CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA | As another round of rumors swirl about the super lucrative intentions of the proposed Premier Golf League – an idea that is winning points for persistence if nothing else – how close it is to becoming a reality remains the most vexing question.
With reports this week that Phil Mickelson has been offered $100 million to join the proposed international team golf league while others, including Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson and Adam Scott, are supposedly still considering eight-figure offers, the PGL is like a fire that can’t be fully extinguished.
As he tends to do, Rory McIlroy – who months ago said he has no interest in the new league – found the salient point again Tuesday.
“They first contacted me back in 2014, so this is seven years down the line, and nothing has really changed,” said McIlroy, the recently elected chairman of the PGA Tour’s Player Advisory Council.
“Maybe the source of the money’s changed or the people that are in charge have changed, but nothing has happened. No sponsorship deals, no media deals, no players have signed up, no manufacturers have signed up. There’s been so many iterations at this point.”
Depending on who’s talking, the PGL, or “Super League” as it is now sometimes called, has increased the intensity with which it is pursuing players, leading to the latest golf gossip. The concept is driven by Saudi money and, according to the agent of a prominent player being pursued, the budget is essentially unlimited. Leaders of the group rented a house in the Jupiter, Florida, area earlier this year to be closer to some of the players they are targeting.
“I personally am about being No. 1 in the world and winning as many majors as I can and winning as many tournaments as I can and doing historical things on the PGA Tour.” – Justin Thomas
The recently revealed Player Impact Program, which will divide $40 million annually to the players deemed to be the 10 most influential on the tour, is one countermand by the PGA Tour. Compensate needle-movers for being just that.
If the whole concept of the PGL (which would have as many as 18 worldwide events starting in the fall of 2022) seems unlikely, that doesn’t mean it can be ignored. Quite the opposite.
The PGA Tour and the European Tour understand the threat. What would they be without the top 40 or 50 players in the world, which is the dream scenario for the PGL?
Tuesday evening at Quail Hollow Club, where the Wells Fargo Championship is being played this week, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan addressed the issue with players in a previously scheduled player meeting.
He made the point that players are free to follow their own paths but any player who signs with the PGL would be suspended from the PGA Tour, perhaps permanently. Monahan read the tour bylaws – written by the players – which spell out the reality of jumping leagues.
“You have to protect what you have. It’s a competitive threat and Jay took us through it (Tuesday) night,” McIlroy said. “If I were in charge of the PGA Tour, I would do the same thing.”
There are so many unanswered questions about the potential impact of the PGL.
Would PGL players be eligible for the major championships?
Augusta National and the PGA of America issued statements Tuesday expressing their support for the PGA and European Tours, with the PGA saying the current professional golf structure is in the best long-term interest of the game.
Would PGL players be eligible for the Ryder Cup?
What about Official World Golf Ranking points?
What about their current sponsorship deals?
Where would they play?
It’s intriguing enough to keep some players on the line.
For a player in the twilight of his career, maybe taking $20 or $30 million is a good idea, committing to three years in the PGL and a nice cushioned ride into the sunset.
When asked Tuesday by ESPN and the Golf Channel about his name being linked to the group, Phil Mickelson chose his words carefully, noting the PGL concept would require players to tee it up in every event versus picking their schedule now.
“That’s a big deal to give up control of your schedule,” he said. “I don’t know if the players would be selfless enough to do that. But every other sport, the entity or teams or leagues control the schedule. The players kind of play where they are told to play. Whereas here, we’re able to control it.”
“It’s a complicated issue, but I just don’t see at this point how it can get going.” – Rory McIlroy
For the PGL to succeed, it must be built on stars and not just a few of them. If, say, McIlroy, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Dustin Johnson, Collin Morikawa, Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau aren’t interested, what does that say for the new initiative?
“I personally am about being No. 1 in the world and winning as many majors as I can and winning as many tournaments as I can and doing historical things on the PGA Tour,” Thomas said. “If I was to go do (the PGL), then all those things go down the drain and I can’t do that.”
The fact that the PGL continues to have life, maybe even a strengthening pulse, speaks to the commitment of the people behind the concept. The question is whether money – even silly money – is enough to change not just careers but history.
“It’s a complicated issue, but I just don’t see at this point how it can get going,” McIlroy said. “And the possibility that people, if they do go in that direction, can’t play in the biggest tournaments in the game?
“The game of golf, whether it’s a right thing or a wrong thing, is so about history – we still talk about Gene Sarazen and Walter Hagen and Ben Hogan and all those guys because that’s what this game is. It’s steeped in history and the legacies that those guys have. If you move further away from that, you’re basically losing the essence of what competitive golf is.”
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