Safe to say none of us saw 2023 coming.
“Turbulent” is a gentle way of describing last season. Golf at the highest level seems hellbent on cutting itself off at the knees and turning away fans with its unseemly lean into monetary greed. The warring factions of the PGA Tour and LIV Golf have proved to be worse at brokering peace than they are at governing themselves. Many players have made it very clear that the primary thing that matters to them is money – not legacy and certainly not the fans whose interest presumably makes them valuable commodities in the first place. Money is literally tearing the game apart.
It’s hard to understand why golfers believe they’re worth more than marquee athletes in other sports, but this is what an unreasonable infusion of Saudi money has created. Golf is not the same kind of season-long economic generator in communities like major-league franchises. It is certainly not a ratings monster like the NFL, and nobody on tour is dating the ubiquitous Taylor Swift. Yet golfers seem to think they deserve Patrick Mahomes or Shohei Ohtani money. Even the rank-and-file feel entitled to a larger cut than would seem reasonable.
A well-kept muni course would seem to be more valuable to a community than an annual tour or LIV event. Golf as a game is healthy; as a sport it’s broken.
Last January, after dusting off the crystal ball from my newspaper days, I resumed the effort to predict what might happen in a golf season unlike any other. My forecast was mostly wrong, save for evaluations of LIV Golf …
But many of us still love and care about the legacies forged each year at places such as Pebble Beach, Riviera, Bay Hill, Sawgrass, Harbour Town, Muirfield Village, Colonial and East Lake. We care who etches their names on major trophies at storied venues from Augusta National to Royal Troon. We care about seeing players at the highest level harness everything that makes golf such a beautiful and vexing game and win something that means more than a paycheck.
Last January, after dusting off the crystal ball from my newspaper days, I resumed the effort to predict what might happen in a golf season unlike any other. My forecast was mostly wrong, save for evaluations of LIV Golf not signing any big names last season, not getting OWGR points, not winning its DP World hearing, buying only a tepid TV deal, and LIV’s Patrick Reed not getting to court with his frivolous lawsuit.
The competitive prognostications came up laughably short, with only Europe celebrating another Solheim Cup victory keeping me from getting skunked (and even that prediction was for a win instead of the tie that merely retained the trophy). In fairness, who could have foreseen Wyndham Clark and Brian Harman emerging or Brooks Koepka resurging? Jon Rahm did win a major, but not the PGA as I’d guessed.
But golf’s no-good-very-bad year and my in-kind effort to predict it doesn’t mean it’s time to quit. With 2024 promising to be just as wild of a ride, here’s my effort to see who will come out the other side as the new year’s biggest winners and losers:
LOSER: Jay Monahan. At this point, it’s hard to imagine the PGA Tour commissioner surviving the year at the helm. Not when someone such as Viktor Hovland is saying management has done “a bad job.” It’s too bad, because Monahan is a good guy who genuinely wants to do what’s right for his constituents. But Jon Rahm’s defection might have been the last straw as disenfranchised and dissatisfied players probably will prevail and demand new leadership.
WINNER: LIV Golf. It’s highly doubtful that signing Rahm and whatever handful of players who follow him (Tyrrell Hatton, Wyndham Clark, Cameron Young?) toward the cash will have any effect on the rival tour’s popularity. The product, unless it changes dramatically, is still unwatchable, as the ratings prove. But the PGA Tour is likely going to have to swallow its pride and let LIV players return in some fashion. They won’t be welcome, but they will eventually get access.
LOSER: Patrick Cantlay. If reports are accurate that the dour Cantlay is indeed steering the Policy Board ship on behalf of the game’s elite players, it’s going to create deep unrest among the rank and file. Has he taken over as golf’s least popular Patrick? Not sure he’ll fare as well as Reed trying to wear that as a badge of honor.
WINNER: Rory McIlroy. The Northern Irishman’s moral compass points truer than most of his peers, and now that he’s withdrawn from leading the tour’s leaky ship there’s legitimate hope that it might steer him to on-course success after a nine-year drought in majors.
WINNER: Majors. With rifts remaining between the PGA Tour and LIV and growing between the haves and have-nots courtesy of more limited-field events, the four biggest tournaments stand alone as the last true championships in golf that remain uncorrupted by greed. They might be the only events left that golf fans truly care about.
WINNERS: McIlroy (Masters), Hovland (Players and PGA Championship), Will Zalatoris (U.S. Open), Rahm (Open Championship), Ludwig Åberg (Olympic gold) and Xander Schauffele (FedEx Cup) will collect the big prizes. Team USA will sweep the Solheim and Presidents cups.
WINNERS: Women’s golf. By year’s end, the LPGA/LET could be affiliated with the Saudi Public Investment Fund, injecting more money than the women ever thought they’d play for on tour. Potential ’24 major winners: Minjee Lee, Megan Kang, Alison Lee, Linn Grant and Maja Stark.
LOSERS: Tour events. Sponsors and tournament organizers are being unreasonably asked to fork over more money to maintain staggering purses. Wells Fargo, the nation’s fourth-largest bank, already has balked at the price tag and they won’t be the last as more will refuse to foot the bill for keeping players enriched while ratings either stagnate or decline. It’s unsustainable unless the Saudis buy their way in.
LOSERS: Charities. With tournaments asked to sustain higher purses, it stands to reason that less will be left over to benefit local charities.
WINNER: Tiger Woods. I’m not going to go so far as to predict a 48-year-old Tiger is going to win a tournament in 2024 and break his tie with Sam Snead … but I’m not going to say he can’t, either. Tiger looked and sounded healthier and happier in his December return to competition and hopes to make starts as often as monthly this year. That’s victory enough for all of us.
WINNERS: Players of the year – Hovland and Minjee Lee. Rookies of the year – Pierceson Coody and Gabi Ruffels. Comeback players of the year – Justin Thomas and Lexi Thompson. Busts of the year – Cantlay and Danielle Kang
© 2024 Global Golf Post LLC
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