News & Opinion

PGA Tour doubles down against gambling

After Sergio Garcia plodded through a 20-minute ruling Sunday on the final hole of the BMW Championship, ultimately taking a drop onto a rock in a stream, the PGA Tour seemingly should have addressed the bizarre Rules of Golf on Monday.

Instead, the Tour implemented a new program focused on gambling.

The Integrity Program prohibits players, their support staff, caddies, Tour staff, the Tour’s Policy Board and tournament volunteers from wagering on the PGA Tour. 

The Tour defined betting as the placing of money or any other thing of value on the performance of a player, with the expectation of a return.

Essentially, anybody who has any association with a professional golf event run by the PGA Tour falls under this enormous umbrella.  

Ironically, golf more than any other sport has embraced gambling. Over the years, the activity has been weaved into the fabric of the game.

In 1930, Bobby Jones bet on himself to win the Grand Slam – in those days, the U.S. Open, British Open, U.S. Amateur and British Amateur – before he participated in the first of the four events. British oddsmakers set the line at 50-1. Jones collected $60,000, the equivalent of about $900,000 today.

Under the new policy, Jones would be in violation. Would he have been disciplined? I assume so, but because the Tour is less than transparent on violations and its subsequent actions, we likely never would know.

The Tour confirmed that the policy extends even to players’ family members.

Fortunately for Gerry McIlroy, he already collected on a 2004 bet that his son, Rory, would win the British Open within 10 years.

When Rory McIlroy was 15, his father got 500-1 odds that his son would be the “champion golfer of the year” by the end of 2014.

The bet of 200 British pounds (then about $341) turned into $171,000 for the elder McIlroy.

Under the new rules, which will take effect Jan. 1, Rory McIlroy would have been in violation because of his father’s actions. 

The new gambling restrictions are no different than what a PGA Tour player faces when he visits a state in which marijuana is legal. The player, who as a condition of Tour membership agrees to abide by Tour rules, would be prohibited from using marijuana because it is not permitted under the Tour’s Anti-Doping Program.

What’s odd about the Integrity Program is that it covers only gambling. What about questionable activity in the stock market?

The Phil Mickelson incident regarding gambler Billy Walters, Dean Foods and insider trading would seem to hold far greater significance for the Tour’s reputation. Mickelson was not criminally charged and agreed to pay back nearly $1 million in ill-gotten gains after he reportedly owed Walters nearly $2 million in gambling debt. Walters was convicted of insider trading and sentenced to five years in prison.

It’s the sort of caper that could be repeated with the co-mingling of top business officials and Tour players in pro-ams and other sponsor-related activities.

After the scandalous behavior involving fake accounts created by Wells Fargo, a tournament sponsor, and the Tour’s continual relationship with the bank and the Mickelson insider-trading issues, why is the Tour focusing on such a seemingly innocuous activity as gambling?

Each week, the Tuesday practice round features many players gambling amongst themselves. The Tour’s new Integrity Program does not address practice-round activity but covers only the days of tournament competition. However, other Tour rules ban onsite betting, which is why players don’t talk much about the pre-tournament action anymore.

Oddly enough, at the recent Walker Cup amateur matches, the visiting Great Britain and Ireland players were competing in money games at Los Angeles Country Club before the matches against the U.S. The players and their captain had no reservations in talking about it. 

“We play a competition every day, varying different formats, some Stableford initially to help the guys get rid of the jet lag and traveling blues, as it were,” captain Andrew Ingram said. “I think it's important that they play competitive golf all week, because that's what we have got. That's what they like.”

Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: alex@morningread.com; Twitter: @AlexMiceli