On separate occasions over the summer of golf discontent, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy have delivered key messages that illustrate what PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan got wrong.
McIlroy was asked at the US Open if he had lost the respect of players in their early years who received guaranteed money from Saudi-funded LIV Golf, with its 54-hole events and championship courses. 48 players, no cup and not a lot of audience.
“I don’t get it for guys that are the same age as me because I’d like to believe my best days are still ahead of me, and I think theirs are too,” McIlroy said. “So that’s where you feel like you’re taking the easy way out.”
At the British Open a month later, Woods left no doubt about his stance on players who had defected to the rival league led by Greg Norman.
“I disagree,” Woods said. “I think what they’ve done is they’ve turned their backs on what got them into this position.”
Monahan didn’t underestimate the threat of Saudi money or the damage it could inflict on a tour that has gone uncontested for 50 years. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have cared about an 898-word memo in January 2020 warning players they should choose one league or the other, even considering changing PGA Tour regulations if necessary.
What he underestimated was the loyalty of his players.
Too many people are willing to take the easy way out.
Too many people are turning their backs on the very tour that made them worth watching, all because of head-spinning financial offers.
Deane Beman said so in an interview with Golfweek magazine. He was commissioner from 1974 to 1994 and largely responsible for the model that made the PGA Tour the ultimate destination in golf.
“You don’t build loyalty and appreciation in a model like the one we built for the tour,” Beman said. “It depends on the integrity of the individual and the appreciation of what has been done for them.”
Monahan relied on the phrase ‘legacy, not leverage’, a clever pun after Phil Mickelson was exposed in a series of comments posted in February that his primary interest in the league backed by the Saudi Arabia was to get leverage for changes on the PGA Tour, which he said was long overdue.
But it’s not about inheritance either. It’s not about history.
And it’s not about bluster about playing less for more. Otherwise, why would 10 players – Carlos Ortiz asked to have his name removed from the lawsuit, according to his manager – take the money and run to federal court in California to file an antitrust lawsuit against the PGA Tour?
Nothing motivates better than money, and golf was not immune. Players who say they were drawn to LIV Golf’s team concept have never played in a Ryder Cup or realized they were last playing.
The players have made choices and these must be respected. And they were, until the inevitable lawsuit filed last week demanding the right to eat fruit from every tree in the garden.
Norman talks about finally bringing free agency to golf, leaving out the part about players signing contracts with LIV Golf that require them to play certain events.
The Saudi threat under any name was real and there was little Monahan could have done to stop it, not with so much Public Investment Fund money at Norman’s disposal.
Imagine if Monahan had listened and made a deal years ago, before Norman got involved and turned it into a vendetta. Wouldn’t the PGA Tour have risked the wrath of much of its fanbase who now criticize every player for taking Saudi money controlled by a repressive regime with an abysmal human rights record? ‘man ?
Monahan should no longer be surprised by anyone who pledges to support one week and leaves the following week.
This was the case with Brooks Koepka in June. He was at a Rolex reception on Monday of the US Open, rallying the troops to speak loud and clear for the PGA Tour. Then he got an offer he couldn’t ignore and left a week later.
Such was the case with Bryson DeChambeau when he wrote in February: “I want to make it very clear that as long as the best players in the world play the PGA Tour, so do I.” It would be interesting to know his definition of “best” since LIV Golf only has one player – Dustin Johnson – in the top 20 in the world rankings.
The PGA Tour playoffs begin this week, but not before a federal judge decides whether or not to allow three defectors to make the FedEx Cup playoffs. The fall portion of the new season will feature two events in California – one a tournament in Napa, the other the initial case management conference for the antitrust lawsuit.
Golfweek asked Beman if he could see anything positive coming from this disruption.
“Not that I see,” he said. “Maybe unmasking the integrity of some individuals. Their true stripes are showing. Some of the people who have benefited immensely from what the tour has put in place are fully revealing their integrity.”
Other players will likely follow after the FedEx Cup. Rumors are circulating, and these are not to be trusted either. Words have never been so hollow.
Monahan should know by now that a game based on integrity only applies inside the ropes.
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