The Round Table: MBS, East Lake and Tom Weiskopf

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.

This question is courtesy of Michael Lauber, a friend of Jim Deeks and regular reader: WHY do you think Mohammed bin Salman is spending all this money on the LIV Tour?”  The recurring guess is “sportswashing” — trying to buff the Saudi image through golf — but really?  Especially in view of the terrible publicity LIV has received to date, and there’s no charity recipient to bask in the glow of, surely this approach is backfiring.  And is there an actual business case for LIV that makes any economic sense?  As Mike wonders, what IS the point? 

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks) My friend Mike thinks he (MBS) is just trying to be a disruptor (or s-disturber) to America, but I think that may be too simplistic.  After all, he could spend less money hiring a few more suicidal fanatics or Saudi prisoners, rent a jet (or using one of his own, easily replaceable), and just fly it into the Empire State Building this time.  Sportswashing may actually BE the ultimate goal, but it’ll take a lot of his money to put the PGA Tour out of business, resulting in major resentment among worldwide sports fans, and any favourable publicity or goodwill will simply NEVER accrue.  I think the whole thing is sad and stupid, and reprehensible by the renegade players, none of whom really need the millions they’re being bribed with.  So, I agree, Mike: what IS the point?

Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): I think they picked golf because it was cheap to get in and they could Own the league. They couldn’t do that with any other sport. The other leagues cost a billion or two to get one team into. However, golf was a low cost entry for them and they could own the space. Long term the business model may be there, but this is one way they can get on the global sports scene. They certainly want respect from other industrialized nations across the world. They want to show the rest of the world that they are open for business and that they are already doing business with hundreds of multinational corporations and governments across the world. That’s their end game. Does it speak anything about human rights and how their people are treated, no, but if business was done with this in mind (how that country and their government treat their people or others), then there are many, many other countries that shouldn’t have a global footprint either (but they do).

Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Hall of Fame Member, PGA of Canada: Perhaps the end goal is to own every professional sports league in the world and all the betting, TV rights and ticket sales that go with it. They already are invested in Football (Soccer), Formula One Racing, Motorsports, Cricket, Basketball, Rugby, Hockey, Wrestling and now golf. Their next foray into professional golf is to sell teams who will compete in a league, something I have promoted for years only my concept includes women players. And, they have the support of Trump who not only supports their endeavours but is lined up to buy a team. The point is they (The Saudis) believe you have to spend money to make money. In their case, it will be called the “Golden Rule”. Them with the gold call the rules.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): I think some people have convinced MBS that there’s a legitimate business model here that involves top golfers and team play and that it is the future of golf. If after five years, it doesn’t work, so what? It’s just a few billion. Not every investment pans out. In the meantime, LIV Golf will have intruded into another aspect of Western civilization, making the Saudis a force to be reckoned with and maybe will have “normalized” golf as a sport in Saudi Arabia for playing and/or watching. Sportswashing may be getting negative publicity now but after a few years it will largely be forgotten by most golf fans, as new sponsors get involved and especially if team play and new heroes emerge to engage audiences. It doesn’t interest me but I’m not in the demographic they’re after.

The Tour Championship is finally upon us with it’s awkward scoring system. Scottie Scheffler has the #1 seed and will start at -10 with the rest of the Top 30 lining up behind at varying strokes under par. Many of us have advocated for a different format but the PGA Tour seems to like this. Can it be tweaked or is it even worth salvaging? And who is your pick to walk away with the big cheque come Sunday at East Lake?

Deeks: Weird scoring, for sure.  I’d much rather see the Championship turned into a match play event.  The top players would be seeded, so that Scheffler would play #30 in his first match, Cam Smith would play #29, and so on. I realize match play isn’t great for TV, and there’s no guarantee that the cream will rise to the top, but if you take the position that all 30 ARE the “cream” of the year, then in the final analysis, the best man wins.  I think a match play victory would be far more rewarding (and possibly nail-biting) than just another 72-hole medal event.

Loughry: I don’t love the staggered start leaderboard, but it does simplify things for the audience. I think it will be interesting to see where Zalatoris finishes. He was supposed to start at 7 under but WD’d. So, does that mean he finishes 30th? I don’t know the answer and tried to find it. The big cheque chase is a two horse race for me, between Cantlay and Scheff. I give Scheffler the nod, he’s had an incredible year and would be great to see him finish strong.

Schurman: Problem with the play-offs is the format is designed by the players who have great regard for season-long performance. They want the winner to benefit greatly for having had a fine season. There’s nothing wrong with that belief in the first two events. Pay the prize money in those using a combined season-long points system combined with performance in each of those events. However, once at East Lake, the slate is wiped clean, and 30 players play off starting at zero for that purse just like in every other sport. You can gain home-field advantage for season-long performance and even a bye but once the final game starts, everyone is equal.

Mumford: As I’ve said for however many years they’ve perpetuated this fiasco, blow it up. I’d prefer to see all players start even for the Tour Championship or run it as a match play event. Two players head-to-head for $18 million is pretty compelling, no matter who they are. However, this emphasis on ever more money in the face of LIV Golf competition is obscene. At the end of the day, legacies will be judged on the basis of majors and titles won, not bank accounts. I like Patrick Cantlay to repeat at East Lake.

Tom Weiskopf passed away last week at the age of 79. The former player, broadcaster and course designer was always a prominent voice in golf, no matter the venue. What’s your best memory of Weiskopf and what is his legacy?

Deeks: As an 18-year-old starstruck kid, I was in an elevator with Tom at the time of the Canadian Open in 1968.  I said to him, “Welcome to Toronto, Mr. Weiskopf.”  He looked at me with a sideward glance, and without a hint of a smile, gave me an imperceptible nod, then looked back up at the floor numbers.  I said, “if you haven’t played it before, I think you’ll really like St. George’s.  It’s a great course.”  He kept looking at the numbers, which were clearly far more interesting, and said “yeah?”   Then left the elevator when it reached his floor, without a “thanks” or “see ya”. I don’t mean to speak ill of the recently departed, so I’ll leave my anecdote there.  He was a fine player, however.

Loughry: The man’s swing. All I remember was how effortless and perfect Weiskopf’s golf swing was. I’m not sure any player wouldn’t want his swing, today or yesteryear. I haven’t played any courses he designed, I don’t recall much of his broadcasting career, but I’d be shocked if he wasn’t primarily remembered for his swing.

Schurman: Great golf swing! Great player! Seemed to have the personality of someone troubled and/or tormented.

Mumford: When I heard the sad news, I was struck by the fact that Weiskopf is not in the World Golf Hall of Fame. With 16 wins including one major, he should be in solely based on the Freddie Couples standard. Add in his time as a broadcaster and his brilliant work as a course designer and the only reason I can think of for excluding him is the Lanny Wadkins exception. As players, both Tom and Lanny could be difficult with reporters (read: prickly), surely a conundrum given that both eventually became part of the media. Wadkins after a painful delay eventually did get into the Hall of Fame and I expect that Weiskopf will too, albeit posthumously. Possessed with one of the sweetest swings in golf, Tom seemed to be a tortured soul as a player when his results didn’t measure up to his exacting standards. Perhaps his perfectionist nature led to course design where he could be more in control. I’ve played a number of courses he designed with Jay Morrish and consider them among the best anywhere and very enjoyable to play.

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

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