News & Opinion

World tour will go nowhere without Tiger Woods

Premier Golf League, a proposed upstart circuit, features big aspirations of seven-figure purses and the game’s top stars, but only one name truly matters

Word of a budding competitive rival to the PGA Tour may not be spreading like wildfire, as the saying goes, but there’s smoke in the air and a siren in the distance. World Golf Group, a British-based operation that failed to gain any traction with a similar project two years ago, is trying once again to launch a limited-tournament season featuring 48 of the game’s best players, a strong international presence and purses that could dwarf the prize money distributed now.

It’s a concept that sounds as if it came straight from the Land of Wishful Thinking. As sexy as the Premier Golf League appears on paper, it’s not exactly an original idea, which isn’t to suggest it’s cockamamie or futile. Greg Norman’s notable attempt to conceive an elite global circuit in the mid-1990s met a harsh death at the sword of former Tour commissioner Tim Finchem, who basically swiped the Shark’s blueprint and devised a series of tournaments known as the World Golf Championships.

Farmers Insurance Open
Without Tiger Woods, the proposed Premier Golf League won’t succeed, John Hawkins contends.

Norman forever will remain bitter about the incident, but business is business, and Camp Ponte Vedra will do what it has to do. That’s why current Tour honcho Jay Monahan flew to San Diego last week before the Farmers Insurance Open and sat in on the first player meeting of 2020, where the fledgling enterprise became the primary topic of discussion, and the third-year boss did a whole lot of talking. Make no mistake: If the Premier Golf League can get airborne and lure a significant percentage of top-50 guys into its orbit, the Tour as we know it will find itself in serious trouble.

Finding corporations willing to pony up $12 million for a title sponsorship is hard enough. Holding on to those fiscal partners, especially at the dozen or so weak-field tournaments dotting the schedule, has become exceedingly difficult, so any loss of high-end personnel would weaken the product and eventually lead to a loss of revenue. Television relations, especially with CBS, also might be jeopardized.

In a statement released last week, the WGG said it was “our intention to work with, rather than challenge, existing tours for the betterment of golf as a sport.” Good luck with that, fellas. The PGA Tour would not take kindly to any upstart group looking for a piece of an empire that has taken more than 50 years to build. There is simply no way Monahan would risk compromising the power and leverage acquired through the talents of its competitive membership, nor is there even half a reason to share that wealth.

The European Tour might be receptive to such an overture, but with a vast majority of the best Euro golfers spending most of their time playing in the U.S., that alliance would amount to a moot point. You can’t build an exclusive, superstars-only golf program if you don’t have any exclusivity or superstars. Seeing how Rory McIlroy recently became the first household name to declare his allegiance to the PGA Tour – and the strong unlikelihood of any crossover traffic – the WGG is an outfit with high ambition, a low ceiling and an unstable floor.

That all could change, however, in less time than it takes J.B. Holmes to hit a tee shot. There’s only one man on earth who could take on the almighty incumbent and realistically start his own tour. Tiger Woods never has been receptive to change, largely because there’s no need to fix things if they ain’t broke, but if pro golf’s undaunted British idealists can figure out a way to pique Eldrick’s interest and cut him a very large piece of the pie, they would have the resource necessary to make their vision a reality.

What’s interesting about Woods’ potential involvement is that his longtime agent, Mark Steinberg, is the only player representative to go on the record with statements regarding the WGG. “We’ll see if they take it to the next level,” Steinberg told Geoff Shackelford, who first reported the story on his own blog last week, adding, “I can’t answer if [the Premier Golf League] is real or not real. But, like anything else, you have to listen to everyone and all options.”

Hmm. Steinberg has long been known as one of the most evasive and protective power brokers in the industry. That he chose even to comment on the matter may or may not mean something, and though he basically said nothing, that’s not the point. It’s hard to imagine the WGG moving forward or going public with their plan unless Woods conveyed at least a slight amount of interest.

A potential deal-killing downside to such a defection is that Woods’ pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’ all-time record of 18 major titles would depend solely on whether he could play in them. Because the PGA Tour holds no governmental jurisdiction over any of the four majors, one can foresee Woods continuing his climb up Mount Nicklaus. The U.S. Open is the only major that doesn’t offer a career-long exemption to past champions.

As Steinberg said, you have to listen. How much reverberation will we hear from this aspiring band of world-golf pioneers? One man’s version of noise is another man’s idea of sweet sound.

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