This PGA Championship and the final gasps of the way it’s always been - jobs fights tigma
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This PGA Championship and the final gasps of the way it’s always been

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This PGA Championship and the final gasps of the way it’s always been

TULSA, Okla. – By now it’s an accepted reality that the PGA Tour, and golf as a whole, is indeed entering a new world. For a while, the LIV Golf Invitational Series seemed like a distant threat from the flank. Now it’s head-on. This competing league will be up and operational soon enough. Tickets are being sold. Broadcasts are being planned to stream on YouTube. This is going to happen, despite Rory McIlroy saying two months ago that LIV was “dead in the water.”

Sure, it could still prove to be a Fyre Festival-level disaster, but it’s happening, nonetheless, and it’s an unavoidable topic.

“I might have been a little presumptuous,” McIlroy said Tuesday morning at Southern Hills Country Club, site of this week’s PGA Championship.

It’s hard to take a step back in hot, humid Tulsa, but before this thing gets underway, it’s probably worth noting that everything in golf is about to change, and that this major championship might represent the last remnants of the game as we know it .

Plenty of PGA Tour players are about to take the payday that Greg Norman is offering. We know a few – Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood and Kevin Na. Notable names, true. And there will be others. All varieties of players who are sort of relevant, but… sort of aren’t.

The actual best players in the world are, as of now, not going anywhere. Stars like Tiger Woods, McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka, Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay. Young guns like No. 1 Scottie Scheffler, Jon Rahm, Collin Morikawa and Will Zalatoris. Bryson DeChambeau and Dustin Johnson remain aligned with the tour, even if it feels flimsy.

What’s coming, though – be clear – is a fracture.

You can laugh LIV off as a money-grab gimmick.

But you should also realize it’s a possible trigger point to a reordering of reality in professional golf. Mickelson’s polarizing absence this week is the big, glaring storyline, but it’s just eclipsing what’s really hard. Look beyond it, and this all takes on the feeling of when the sun went down and the ’94 Major League Baseball strike began. The sport changed after that – fans fundamentally felt different about the game.

Both the PGA Tour and the DP World Tour (formerly the European Tour) recently turned down players who’d asked for conflicting-events releases to play in the first LIV event at London’s Centurion Club on June 9-11. They did not do so in moral objection to the league’s funding being tied directly to the government of Saudi Arabia. They did so as a means of survival. It’s in their own self-interest.

These tours know their products are at risk.

More than that, the players know that a wave of bodies are getting ready to crest and change the game. In some ways, those wanting to pledge allegiance to LIV Golf are also pledging to compete against the PGA Tour.

Might make things a tad awkward, no?

As of now, it’s unclear what kind of sanctions the PGA Tour will levy on members who participate in the LIV series. There’s a chance such penalties aren’t made public until pegs are in the ground that week. There are also mountains of legal issues, many of which stem from the Tour’s tax status as a nonprofit.

What’s already happening, though, is a dividing line being drawn between those who are with the Tour and those who are against it.

Put it this way – it’s probably not a coincidence that the Tour did not reject the release requests from those PGA Tour players who wished to apply to play in the first LIV event until after the Wells Fargo Championship two weeks ago. Before that, the Tour was believed to have been still considering the possibility of allowing members to compete in non-domestic LIV events.

After Wells Fargo? Well, let’s recall when Garcia, 42, threw a mini tantrum, stomping around during a rules dispute, caught on a hot mic muttering, “I can not wait to leave this tour,” then adding, “Can’t wait to get outta here. Just a couple more weeks until I do not have to deal with you anymore. ” It was petty. It was petulant. It was a longtime PGA Tour member demeaning the entire organization during a live competition.

Think such outward divisiveness was brushed off by Jay Monahan and the powers that be in Ponte Vedra? Interesting how those LIV releases were declined shortly thereafter, isn’t it?

Also, do you think other Tour players did not see one of their own acting like he was bigger than a Tour that they all belong to?


Rickie Fowler left open the possibility of playing on the LIV Golf series. (Michael Madrid / USA Today)

It is not too hard to imagine next month’s US Open at Brookline – being held a week after the opening LIV event – suddenly taking on the form of the Sharks and the Jets. Those who went to Centurion and those who did not.

If that’s the case, as everything else does nowadays, the entire dynamic could take on a life of its own. Many fans already see the biggest names presently tied to the Saudi-funded rival tour as giving off an air that it’s their birthright to earn oodles of money to play golf regardless of whether they actually win. They’re already walking targets for pot-shots. In most cases, these are individuals who came up playing the PGA Tour, establishing themselves as world-class players on a Tour that, in return, created an ecosystem for them to build their brands, earn lucrative sponsorship deals and maintain their playing status long after their quality of play drops off.

One might argue that such PGA Tour status promotes complacency among those who do not, in theory, have that much to compete for. For some, that complacency seems to morph into entitlement, which is the root ego. And maybe that’s how we get to a point where Garcia, who during the last 17 years has won five times and still taken home more than $ 40 million, has the gall to yell at a tournament rules official that he can not wait to take his ball and go somewhere else.

Those that go to LIV will say they’re only operating in their best interest, just like the PGA Tour is.

And therein will lie another divide. In a world ever shaped by the duality of left and right, everyone puts good guys in one box and bad guys in another box. This instance feels no different. Some feel that LIV Golf is sports washing, some do not. Some feel professional golfers should be comfortable accepting Saudi cash, some do not. There’s very little middle.

Take Norman. Some see him as having the courage to challenge the establishment. Others see him as a smut dealer. In reality, he’s an opportunist. If, as Michael Bamberger reported earlier this week, Jack Nicklaus was offered $ 100 million to be the front-facing mouthpiece for LIV Golf, then what is Norman making? Maybe $ 50 million? $ 30 million? More, less? Who knows, but it was surely a mighty pile of cash. Talk about a king’s ransom, right?

But it does come at a cost.

“I just think he’s in a no-win situation,” McIlroy said of Norman on Tuesday. “He’s made that decision himself, and he has to deal with the questions that are being thrown at him. It’s certainly not a position that I’d like to be in. ”

Those LIV-interested players, meanwhile, are indeed free to go. But there are potential consequences for them, too. If playing either a partial or full LIV schedule means a player ultimately surrenders his PGA Tour status, that can have potential ripple effects. The PGA of America bylaws, for instance, say one has to be a recognized member of a recognized tour in order to be a PGA member and, thus, compete in the PGA Championship.

Presently, it seems those who want to play in the LIV series want to act freely, and get the best of both worlds.

That, though, is not the way the world works. The PGA Tour is not going to take down the embankments of its product just to appease a portion of players who want that Saudi money. And those players aligned with the Tour are not going to be overly keen on a rogue group asking to double-dip.

Is all of this speculative?

Absolutely.

But if you look hard enough over these hills in Tulsa, it’s pretty easy to see out there. This week, multiple players like McIlroy and Thomas have said they just want this to be over with so they can stop talking about it. It does not seem to register that they might just be getting started.

(Top photo of Sergio Garcia: Andrew Redington / Getty Images)

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