There’s a lot going on in the world of professional golf at the moment – and things are unlikely to ever be the same again.
In its simplest form a new fledgling tour, LIV Golf, fronted by Greg Norman (above) and funded by the bottomless pit that is Saudi money, has emerged stage left and is threatening the established PGA Tour and DP World Tour (formerly the European Tour). It is attempting to entice away members of said tours by literally throwing obscene amounts of money at them, promising 54-hole tournaments with small fields of 48 players, no cuts, $4million for first place and $120,000 for last. The first of these LIV Golf Invitational Series events takes place next month at The Centurion Club outside London.
Let’s get some context here. Next week is the second of the men’s majors, the PGA Championship, one of the four “holy grails” of the men’s game. There will be 156 competitors with a cut to the top 70 and ties; there will be a total purse of $20 million with $3.58 million to the winner and $41,000 to the player in 70th spot. Along with a victory comes a five-year exemption into the other three majors and the Players’ Championship and a mass of world ranking points – important for access to future top events..
So, what’s the problem? Professional golfers are self-employed, independent contractors and are entitled to play where they like. Well, yes and no. Once you become a member of a tour you agree to abide by the rules and regulations of that tour and that means if you wish to play somewhere else you need to request a release to do so – and there’s a limit to how many you’ll be granted in any given year. Usually it’s two or three, tops.
Obviously, the established tours aren’t too happy with this interloper attempting to lure away their prize assets. In the interests of keeping their members “loyal” the PGA Tour has responded with increased financial enticements for its players and not-so-subtle threats of litigation if they play in any events without the requisite release.So far, those attracted to the LIV Golf model fall into three camps. There are the players, mostly aged in their 40s, whose best playing days are behind them. There are good, sound, money-making machine “journeymen” pros who are unlikely to break through in to the major-winning circle. Lastly, there are top amateurs who can now accept financial rewards for use of their name, image or likeness. The latter group is what worries me, but more of that in a minute. As it stands those joining the new venture will have no access to those all important world ranking points that are the main gateway into the majors and they have been told they will forfeit their tour membership..
The very best players in the world are generally not attracted to LIV Golf. They are the ones who march to the beat of the traditional drum. They aspire to having their careers measured in terms of major wins and are usually comfortable enough with the millions they have already accrued. Money is not their motivator, rather the history and traditions of the game and their place in it.
I am certainly not averse to the status quo in any walk of life being challenged. I think it’s healthy and I can’t help but be amused by the PGA Tour’s reaction to the new propositions. LIV Golf is only doing what the PGA Tour has done for years – bullying everyone else around them with money so they can assume the top place at the head of the table.
There is also another issue bothering the Americans. Enter the Premier Golf League, once in bed with the Greg Norman venture but now a separate entity although with a similar operating model to LIV Golf. PGL boss Andy Gardiner, however, wishes to work with the PGA Tour, not against it, and has outlined plans to issue shares that will benefit members of the PGA Tour, the secondary Korn Ferry Tour and the DP World Tour. He wishes to run his tournaments in tandem with the existing official schedule, co-sanctioning tournaments that will provide those participating with $2 million before a single shot is hit. PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan will surely come under severe pressure from his members to meet and discuss this possible fruitful income stream.Back to LIV Golf. The professional golfing world will not fall apart with the defection of the aforementioned groups of players to the Saudi scheme but, as I mentioned earlier, it is the amateur element that worries me. The intention at the moment is to invite the top six amateurs in the world to play in the events. They can be financially reimbursed for the use of their name, image and likeness (NIL) but can’t play for the prize money. I wonder, though, if the NIL factor will carry a commitment to join LIV Golf upon turning professional? Where will that leave the game in ten years’ time if the Saudis have hoovered up all the best of the emerging talent? We will be left with a sport that is all about money and nothing else – and that is dispiriting, to say the least.
And we haven’t even mentioned sportswashing yet or got in to the morality of throwing your lot in with a regime that has one of the worst possible records when it comes to human rights – or the lack thereof. That adds a whole other dimension to the debate.
In the last few days Greg Norman has announced an extra $2 billion of funding for the LIV series of events. At a similar time the PGA Tour announced it would not be granting releases to its members who were wishing to play in the first event in Hertfordshire. So, things are changing and we’re reaching a crossroads in the game and who knows which way it’ll go?
LIV Golf proclaims they exist “to supercharge the game of golf”.
I’d like to think that some of these monumental sums of money might filter out of the coffers of the various tours down to grass roots level, providing facilities for all sorts of people to get started in the game. We need more putting greens, pitch and putts, renovation of rundown facilities – not more country clubs and “championship courses”.
Simple things – that’s my sort of supercharging..
On the plus side, thank goodness, there’s always a dose of normality, somewhere, from someone – this time from 25-year old Robert MacIntyre, Oban and Scotland’s finest. His response to being asked was he going to chase the $250 million of Saudi money was classic:-
“I’ve got a house, a home, my family is healthy. I’ve got a car I can drive. I have clothes I can put on and I can still treat myself and my family. What do I need? Just now, I’m as happy as I can be in the life of Robert MacIntyre.”Don’t you just love him?