Saudi temptations, obnoxious greed and a worn out format at Pebble Beach

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.

Battle lines are being drawn with respect to the Saudi-backed LIV group and their proposed new league. Players that took appearance fees to play in the Saudi International are being criticized for everything from lack of loyalty to the PGA Tour to sportswashing the Saudi regime. Rumours abound that some players have already been offered 9-figure deals to jump to the new league – that’s at least $100,000,000 for those who are counting – and Greg Norman’s group is apparently working with a billion dollar plus budget. It sure looks like this League is going to happen. Who do you think will be the first to jump ship and sign with LIV?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): Well, I guess it looks like Mickelson will be the first… and frankly, good riddance.  I just don’t understand how some of these guys have no limit to how rich they want to be.  I have no real idea, but I think that anyone the Saudis would be interested in luring to their League would already be a multimillionaire, so how much more do they need to ensure that their families will live in luxury for the next 100 years?  But if several do abandon the PGA Tour, and diminish the appeal of the Tour in the process, what does that say to their “we all want to grow the game” BS?  Seems to me that all they really want to grow is their bank accounts, when they hardly need to do so.

Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): I hope Bryson jumps first and takes the rumoured $135M payday. If its not him, its Phil, because he has been the most voiceful, and has the least to lose. His career is virtually over, no more Majors to try and realistically win, at least 2023 and beyond…right? He can’t win another can he? Assuming Phil feels that way (seems so), I could see him jumping ship and taking a payday, and maybe he takes a few players with him because of it.

Michael Schurman, Master Professional, Hall of Fame Member, PGA of Canada: My first question is “How much is Greg Norman being paid”. Shouldn’t the headliner CEO earn a bigger ROI than any player? My guess is Ricky Fowler goes first for the megabucks. He endorses everything in our home, in my workshop and my golf equipment. His playing days on the PGA TOUR are past the best before date but he is hugely popular and highly marketable. He has zero chance of winning anything, particularly a major so if he is suspended by the PGA TOUR and banned from the majors (something the PGA TOUR thinks they have the leverage to do) so what. Ricky @ $150M kind of has a nice ring to it.

TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): Well, I guess money talks, and if the rumour is true that Bryson is being offered $135M, it’s not hard to see him jumping ship.  And with Phil’s recent comments, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him take some money to be a marketing play for the new tour.  He’s not as competitive as others, but he has the marketable persona.  It does seem like this is picking up steam, so it’ll be interesting to see what happens in the next short while.

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: Was once (only once, sadly) offered four times my salary to jump. On the advice of my counsellor — who, by the way, coined the axiom ‘buy high, sell low’ — stayed put. Oh well, I hear retirement is overrated (again, my counsellor). The numbers being tossed around are mind blowing, but as mentioned around the Table before, the top players can’t be worrying about the education funds of their great-great-great-grandchildren. The guys who sign for Saudi sport-washed Euros and Sawbucks will be the other guys.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): The first player may start a stampede but only if the players are convinced there will be enough top talent to formulate strong fields. That way they can continue to get World Ranking Points and qualify for majors. Otherwise, plenty of cash for players past their prime or not quite elite status. My hunch is that rather than have an announcement about the first player to sign, there will be perhaps as many as ten to a dozen players all signing at once. That way there is some real momentum.

Phil Mickelson was making waves last week accusing the PGA Tour of “obnoxious greed” because they are withholding player’s media rights, according to Phil, valued at $20 billion. Ironically, Mickelson was in Saudi Arabia accepting a fat fee. Say what you will about Phil and his outspokenness, but he often gives voice to what a lot of players are thinking. What’s your reaction Phil’s comments?

Deeks: I’m totally in agreement with Brandel Chamblee, who called Phil out in an opinion piece on the Golf Channel website, for his own obnoxious greed, and for his apparent care-less-ness about the future of pro golf.  I’m sorry to see all this happening to the status quo, and especially when it’s all coming from a basically evil regime.

Loughry: Well, on one hand he certainly has a point, media rights are very valuable. But he likely signed off on that (waived his rights to any PGA Tour produced content) when he renewed his membership (and does so each year) with the Tour. If he doesn’t like it, then why sign? I think the Tour is trying to recognize this to some degree with their PIP program, trying to give more players money. In time, the structure of this may change, there are some entities competing for these Professional players.

Schurman: Those opposed to the Saudi Tour say they condemn the Saudi’s Human Rights record. How about the USA? They have invaded more countries in the name of “protecting American interests” than Genghis Kahn, tortured prisoners, murdered leaders of countries and occupied foreign lands. Phil is Phil and I’ve said before “I’m not a fan” but the PGA TOUR has annual earnings of close to $1B while players from # 100 to 150 aren’t starving but they sure don’t earn what the same equal level player earns in the NBA, MLB or even the NHL. Even the 125th most popular rock star earns more. To criticize the Saudi Tour for their country’s politics is hypocritical. Take the current Olympics. China’s record on Human Rights isn’t any better than the Saudis. How many of you turned it off in protest? BTW I have a solution to the PGA TOUR’s problem if you want to hear it.

Rule: I thought it was completely hypocritical.  In some ways I see his point, given that the Tour controls so much of each player’s marketability.  But it wasn’t great timing given his appearance at the Saudi tournament.  And he’s also made hundreds of millions by benefiting from the Tour and what it has offered him over the years, so calling them greedy was hypocritical to me.

Quinn: What The Thrill says matters only in the context that he is in the mega-sphere of incomes among sentient beings. We all know that millions don’t even matter, that …. ok, ok, forget all the other stuff that doesn’t bother folks on private jets. If Phil said that the millions the PGA Tour was ripping him off would go to anywhere other than to his vault but to, say, women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, or say, oh the option list is as long as it will take for golf fans, sports fans, and all of us to decide how we sleep at night. Thanks Phil.

Mumford: Always entertaining, even if not always factually correct. As noted above, Brandel Chamblee did a fine job of setting the record straight and eviscerating Phil at the same time. Greed is a relative term in professional golf these days. If Phil is looking for an excuse to jump ship, first, he doesn’t need one but picking the Tour’s so-called greed against his own is hilarious.

Meanwhile the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro Am went off with the weakest field of the year, featuring a mix of players, some of whom had to be dragged out of retirement, dusted off and pointed in the right direction. Combined with a mix of aging entertainers and unrecognizable business executives, the pro am slogged on in the prettiest setting in golf. Even when not competing with the Saudi event, many Tour players skip this event because of the pro-am aspect. It would be a shame to lose Pebble Beach as a tournament venue but is it time to retire this pro am?

Deeks: I would’ve said yes to the question at least 10 years ago.  Watching Bill Murray do his thoroughly unfunny ham act, and celebrities I’ve never heard of, play with executives I couldn’t care less about, made me NOT watch the AT&T consistently since 2010.  Yes, it’s nice to see seagulls on rocks, but I can do that on YouTube anytime.  If the AT&T dies a quiet death, I won’t even notice or care.

Loughry: I looked at the field last year (no Pro-Am) and it was marginally better than the field this year. I think they would really have something good for the Tour and golf if they went back to the style of the clambake, real celebrities. Don’t get me wrong, I can appreciate the CEO’s who contribute to the Tour and associated charities, money talks, but that doesn’t sell or appeal to most of the players (or fans) unfortunately.

Schurman: Getting old isn’t for the young, they couldn’t handle it! My ‘real’ golf season starts with Pebble Beach just like it did 50 years ago when it came on TV. On the Monday AM after, I began swinging in the garage, putting on the carpet and trying to make plans to get one or two weeks at the PGA of Canada course at Royal Oak in Titusville, Fla. I loved the scenery, the course and the Ams. Hearing Sammy Davis Jr pair up with Dean Martin or Andy Williams and Glen Campbell while they played the 15th hole, or seeing a great QB throw a pass across the 12th green to Jerry Rice……… Now we have Camilo Villegas, Bo Van Pelt, Ricky Barnes and Jimmy Walker as the playing Pros. Nice guys and good players but in their prime only Walker would even qualify. So, Google Bing Crosby singing “Goodbye my lover, goodbye.” You might not think it’s worth watching on YouTube, but I do.

Rule: I’m not a fan of the pro am format, but I watched a bit of the tourney just to see the course, it’s still some of the best eye candy in the Tour’s schedule.  And the course does provide some drama, especially when you have as many guys in contention as there were last week.  It is a shame that the tournament lost its Crosby Clam Bake type of experience for the top pros, and draws such a weak field.  But it does allow for the Tom Hoge’s of the world to win a tourney on an iconic golf course!

Quinn: Bill Murray is numero uno on the long list of so-called “comedians” who never in their carer said or did anything funny. Whoopi Goldberg, Ray Romano, the list goes on. All the usual suspects who used to populate (pollute?)  the Crosby were mercifully absent this past weekend. Used to be vaguely entertaining when guys like Jack Lemmon tried to make the cut, but sadly the red carpet at the Crosby is now tattered and worn rolling out for the C-list — School Boy Q, wtf is that? The Zed list? — and with the wind blowing strongly in from the Arabian Peninsula, time for a reboot.

Mumford: Unfortunately, entertainment for the TV audience is not a high priority for the PGA Tour. Making money for their members and their charities is top priority and if an endless stream of 72-hole stroke play events is not entertaining, so what? There are still lots of companies willing to shell out millions for the opportunity to have Player A shake hands with Executive B and all their clients a couple of times a year. Pebble Beach used to be fun. Not anymore and there doesn’t seem to be any incentive to fix it.

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

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