Is big money enough to fuel another upstart pro Tour?

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.

[Editor’s note: Congratulations to our fellow panelist Michael Schurman, who was inducted into the PGA of Canada Hall of Fame last week.]

At a PGA Tour player’s meeting last week, discussion focused on the Premier Golf League, a potential upstart international tour featuring 18 limited field events and ten million-dollar purses. The PGL allegedly has Saudi money behind it and seeks to carve out a niche for elite players on the PGA Tour and European Tour. Some players have expressed interest, but most are taking a wait and see attitude. Is there any way this League gets off the ground?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): Two answers, take yer pick…. Yes, the PGL gets off the ground because they’re promising an obscene amount of (presumably unlimited) money, and most PGA Tour stars are obscenely greedy for more… even though most are already wealthy beyond their wildest dreams.  No, the PGL doesn’t have a chance because the existing Tour will find ways of sweetening the pot, while creating golden handcuffs (i.e. sanctions) to keep the players in the current structure.  I realize that the PGL has (presumably unlimited) Saudi money behind it, but that also creates personal reputation liabilities for players who jump ship… not that that matters to some of the greedier boys.  I’m not a great fan of the PGA Tour (too secret, too unwilling to change), but I hope this PGL dies on the vine.  It would NOT be good for the game.

Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): If the PGL backers have deep enough pockets it can work. The challenge is twofold, finding partners willing to share in the business model, which will likely lose money the first few years, and secondly global exposure/interest. If the money is there, the players will come, although it might limit their starts in Majors (if this tour is accepted for World Rankings, etc.). I’m a bit skeptical it will even get off the ground, so I’ll be like most of those players, wait with interest and see what’s next.

Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Hall of Fame Member, PGA of Canada: MLB, NFL, NHL are examples of rogue leagues starting-up, becoming strong competition and forcing amalgamation. I wrote in this blog on Dec 17/18 and Mar 22/19 predicting this precise threat to the PGA TOUR. I think a world tour where either cities or countries fielded teams made up of men and women playing in a Ryder Cup type of competition over season-long series schedule would be a great draw. 24 players per team (16 men and 8 women), better ball, scotch foursome, scramble and head-to-head. 20 teams in 4 divisions with an elimination play-off. Trade of players, performance-based pay of 40% of the salary ‘cap’ combined with a salary taken from the remaining 60%, free agency, drafts, etc. Just like all other sports. Conduct the 20-week schedule from Sept to Mar (including play-offs) following the sun around the world. Continue to run the current majors and USPGA TOUR events March to Sept.

Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): Golf’s problem is not that there aren’t enough tournaments. If anything, there are way too many to begin with. Adding another pro tour on top of the PGA and Euro tour is only going to create more saturation. Golf’s problems are pace of play and monotony in the broadcast booth, and there’s no amount of Saudi money that can solve them.

TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): Call me a skeptic, but I don’t see it happening.  Or is this a similar venture to the XFL?  Ultimately players are going to want to play the majors and other big tournaments on the PGA Tour, and Jay Monahan’s comments saying players can’t play both seems to have drawn a firm line in the sand.

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: As we’ve said before at the Table, this is deja vu all over again. Every time a slight variation on Greg Norman’s original theme surfaces, he must feel like drop kicking Tim Finchem. But the time for Norman’s heretical call for emancipation has passed. The serfs are now free to play for ungawdly sums each week somewhere on planet golf. The Saudis may have the stomach to hyper inflate the pots for the hoped-for PR effect of a PGL, but there is little appetite (or need) anywhere else.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): The PGL is like having 18 more Hero World Challenges – 18 events for gobs of money and titles that don’t mean anything. It’s inconceivable they get all the top players they’re after, and without them, I think it’s DOA. However, if Tiger commits to the PGL, then all bets are off.

Rory McIlroy made some comments about the PGL, suggesting, “It might be a catalyst for some changes on this Tour that can help it grow and move forward. You know, reward the top players the way they should be.” Do you think the top players should get a larger share of the purse each week?

Deeks: No, I don’t.  Call me jealous because I don’t make half of one percent of what the top players make in a season (mind you, I AM retired), but I think the money they make is already obscene, in the scheme of things.  Giving the players a larger share just gives the top 25 less incentive to play and win.  If I know I can finish in 20th spot and still make, say, $500,000 for the week, I’m not going to try to hit that 265-yard shot over the water to make an eagle and win the tournament, or frankly, any other risky shot from Thursday to Sunday.

Loughry: The purses on the PGA Tour are already top heavy, so the only thing they can do is raise purses or further make the purse distribution even more top heavy. I did see they raised the purse for the Players Championship to $15M, I doubt that was coincidental as news of the PGL came out the same week. But increasing purses in the short term is a tough task, because they already have multi-year contracts in place with many host organizations and partners. They might also risk losing current partners because they are asking too much. Maybe that’s just the squeeze the PGL will create for the current PGA Tour, time will tell. Probably inevitable that this would come up, with just two major Golf Tours existing, there might be room for something more globally.

Schurman: This was Jack Nicklaus’ theory. If and when a player wins, the purse should reflect the accomplishment. Being silly, why not make it 1st, 2nd and 3rd for all the ‘marbles’ like they did 100 years ago? Or, better yet ‘challenge matches’ with the players occasionally putting up their own money like Tom Morris? BTW every fan comes to see a variety of players, not just one or two.

Kaplan: Absolutely not. LOL. They already make so much money as is, even the guys who make cuts but never win. I truly have no idea what McIlroy could possibly be alluding to.

Rule: To be honest, I don’t!  The top players make plenty of money and even more off the course, so they aren’t suffering.  The distribution of purses gives the chance for others to make a living playing on tour.  It’s hard enough to make it to the tour, don’t punish guys once they get there if they aren’t top 25 in the world!

Quinn: It’s not difficult to see Rory’s point. Marc Leishman barely collected US$1.35 Million for winning the Farmers and for his T3 Rory his-ownself left San Diego with a paltry US$442,500. Come on people! The touring independent contractors’ own event has a pot of only US$15M, and the winner only gets US$2.7M of that. And the Tour Championship winner must be embarrassed to cash just US$15M for all that effort. Damn straight, Rory! Or maybe he said that the top players are the charities — the Tour’s ‘charity’ Sherman Anti-Trust law dodge that allows the Tour to live on the backs of the volunteers — and those charities should get a much larger share and be paid “the way they should be.” Stupid fake news must have misquoted him.

Mumford: Nothing worse than watching a tournament where everybody is playing it safe. First, change the cut to low 50 and ties, then pay the winner 40% of the pot and the rest of the Top 10 another 40%. Finally, create two more categories where positions 11-25 split 15% EVENLY and positions 26-50 split 5% EVENLY. Hopefully that would create more of a shootout atmosphere, for the cut, the various payout levels and to win. Winners would win big.

Tiger Woods began his season last week at the Farmers Insurance Open, where he finished T9. How do you expect Tiger to fare in 2020 and is another major in the cards for him?

Deeks: Man, what a great question!  Will Tiger continue to astound, or will he begin a slow decline into “there he goes, son… the man who used to be the greatest of all time” …?   I dunno… I suspect he’ll contend in at least two majors this year, but I just don’t think he’ll win.

Loughry: I expect him to be a little rusty the first few starts, but then have a good season overall. He looked good winning in Japan obviously, and at the President’s Cup. Some time off will add a little rust, but he’ll get some reps in and be ready for March. A Major? I think its very possible at Augusta. He just has the game and more importantly the knowledge there, and I think he does it and repeats. The other venues I just don’t see fitting well: Royal St. George’s (Open), PGA Championship (TPC Harding Park), and US Open (Winged Foot). But you can bet I’ll be rooting for TW in all four.

Schurman: Predicting anything Tiger will or won’t do is taking a chance. But I like the ‘new’ Tiger course management. He is playing get the ball into the fairway from the tee which I like. He has always been a great iron player. The question will be his short game. Going out on a limb I’ll say yes! At least one major.

Kaplan: I’m not expecting another major for Tiger but, to be fair, I wasn’t exactly expecting one from him this past season either. If Tiger stays limber, the sky is the limit. Half of the recipe for success in golf is feeling abundantly confident in yourself and your ability to outperform your opponents, and as we saw for the better part of two decades with Tiger—going all the way back to his amateur career—he simply cannot be beaten when he gets into that mindset. If that swagger continues into late March, all bets are off!

Rule: I think Tiger is now one of the top players in the world again, as long as he stays healthy, which is a big question mark every week!  I’m not sure I expect too much from him this week after so much time off, but Torrey is a place where he always plays well, so you never know.  As for a major, I expect him to be in contention at least twice this year, and perhaps pull one out, let’s hope so, resume the talk of catching Jack’s 18!

Quinn: No. Although he keeps surgeons in business, makes the broadcast of every event he shows up for a frustratingly boring one-man TV show, and gives the talking heads carpel tunnel syndrome from excessive genuflecting, can’t see anything Major happening.

Mumford: Anytime Tiger wants something he usually gets it. I suspect he wants to be on the US Olympic Team and would relish a gold medal as a fitting piece of his legacy. His first hurdle is to be one of the Top 4 Americans in the Official World Golf Rankings on selection day (June 22nd). To do that, he’ll need to rack up a lot of ranking points, and as he always says, “It’s all about the W’s”. I suspect he pushes himself more than usual until the US Open in order to qualify, then pretty much shuts it down for the rest of the season, except the Open Championship, FedEx Cup and Ryder Cup). Prediction: a couple of wins and one more major.

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

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