A weekend in February was our first glimpse into the future (fractured) world of professional golf.
The US Tour had the AT&T at Pebble Beach, the new DP World Tour had the Ras al Khamiah Championship in the UAE, and the Asian Tour had the Saudi International.
All featured high caliber players and some pretty good golf, and Harold Varner’s 18th hole walk off winning putt in Saudi achieved the stated aim… give the punters something to talk about other than the politics. Events with weakened fields that see the world’s best scattered all over the globe I had to ask, is this really the best way forward for professional golf? As the saying goes, be careful what you wish for.
The appearance fees for the Greg Norman fronted Saudi event were eye watering… it’s rumored guys like Byrson, Dustin & Phil all received $2 Million to play at Royal Greens. It’s also rumored that it will scale to $10 Million as they make a bigger commitment to the Asian Tour. Hell, there’s even reports of Bryson being offered $130 Million to jump ship and sign on with the new ‘Saudi Super League’ (to put the absurdity of that offer in perspective, that’s more than Phil or Tiger has won in prize money over their entire career)
They do, kind of, pay appearance fees on the US Tour also. Turn up to a sponsor’s dinner prior to the event and sure, you can earn a little extra coin for that but it’s nothing like $2 Million.
The PGA Tour has long held an iron grip on professional golf, and it’s hard to argue they haven’t done a great job for their members (i.e PGA Tour players)… prize money continues to grow at record levels and there’s more multimillionaires out there than I care to count. Tom Hoge won in Pebble, and took his career earnings to just over $10 Million… not bad for guy I bet you’ve rarely heard of. So why the interest in the break away tours? One word… greed.
Guys like Phil & Byrson see themselves as more important to the growth (& promotion) of the game than guys like Tom Hoge and therefore they should be entitled to more of the pie. They may have a point there, but professional golf is the ultimate sporting meritocracy. The PGA Tour, like most Tours, is performance based. That makes it hard for the PGA Tour to reward players apart from that. They are trying, as the Comcast Top 10, FedEx Cup and PIP payments are all designed to distribute more money to the top players. And still, some of the games biggest names were quietly entertaining a switch (it wasn’t just Phil).