Super Golf League vs the PGA Tour: it’s all about the money

Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.

According to various reports, another Saudi-backed golf league is trying to get off the ground and attract top PGA Tour and European Tour players with offers of huge sums of money. Phi Mickelson has purportedly been offered $100 million while other top players are getting offers in the $30-40 million range. The plan is to start playing a five-event schedule in September 2022 that also includes a team component. So far, none of the players contacted has publicly committed to the new League but all are reported to be “listening” to details. The Saudis are clearly serious and have banked at least $1 billion to fund their new venture. Is this one going to fly?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): God, I hope not.  Nothing more need be said by me.

Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): Why wouldn’t players listen, they’re all “independent contractors” and own and run their business. This is a tough issue for the Tour and players to work through. I just don’t see the Leagues business model being sustainable, unless they are 100% comfortable being running at a loss to attract eyeballs and do it all under the guise for Tourism PR. The Tour has a strong brand globally, and I think the players respect it for the most part and will be Loyal to the Tours they currently play on. Will it fly? In the end I say no, it won’t.

Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Hall of Fame Member, PGA of Canada: If they have earmarked $1B they are more heavily backed than the PGA TOUR. The TOUR pension fund has close to $1B but it isn’t available for this kind of venture. The PGA TOUR owns TPC courses, retails stores and a few other holdings including some cash reserves and their income is based on commissions from conducting tournaments on a few different tours. The bottom line is while they are incredibly sound, they don’t have $1B laying around. I don’t want to see ‘just another tour”. I would like to see teams of 24 players representing 24 to 30 cities around the world competing in a Ryder Cup-like weekly event. There could be a schedule based on conferences and divisions culminating in a playoff season as they do in other sports. The WGL (World Golf League) would be the only true “world” sports league if it included teams from various countries instead of leagues like the NFL, NHL etc. that call themselves world’s best but really only represent one or two countries. BTW I’m still in favour of having LPGA players on the teams.

TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): I hope not.  I just can’t see how this makes any sense and can’t wrap my head around it.  I mean, I understand that money talks, and maybe some guys would be interested, but if it affects their ability to play in Majors and other big events that are more important than millions of dollars to guys who already have millions of dollars, I don’t see many making the move.  I could be wrong, I just hope I’m not.

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: Just before playing four rounds of golf in Charlotte for, it turned out, about US $350,000 a round, Rory said he wasn’t for the Super Tour. With NIKE’s annual millions along with other hyper-lucrative sponsors in the bag, money doesn’t talk to Rory. It has already shouted. Aping FIFA’s squashing the super football league — also fuelled by Saudi oil money — the Tour Commish threatened Tour players with banishments and a Ryder Cup-less future. The strong-arm defence may work for golf as it did for football, for now, but the openings the Saudis are trying to exploit is the paucity of events that showcase the best against the best. As has been pointed out elsewhere, golf has the vehicle to give the sponsors (and tangentially fans, but they’re barely in the mix) what they want — the WGC events (Greg Norman’s kidnapped brainchild). The Tours (the Euros are involved) can placate the ratings-driven TV networks and online providers and their sponsors who fund the whole show by staging more WGC multi-million-dollar events (oh, right, that also takes care of the players). The satellite parallel events pad the accounts of all the guys outside the top 40, or 60, or whatever the Tour/TV/sponsors decide gets the WGC invites. Enough already, these guys don’t need blood money too.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): I think it will in some form or another. The proposed events are in the Fall, which means they won’t conflict with anything the top players care about. Sooner or later one player will commit, then the dominoes will fall. The Tour will rationalize it by saying the players have met their PGA Tour obligations as they do for other outside events. Jay Monahan will have egg on his face but still have the top players most of the time.

PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan and European Tour Commissioner Keith Pelley have both drawn a line in the sand for their players and said, “it’s us or them” with respect to the proposed new League. In an all-players meeting last week at Quail Hollow, site of the Wells Fargo Championship, Monahan told players that if they joined the rival League, they would be immediately suspended from the PGA Tour and likely banned for life. This may be viewed as an over-reaction by the Commissioner but he’s presumably feeling some heat. While the PGA Tour works for the vast majority of its members, it’s been argued that it doesn’t reward the top players well enough. They’re the drawing card each week and also the target of the new League. Can and should the PGA Tour do more to reward its top players?

Deeks: In my view, no.  They’re already over-compensated for the work they do, both on and off the course. I don’t begrudge them that, but to think they deserve more?  Bollocks.

Loughry: Strong words, and it sure seems to be a lot of talk for something that doesn’t exist to date. I’m sure they both want more (Tour to offer more money, players to play for more), and it would certainly disrupt the business model of the PGA Tour, especially the charitable portion they attach themselves to each week as part of their brand. They could cut the charitable component to reward players more. My personal view is that the Tour and players should be more cognizant of the developmental Tours, and the money these players are playing for (or lack thereof). Bottom line (pun intended) compensation is related to the business. If top players want to be compensated like NFL top players, then the numbers have to warrant it. Last I checked the NFL is KING in ratings, TV contracts, and the like. The PGA Tour numbers aren’t close (the Masters, Open Championship and US Open are in the neighborhood, but one-off weeks and not affiliated with the PGA Tour). The alternative is cutting the charitable contributions and awarding that money back into purses OR upping partnership/sponsorship money.

Schurman: Other sports pay top performers $25 -30 million/year, and that money is guaranteed with no expenses. PGA TOUR players play with no guarantee and they pay all of their own expenses with the most prolific winner of all-time earning around $12 to 13M. Yes, he has off-course earnings but so does Michael Jordan and many others.

Rule: Isn’t that what the $40M social media fund is supposed to do?  I mean, it’s not $1B like the Saudis may have, but let’s be honest, what corporation has that kind of money to throw around.  The top players get compensated quite nicely in my mind, and eventually it comes down to winning the top tournaments over another million dollars for most of them.  So more to my previous point, if they are at risk of getting banned from the PGA Tour, I think that’s enough of a threat to stop the players from migrating.

Quinn: Back at the end of the Jurassic period, give or take, Tour Commish Deane Beaman told me his goal was having the 125th man on the money list making Yankee back-up shortstop money. That amounted to about US $225,000 — not bad when a Pontiac Laurentian (fully loaded) cost about CDN $3,000. So here we are in the middle of the Absolutely Bonkers period when in the last pre-COVID season, 120 Tour players made over US $1 Million and the 150th guy made US $660,000. Now, not only are the top guys already making too much money, so are the bottom guys. (Remember, most domicile in Florida just to avoid state income taxes). The top guys definitely, and even the middle guys, don’t need any handouts.

Mumford: This is a debate (maybe a fight) that has been going on for a long time. When the all-exempt Tour was introduced back in the 80’s, much thanks to Gary McCord, it delivered a larger share of purses to Tour rabbits and eliminated a lot of Monday qualifying. Many players were able to make a decent living and have some stability with their schedule. However, it was not a popular approach with many of the top players whose pockets were picked to pay for it. Similarly, the PGA Tour shot down Greg Norman’s proposed World Tour in the 90’s, not wishing to upset the “democracy” of its existing format. Personally, I have no issue with winners and top finishers making more money and the guys in 60th place making less. I think that would make golf more exciting week in and week out. I’m also ok with the best players in more limited field events more often.

Rory McIlroy won the Wells Fargo Championship on Sunday for the third time and broke an 18-month winless drought on the PGA Tour. Jordan Spieth broke an even longer drought last month when he won the Valero Texas Open. With two of the game’s top stars back in the winner’s circle, it offers some intriguing possibilities for next week’s PGA Championship at Kiawah Island, where co-incidentally McIlroy won the same major in 2012. Who’s your early pick to win the Wannamaker Trophy?

Deeks: I hate to even say the name, but I’m going with Patrick Reed.  As odious as he is, I think he’s a helluva player, and will win 3-4 majors in his career.  Why wouldn’t one of them be next week at Kiawah?

Loughry: Courses for horses. Was good to see Rory get a win. He’s an adopted member at Quail Hollow and clearly loves that place. With this, and the fact he won at Kiawah Island in 2012, I do like his chances next week for the Wannamaker hardware, even if his putting is close to average for the week. He’s my favourite/pick going into it.

Schurman: I’d be a fool not to pick Rory. He is looking good, and he won huge previously (huuuuger than anyone had ever seen before). I also like Reed who can pitch/chip better than anyone, which is required at Kiawah. I also like Matsuyama; how can you ignore the only person in 2021 with a chance to win the Grand Slam? On the ‘dark horse’ side I’m a glutton for punishment until he finally wins one, so I’ll add Patrick Cantlay. Corey Conners is a perfect fit for this course too as is Abraham Ancer.

Rule: I love that Rory won and hopefully it’s the start of a special run for him.  He will have good feelings going back to Kiawah where he dominated the field in 2012.  For some reason I don’t see him winning it this year.  If the wind picks up, as it tends to do in particular in the early summer at Kiawah, Rory’s high ball flight may not play well.  I like Jordan Spieth to win this year.  His experience growing up in Texas in the wind, combined with his exceptional short game that should play well around the tricky Pete Dye green complexes, make me think he could be at or near the top of the leaderboard come Sunday.  I think Corey Conners will also continue his hot play and contend for his first Major.

Quinn: The key to Rory’s relaxed and natural approach to Quail Hollow — banishing all his recent woes — was his comfort on that course. He loves it, knows it, and so played golf instead of playing his latest swing session with coach Cowan. He’s going to have the same freeing feeling at Kiawah Island and that should be enough. When Rory’s playing golf instead of trying to hit perfect shots, he’s a joy to watch. Final pairing with Abraham Ancer would be just what the pandemic ordered.

Mumford: Spieth and McIlroy in a dogfight on Sunday afternoon with Jordan completing his personal Grand Slam in a playoff.

 

The Round Table
The Round Table is a panel of golf writers, PGA members and industry experts.

2 thoughts on “Super Golf League vs the PGA Tour: it’s all about the money

  1. Top PGA Tour players currently have the freedom to play when they choose (I know that they have to play a minimum # of events). Will the Super League give these players the same freedom. NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, etc don’t have that option

    1. Right now it sounds like PGA Tour players can’t join the Super League at all even if they meet their PGA Tour minimum requirements. That’s been the case for new rival leagues in many sports but eventually the new leagues die, merge or co-exist somehow. I think the same will happen with one of these Saudi-backed leagues Dave, especially if they offer a different form of entertainment like team play.

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