The $40 million loser, Tour wars …. and more

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 his unauthorized biography, Phil Mickelson lost an estimated $40 million on gambling between 2010 and 2014. Presumably, he could afford it as he earned approximately $40 million per year during that period. What’s your take on Phil’s gambling and these huge losses?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): I don’t care how rich you are. Losing $40 million on gambling suggests to me you have a serious addiction and need serious help. But even worse, it says you’re a selfish SOB who doesn’t consider all the good that that $40 million could have done for people and communities far less fortunate than you.

Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): Meh, doesn’t surprise me. Phil is Phil, its his money and life, and he’s clearly showed he’ll do whatever he wants. I’m not a huge Phil fan, never really have been. I appreciate his talent, but other than that, I have no interest in his off-course endeavors.

Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Hall of Fame Member, PGA of Canada: The problem with gambling at this level is your circle of friends who tend to be attracted by these numbers. Phil has been fined for insider trading, had serious discussions with the state of Ca regarding tax issues, according to of the younger players (Ricky Fowler) Phil enticed them into some big money games in practise rounds, he lost his Titleist sponsorship for statements made that were unbecoming and now he has sided with the Saudis. Take the $40M, deduct the tax, deduct the private jet, deduct all the personal servants and employees/hangers-on and you get a balance of about $10M. Once you extract the $10M cost of gambling the balance is zero. Now, consider how he pays his way when he has just lost $30M/year in sponsorship. Phil is in for some serious downsizing in 2023 after he goes through the $30M for the Saudis. As I have said many times before “I am not a fan of Phil’s”. Now, the TOUR has aligned themselves with gambling sponsors. It’s a question of time until a player, a caddy or a fan attempts to alter the outcome of a tournament. How we will long for Bobby Jones who lost the US Open by calling a penalty on himself.

TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): That’s bananas, no matter how much money you have. I understand the love of gambling, but does he never win? That’s a whole lot of losing, unless he’s actually betting hundreds of millions and losing a small percentage, in which case, he’s got a major problem. Add that to his media issues of late, and you can see why he wants to distance himself from the Tour for a while. It will be interesting to see him at the PGA!

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): Obviously, talent in one area doesn’t carry over to another. Phil is a terrible gambler. For a guy that likes everybody to believe he’s the smartest guy in the room, if the stories about his gambling losses are true, he’s about the dumbest guy around – in a room or not.

Over 170 PGA Tour and DP World Tour players, including 19 of the World Top 100, have asked for a release to play in the first LIV Golf event on June 10th in England. Do the numbers and prestige of the players on that list alter your view of the start-up LIV Series and its chances for success?

Deeks: Nope. Not a whit. It’ll be interesting to see if a TV network covers the event, and if so, what the ratings are. But I won’t be watching if it’s on.

Loughry: The number of players is more than I thought it would be, and this indicates a genuine threat to the PGA Tour and the DPWT as well. It really matters who actually tees it up June 10 in England. I think that will show us where the LIV Series is truly at.

Schurman: I told you so! You think money doesn’t matter? Think again. The only difference is we haven’t seen it in golf before. And wait until the PGL announces their plans. We might see the day when a PGA TOUR event has 50 to 75 players in the field playing for $20M.

Rule: I suppose it surprises me a bit, but then again, how does the PGA Tour’s latest stance affect those numbers for the first event? They certainly aren’t giving up, and there’s more merit to the new tour than I had originally given it credit. So yeah, my view has been sufficiently altered. I still hope the Canadian Open gets a better field that week!

Mumford: The number one job of every professional golfer is to make a living for he and his family and eventually provide lifetime security for them. LIV Golf has secured another $2 billion in funding which is enough to keep the spigot open for many years. Even though the PGA Tour and DP World Tour have refused to grant releases, some players will view the opportunity to make life changing money and play fewer events as too good to ignore. Many Europeans that have established reputations like Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter, Martin Kaymer and others may just say, “Thanks for the memories PGA Tour but I don’t need you anymore.” This will likely end up in court with some players testing the Tour’s ruling. While everybody is fighting, suing and distressing about loyalty and change, some LIV players are still going to make a lot of money.

One of the big concerns the PGA Tour has with rival leagues is the reduction in star power for their own events. If the Tour can’t deliver the biggest names because they’re playing elsewhere, sponsors will be less inclined to write the big cheques. However, in the past few weeks, we have seen very weak fields without any outside competition. The Wells Fargo Championship only had two players in the World Top 20. While all players are considered independent contractors, the Tour can’t function well if the big names only show up for majors and enough other cherry-picked tournaments to meet the minimum requirements. Do you see a solution to ensure stronger fields and greater participation from the top players?

Deeks: I suppose the Tour needs to make the minimum number of mandatory events a little higher, but they have to be careful. Introduce and enforce tougher appearance rules could backfire, and make the players believe they’re not really independent contractors after all… and with the LIV option available, more high calibre players might start looking at it. My hope is that LIV won’t attract enough big names for anyone to care, and it’ll die a fairly rapid death. (I just don’t like the thought of two competing tours, one of which is backed by dirty money.)

Loughry: Star power and quality of fields has been an issue with the Tour for decades. Another opportunity or league would make it worse, and this would absolutely cost the Tour in partnership/sponsorship money. People have said for years there are too many Tour events, but the Tour doesn’t want to admit that or that some of their events are weak. If the Tour had fewer events with larger purses (sound like LIV GOLF), it would ensure all the top players would show. That’s the only solution I see.

Schurman: Sergio Garcia might have said it best last week when he openly said “I can hardly wait to get off this Tour” meaning the USPGA TOUR. It is a monopoly once you can play at the highest level. There simply isn’t another source of money to play for and it is totally regulated/controlled by the PGA TOUR. Currently, players must play in every event once every 3 years except those with +20 lifetime victories. Strangely, these are the guys the sponsors want. Answer? Jay Monahan at over $6M/year is close to the leading money winner for a reason. Let’s see what he comes up with and it had better be more than “You will play where I tell you to play, when I tell you to play”.

Rule: Now that’s a tough question! I’m not at that pay grade thankfully, but Jay Monahan and his team certainly have a lot of work to do to just maintain the Tour’s place in the sports landscape, let alone grow. But let’s be honest, the tour has always had a number of tiers for their tournaments, so you’ll always have your John Deere and Wells Fargo tournaments. They still draw big corporate dollars and donate a lot of money to charity, so you have to still think they are a success. It also gives other players a chance to make a name for themselves and earn their way into that top echelon of players. So, I don’t think there is a major issue compared to past years, their big challenge right now is obviously the LIV series.

Mumford: The PGA Tour got greedy and expanded its schedule way beyond its ability to have strong fields on a weekly basis. The solution is to cut back to 30-32 events including majors, expand purses and introduce bonuses that incent players to participate. There’s nothing wrong with having a few “off” weeks mid-season to give players a chance to recharge either. The Fall could be used for a qualifying Tour or just time off. They could change some of the formats. It looks like there’s plenty of loyalty to the PGA Tour and lots of cash available; they just need to deliver a better product.

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

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