“Free agency is finally coming to golf,” Greg Norman proclaimed at LIV Golf’s debut last month.
“I feel so happy that we have introduced free will into the game of golf,” he said on another occasion.
To hear Pat Perez, one of LIV’s signers, say he was saved from being a contract servant with the PGA Tour – despite earning over $28 million in his career.
“I missed the birth of my son last year. On August 18, I received a call from my wife who was going to give birth. I am in Jersey. I’m getting ready to start the FedEx playoffs. I am 116 on the list. I can’t leave. I can’t miss it. I can’t come back. I can’t get there and back without spending 150,000,000 on a private flight. I do not do it. So I had to suck it and I had to miss the birth of my son,” Perez said. “And, you know, luckily I made the cut and progressed in my status by playing well, but it still sucked.”
The only thing is that Perez didn’t have to miss the birth of his son. He chose to play the Northern Trust. He had already completed his Tour card for next season by finishing in the top 125. If he wanted to qualify for the BMW championship the following week (top 70) or the Tour championship (top 30), he should have continued sure because he hadn’t played well enough that season to secure his spot. Tour veteran Billy Horschel took issue with what Perez had to say.
“The PGA Tour says a minimum of 15 events, all you have to do is play 15 events and you keep your card in those 15 events, so that’s fine. If you want to play better or if you want to play more for a chance to win the FedExCup, so be it. So be it. No one made you play that first Playoffs event to miss family obligations. Nobody did,” Horschel said. “Yes, we are independent contractors; we sign a contract with the PGA Tour to meet certain PGA Tour requirements. But we have the ability to make our schedule.
Horschel noted that by the time he plays the Genesis Scottish Open this week and the British Open next week, he will have been away from his family for five consecutive weeks.
“I have made the decision not to see my wife and children for five weeks. Am I crying for this? No,” he said. “I get it. I am living my dream trying to play golf professionally and support my family financially.
Here’s the thing: Perez was an independent contractor; now he is an employee. This is not an employer you want to piss off. He has signed a contract to play in all eight LIV Golf events. Next year, that number has been announced to increase to 14. Has Norman really achieved his dream of over 30 years?
Both the PGA Tour and the Europe-based DP World Tour have refused members’ requests to be released to participate in LIV events and have since punished players who violated its tour regulations. In one of the rich ironies, the same players who said they wanted to play less went to court to be able to play more on the DP World Tour. (By the way, I love their nickname – “The Sour 16”.)
“We want to co-exist” with “all of the current ecosystems of the game of golf, and we want to do that with the PGA Tour,” Norman told Fox News last month. What exactly would that look like in his fantasy world? “I would say support the players…and give their members the ability to have other places to go,” he said. “They are independent contractors. They have every right to do so.
Except Norman’s circuit prevented Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland from participating in the Horizon Irish Open. Apparently, this idea of him doesn’t work both ways.
The situation of Graeme McDowell, who signed with LIV Golf, indicates that Norman does not allow players to play freely elsewhere. McDowell, who had agreed to play the Horizon Irish Open, a tournament he had played for the past 20 years anyway, in order to get a waiver to play the Saudi International in February. But he reneged on the deal because it conflicted with last week’s LIV event in Portland.
“I tried to be fair and tried to be open with them and put all my cards on the table. Of course I was very disappointed that the second test fell against the Irish Open I would have loved to be there last week,” McDowell told the Irish Independent. “The only thing I can say is I have to be all-in. I am 43 years old and 380th in the world. My value to these guys is just so much. I have to try to commit as best I can to the LIV Tour, and that obviously meant not being able to play last week.
He added: “Listen I would love to be back at the Irish Open next year and as I said I can only apologize to the Irish golf fans for not being there the last week. And as I say, unfortunately, I had very good reasons for what I have to do with the LIV Tour. I have to be all-in with these events. I can’t just dip my toe in it.
And here’s the catch. The same guys who complained about how hard they struggled on the PGA Tour no longer have the luxury of choosing their schedule. They were bought and paid for quite generously, and must now show up when and where they are announced (hoping none of the American players’ wives go into labor during the two weeks in Bangkok and Jeddah).
If McDowell had always been an independent entrepreneur, do you think he would have missed the national open in his native country? When he was growing up, do you think he dreamed of winning the Irish Open or starting 54 holes in Portland?
Free agency in golf – before long some players may want to fire their agents the Freddie Freeman way.