The Round Table: LIV Golf, Will Zalatoris 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.

Round One of the legal battle between LIV Golf and the PGA Tour goes to the Tour as the judge did not issue a Temporary Restraining Order allowing three LIV golfers into the FedEx Cup playoffs. From here we wait months, maybe years, as this plays out. In the interim, it seems there is bad blood developing between players on both sides. Is there a path back for the players that jumped if one day they decide that LIV isn’t for them?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): I don’t see a path unless the PGA Tour decides to pave one… and I don’t that will happen, ever, and I hope it doesn’t.  Fortunately for a few of the renegades, who are past champions in some of the majors, they’ll probably be able to play again in those tournaments (unless the majors change their eligibility rules, which I don’t think would be very fair.)

Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Hall of Fame Member, PGA of Canada: Jay M, the PGA TOUR Players and all concerned parties should remember it is very difficult to unring a bell. There is no reason for animosity! Simply respect the fact that everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Currently, the PGA TOUR doesn’t know what they are dealing with. Some players have forsaken their membership and that’s an easy call; they are no longer members. Some have signed with L1V and kept their PGA TOUR membership. Even though they are suspended, they are still members and they do have rights. The bigger problem is yet to come. What if another 25 of the top 125 left after East Lake? The PGA TOUR has TV contracts and sponsors contracts to provide the best players. Let’s face it, the top 10 on the PGA TOUR are making big money but the remainder do OK but they’d do a lot better with L1V. As for a path to return, we can’t even agree on a path to leave.

TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): That’s a great question and one that all players have to consider when making the move.  You’d think they would be eating a healthy slice of humble pie if they came back with their tail between their legs asking for a second chance.  And will they have to re-qualify for the Tour?  We’re a long way from that happening, so lots to consider in the meantime.  I just don’t like how it has divided the sport.  Then again, maybe a PGA Tour vs LIV team event would create some good entertainment?

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: No, not if they’ve deposited the signing bonuses into their offshore accounts. They can’t crawl back as multi-millionaires whining that they miss the competition. As my hero Homer Simpson would say: “Done and done.”

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): I’d bet that if DJ or Koepka said they made a mistake, gave back the oil money and asked nicely to return now, the PGA Tour would welcome the “prodigal sons” back and use them as an example of why nobody else should jump to LIV. Great PR for the Tour. As time goes on and relations become ever more strained, the pathway back won’t get any easier. Even a negotiated truce between LIV Golf and the PGA Tour will be difficult as some players (see Billy Horschel) aren’t prepared to forgive and forget.

One of the things that came out during the court hearings is that LIV was never intended as a competitor to the PGA Tour, rather a complementary entertainment product featuring team play, 54 holes, no cuts etc. LIV Golf likens their business model to Formula 1 racing. If you suspend all the diatribe about Saudi money, loyalty and greed, is there an alternate business model for pro golf that fans could embrace.

Deeks: “A complementary entertainment product”?  Lord, give me a break.  Surely the appropriate adjective is “competitive”.   How can you be complementary when you A. sign players to a contract and B. force them to play in all 14 events on the schedule, many of which compete with existing PGA Tour events?  As for an alternate business model… yes, there used to be one: it was called the “silly season”, following the regular Tour season, and featured “complementary entertainment products like The World Series of Golf, the Three-Tour Challenge, and the Skins Game.  Granted, you had to “earn” an invitation to these things, and they had very limited fields, but if you were good enough, and personable enough, chances are you’d get to play and earn some extra money.  Less opportunity for “spending extra time with [your] family”, though.

Schurman: Of course, there is! It’s called “The Silly Season”. The PGA TOUR runs from the second week in January through to the end of September. That leaves Oct, Nov, Dec for something else just it used to be when people didn’t know anything. Haha. MLB players join clubs in the winter leagues in their home country, and NBA players play in winter leagues. NHL players play tournaments all summer. Why is this different?

Rule: I’m not sure there is anything that would grab much of my attention to be honest.  I like the history of the game, the long running tournaments, the formats.  I guess there could be something that came along that changes my mind, but the LIV events don’t interest me in the slightest, having watched a little bit of it over the first few events.  It just doesn’t feel like real competition.  But maybe there’s another product that comes along and competes for my golf viewing minutes.

Quinn: No (apologies for repeating myself). The arcade driving ranges that now have bars and restaurants and shot tracers and illuminated targets; the courses that are OK with loud music blasting from the carts; the courses that are OK with ‘players’ wearing whateverthef@#ktheywant as long as the credit card clears; that’s what this generation wants out of the game. They have no desire to sit and watch a bunch of guys drenched in oil money playing for more oil money to music they don’t like in front of ‘fans’ they’d never spend a moment with. All other possible alternate models to the PGA Tour and the collection of the Majors have to deal with that reality. The diehards and traditionalists are dying off, but the new kids love the Majors and the Tour stars. Be nice if their kids have players to look up to too.

Mumford: Many of us were inspired to play golf after watching Jack Nicklaus or Arnold Palmer. Maybe years from now, the team concept will have caught on to the point that kids grow up wanting to play “team golf.” Now, however, there is nothing in LIV Golf that inspires people to learn or play the game. It is purely an entertainment play, loosely adapted to historical professional tournaments. As many have pointed out, it’s a pale imitation of the real thing and really only about money. And the emphasis on team play further reduces the attraction of individual stars. Faced with a choice of watching Team Red Bull in a 54-hole shotgun start or Rory vs Rambo at the Open Championship, not hard to know where I’d be.

Will Zalatoris capped his first PGA Tour win on Sunday after a three-hole playoff against Sepp Straka. During the tournament, he alleged that he was one of the best putters on Tour, even if evidence from the past would indicate otherwise. In the past two years, he’s been a factor in multiple majors and often a contender in regular events too. If Zalatoris has solved his putting woes to go along with his exceptional ball striking, what’s his upside?

Deeks: Good for Zalatoris, who’s one of the more colourful young guys to come along in recent years.  But he’s got a lot more winning and contending to do before I’ll regard him as a bona fide star with staying power.  Having a hot putter for a couple of weeks does not make you one of the best putters on Tour.  Just ask Jordan Spieth.

Schurman: Before answering the question, one thing I don’t understand is why one player has the ‘honour’ on every hole in a playoff. Why don’t they alternate on each successive hole? Also, how is it possible two of the finest players in the world miss the green with a PW? Zalatoris hit his ball into a lie I have never seen before and Straka steps up and misses the world. Part of the reason is technology. Clubs are not designed to play golf shots and balls fly too far and too straight. The result is the players aim and smash. Nobody thinks the shot might be a 3/4 nine iron past the flag to the bigger part of the green. As for Will Z, think of him as a growing youth. His body might mature before his mind and emotions. In Will’s golf game, his ball striking matured before his putting, but he is working extremely hard to improve and he will. BTW, he just finished his first year.

Rule: Well, he’s currently 103rd on Tour in putting, so I’m not sure where he gets away with saying he’s one of the best putters on Tour.  But regardless, he’s not the worst either I guess.  But if he could somehow improve his putting stats, he could challenge for best player in the world.  His results in the majors over the years suggests he’s a great high-pressure player, and that bodes well for a long and fruitful career.

Quinn: Well, bet Norman thinks he’s at least a $100 M-Man. The social media meltdown of his coach over the Dan Hicks and Brad Faxon on-air comments about his putting was comical, but he really has refined that fairly critical part of his incredible game (with that upright swing). If he stays on the Tour, he should win some Majors.

Mumford: He’s an exciting rookie and his first win is encouraging but I’d want to see a lot more evidence before anointing him the “next” anything. Major leaderboards are littered with names of young players who almost got it done once or twice, then fell into obscurity. Zalatoris looks better than that and if he has solved his putting issues, then maybe he has a great future. Let’s check again in a few years.

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

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