News & Opinion

PGA Tour warns players not to bolt for rival tour

The proposed Premier Golf League, which is targeting the game's top touring pros, faces a fight from the PGA Tour, which cautions its members that you’re either with us or against us

KING ABDULLAH ECONOMIC CITY, Saudi Arabia – The battle lines are being drawn between the PGA Tour and the upstart Premier Golf League.

The latest salvo came Monday in an email sent to all PGA Tour members by commissioner Jay Monahan. The message was summarized by a player who received the e-mail. It essentially reminded each player that he either is a PGA Tour member or he is not, and if a player decides to compete somewhere else, he will not be welcome on the PGA Tour.

Brooks-Koepka-2020-Saudi-presser.jpeg
Brooks Koepka addresses media members Tuesday before the Saudi International in King Abdullah Economic City, Saudi Arabia.

The email, a copy of which later was reviewed by Morning Read, comes on the heels of a player meeting Jan. 21 at the site of the Farmers Insurance Open in San Diego, during which Monahan discussed the proposed PGL – he referred to it as Team Golf Concept – and how it would not work in the PGA Tour’s structure.

Asked about the proposed tour here Tuesday before this week’s Saudi International, American Brooks Koepka answered the question rhetorically. “What do you think their response is going to be when something comes along the way?” said Koepka, who is No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking.

The World Golf Group, an English company with the vision to bring the world’s best 48 golfers together as part of 12 four-player teams competing in 18 tournaments worth $10 million each as soon as 2022, took the high road. The WGG said in a statement that it intends to work with, rather than challenge, existing tours.

That approach might sound good in principle, but Monahan clearly has taken a stance that makes that objective impossible. In his email to the players, he notes that the proposed tour “is designed to directly compete and conflict with the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup schedule” but would not rival the four major championships.

“You can say as much as you want that you want to work with the tours, but it’s not going to happen,” South African Ernie Els said. “These tours have been around for a long time.”

The European Tour has taken an approach similar to the PGA Tour’s.

“I think they've been trying to move forward for eight years, but I wouldn't comment on the business of the PGA Tour or certainly one that is not real," European Tour chief Keith Pelley said.

According to the PGA Tour’s email, the proposed tour has secured no sponsorship or media rights but is focused on acquiring commitments from players.

Two PGL representatives are in Saudi Arabia for this week’s European Tour stop, discussing with some players their interest in joining the league. Similar discussions have been going on for years, with nothing concrete established.

“I really think it’s a great idea, but I don’t think it’s great going against the other tours or the tradition of the game,” Els said. “It would be great to have a two-month run of these types of events. Then, I think you can negotiate with the tours to give up some of their players.”

Neither Monahan nor Pelley seems interested in cutting a deal.

In his email to players, Monahan cites the PGA Tour’s “long-term contractual commitments to and from media partners, title sponsors and corporate partners” plus the players’ obligation not to take “any action that will harm the financial interests or reputation of the PGA Tour.”

“I cannot see how it works because their lives are world-ranking-dependent, and I don’t see how they can get around that,” agent Chubby Chandler said of the players, whose status on the major pro tours is closely aligned with their position in the OWGR. “Without world-ranking points, you go nowhere, and the chances of them getting world-ranking points with the R&A, Augusta and that is zero.”

Of course, if the players decided it would be a good idea to leave their respective tours for the new one, the idea could work, but why leave?

Neither Koepka nor American Dustin Johnson could come up with any substantive reason to make the leap.

When Johnson was asked what it would take to give up his PGA Tour card, he said, “I don't know if that's even a possibility, but it would take a lot.”

Asked a similar question, Koepka said the best that he could come up with – after pace of play, which he acknowledged has been addressed by the Tour – was field size.

“I would shorten the field size a little bit, because there are times where it's very difficult to finish, especially in the fall [because of reduced hours of daylight].”

Most PGA Tour fields number 132, 144 or 156 players, though invitationals such as the Memorial and Arnold Palmer events, start 120.

The logistics behind a startup tour also would be an issue, even if the existing tours could agree to along with golf’s major governing bodies.

“Where do you take your next bunch of players from?” Els asked.

The same 48 wouldn’t play in the new league forever. Some would be dropped, and new ones would take their places, so how would that work?

It’s a lot to digest by everyone involved, but the organizers must sell that idea to 48 players, with the potential of a tour that might not survive after year one. Comparisons have been made to Greg Norman and his attempts to create a world tour in the mid-1990s. The tour didn’t launch, but many of his ideas were used by the International Federation of PGA Tours in creating the World Golf Championships, a series of four big-money, no-cut events that debuted in 1999.

“When I was 25 and Greg did it, we didn’t play for a lot of money,” Els said. “I mean, the purse is what first prize is now, and Greg came with a wonderful idea. Even I said to Greg, I can’t do this, when I was 25. Because I want to win major championships and I wanted to have a career, and who knows how long Greg’s tour would have gone. Maybe it could still be going today; I don’t know.”

Ultimately, Els decided it was too big of a risk. Has that risk changed for top players such as Tiger Woods or Rory McIlroy?

According to Chandler, Woods was approached by the new group with a considerable offer, but he refused.

It’s hard to believe that a professional tour for golf’s elite players could make it without Woods.

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