PGA Tour, LIV Golf battle enters Star Wars ‘Return of the Jedi’ phase

ATLANTA — Just over six months have passed between Phil Mickelson bragging that players have “leverage” on the PGA Tour and the revelation Wednesday at East Lake Golf Club that proved the greatest leverage belonged to those who remained, whose loyalty rose in value as the pace of defections to the Saudi-funded LIV Golf series accelerated.

As Tour Commissar Jay Monahan fought to fence off and then rally his troops in an effort to destroy the Evil Empire’s (or Kingdom’s) Death Star, the price of player loyalty rose. exponentially. The final bill he received isn’t cheap, but still represents hellish value considering the alternative he faced.

For not much more commitment, the best players get a lot more rewards: vastly increased purses, often fewer guys to beat for the money, huge bonus programs that aren’t dependent on performance, and an opportunity to benefit from the substantial adjacent wealth surrounding golf, such as owning equity in the innovative digital stadium concept announced today by Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy.

It’s the mantra of all commissioners – admittedly there have only been four – that the PGA Tour is a member-driven organization. This has been theoretically true, but only to the extent players want to get involved. Most didn’t because they saw no compelling reason to distract themselves from the grind of competition, where their money was being made. But when gaming stars became a sought-after asset class, decisions had to be made. Some chose to cut and run for the Saudi money, others to stay and fight, as much against the structure and complacency of their own Tour as against LIV.

Wednesday showed that the biggest names on the Tour have cemented their position at the top of the food chain.

“We’re all kind of our own little independent businesses and we’re kind of trying to compete with each other, and I think this is the first time in a long time where we kind of all sat down and said, let’s try to be business partners,” McIlroy said. “How can we all pull in the same direction here to benefit everyone and to help the whole Tour and to help each other fundamentally.”

AFTER: 5 Things We Learned From Jay Monahan’s ‘State of the Tour’
MONDAY NIGHT GOLF: Tiger and Rory started a new series

As with any workplace, the Tour has always had a schism between the Have Nots and the Have Yachts, with each side regularly grumbling that money headed the other way should by right go to them instead. The new future described by Monahan will do little to bridge the gap. That was clear at a PGA Tour board meeting on Tuesday, when player-member James Hahn was the only dissenting voice to the new structure that was duly ratified.

In a member-driven organization, Hahn’s voice matters as much as Woods’, no matter how many extra fans rush for their remotes when Tiger performs. But Wednesday’s unveiling was a long-awaited acknowledgment by the PGA Tour that its business cannot be based on placating a band of well-paid members for relative mediocrity. Every major sports league is built around the stars who drive engagement and revenue. Fans and sponsors are waiting for it. The PGA Tour is finally moving to guarantee the product it offers both.

There will be complaints about the new dispensation, of course, some of which are defensible. This creates a tournament caste system as those not elevated to star status struggle to attract convincing champs. The use of the controversial Player Impact program to define the “top” players eligible for lucrative events throws a lifeline for struggling fan favorites (like Rickie Fowler) that other criteria – the World Golf Rankings – do not. wouldn’t do.

To defuse dissent, there is a concession to those working below decks on the good ship Tiger: a guaranteed minimum of $500,000 per year to cover costs associated with competition. Manna for some, meaningless for most. You’ll have to scroll through 164 names on this season’s money list to find a player who hasn’t reached that earnings threshold.

But the sauce does not flow until the development of the Korn Ferry Tour, the main route to the main circuit. There was also no news on the rapid tracking of top amateurs on the Tour. That leaves an opening for LIV to grab the rising talent pool, but that would require a talent development strategy rather than paying a premium for established stars. There’s no real proof of this long-term LIV game plan.

For all the specificities proposed, questions remain. Monahan said none of the star-studded Tour stops will be held outside the United States, suggesting he has scrapped plans for three lucrative overseas events. This risks leaving the world stage to LIV and turning the PGA Tour into a predominantly American business that exports content rather than the game. These are issues the Tour will have to address.

The idea that the guys who left for LIV will feel buyer’s remorse and look longingly at the bountiful paradise that Monahan promised his stars today is probably overblown. Most would simply not benefit from the new Tour system for reasons of eroded competitiveness, physical frailty or apathy. Not that they will have a choice. Monahan was asked if he would lift the suspension of a LIV player who wanted to get off the Saudis and get back in the saddle with his former colleagues.

“No,” he said flatly. “As I’ve been clear throughout, every player has a choice, and I respect their choice, but they made it. We made ours.

In the case of Cameron Smith, it all depends on whether the choice has already been made. Rumors suggest that the world number 2 will soon move to LIV. Today’s announcement makes his advertised price – $100 million – seem like a low yield considering what a player of his caliber could earn on the PGA Tour in the years to come, and without the prejudice of reputation that accompanies taking guaranteed money to wash away Saudi atrocities. But on a single word these decisions turn. In this case, that word is “win”.

About Wanda Reilly

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