Gooch may have received from the other side.
Other than a banner on the drive in recognizing the tournament’s winners, Gooch was nowhere to be seen.
He might never be back.
Love spent five terms as a member of the PGA Tour Policy Board, and he remains involved with the tour leadership. He hammers home the point that the PGA Tour initially was sued by LIV, not the other way around.
“If they (LIV) say, Hey, maybe we made a mistake and maybe we should drop a lawsuit and maybe we should quit stealing your players, then we might want to talk to them, but I don't think that's their model,” Love said.
“They're recruiting college players, they're recruiting PGA Tour players, they're recruiting DP World Tour players. So as long as they're actively trying to, you know, hostile takeover, take our players away, get them to break the rules and go somewhere else, I don't think it matters who's running it.”
Sitting alongside Love last week, Zach Johnson, a fellow Sea Island resident and 2023 U.S. Ryder Cup captain, was singing from the same songbook.
“Given the climate, my confidence is still very, very, very high in why we do what we do, how we do it and who's behind it,” Johnson said.
It’s changing, for sure, and both Love and Johnson believe the PGA Tour is doing the right thing, following the lead of Tiger Woods and McIlroy, who have helped bring to life a new schedule dotted with $20-million “elevated” events.
Love is a traditionalist, but he is also a pragmatist. He has been at the top of the game as a player, has captained Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup teams and sat through board meetings, plotting the tour’s path forward. It is a players’ organization, and LIV’s arrival has necessitated change.
If the tour has leaned more toward supporting the rank and file in recent years, it’s shifting now toward the top players, rewarding them for who they are and where they are.
“The system works,” Love said. “That's what I keep saying about Rory McIlroy and Billy Horschel. Rory McIlroy wins the FedEx Cup and plays by the rules on two different tours. Billy Horschel wins the FedEx Cup, lives in the United States, plays by the rules on two different tours. The system works.
“Nobody's getting restricted from doing what they want to do. … The front office does control the biggest part of the sales, but the bus is not an old school bus. It's a really, really nice Prevost bus that we're on. And if you're in the back, it's really good, so you ought to thank the guys at the front when you get on and come to the back and try to work your way up to the front.
The wind blows cold this time of year.
Even at Sea Island.
Top: Trevor Werbylo is among the back-of-the-bus PGA Tour players trying to change his trajectory at Sea Island.