Sports Illustrated’s Bob Harig summed it up best during one of our recent conversations: “This has been the most disruptive time I can remember in golf,” said the veteran golf writer and author of Tiger & Phil: Golf’s Most Fascinating Rivalry.
Harig, like all good golf reporters, is still trying to wrap his head around an even bigger rivalry that has turned professional golf on its head, a feud that is so far removed from being “dead in the water”, it’s even changed the tune of the man who prematurely declared its demise, Rory McIlroy.
“Everyone has to pivot and change and try to be better and hopefully get to that stage, but it’s messy and the narrative isn’t good; it’s splitting the game instead of everyone coming together,” a more considered McIlroy told the BBC of LIV Golf’s swashbuckling arrival on the pro scene.
Fronted by king swashbuckler Greg Norman and majority funded by the bottomless pits of the Public Investment Fund, the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia, the breakaway circuit has been enticing top-50 players in the world with lucrative contracts and lighter playing schedules, forcing the PGA Tour and DP World Tour to reconvene and strengthen their strategic alliance in a bid to stem the bleeding.
The whole saga, while truly fascinating to cover, has been – as The Australian newspaper’s golf correspondent Robert Lusetich delicately put it – a “s–tshow”.
Never have more unsolicited opinions been given. Never has politics shaped more of said opinions. Fair enough. But as the tit-for-tat rhetoric between the tours rages on, the most exciting – and concerning – part is: we’ve barely reached the first tee in this epic power struggle.
“The PGA Tour has been operating under the same basic model for more than 50 years,” adds Harig. “It has been hugely successful. But as with any endeavour, certainly there are areas for improvement. In recent years, there has been considerable discussion in the game about guaranteed pay and how the ‘stars’ of the sport are not compensated for their worth. These points can be argued, but that is basically how we got here. And while I’m not sure we could have ever seen it coming to this degree, here we are.”
Alan Shipnuck, author of Phil: The Rip-Roaring (and Unauthorized!) Biography of Golf’s Most Colorful Superstar that almost killed the LIV Golf project before it started with the untimely release of some disparaging remarks from Mickelson, found himself answering to critics on Twitter recently for, incredibly, covering the inaugural LIV Golf Invitational Series event held just outside London.
“I am an impartial observer, trying to understand the biggest golf story in years,” Shipnuck tweeted back to the court of public opinion. “Being here does not denote support or approval, merely curiosity.”
That same level of curiosity is something we can’t escape here at Australian Golf Digest, either. Full disclosure: this publication has enjoyed a decades-long relationship with Norman, ever since he was carrying the Australasian tour on his shoulders during the ’80s and ’90s. We’re also chuffed to have a wonderful content partnership with the PGA Tour and PGATour.com via Discovery’s recent acquisition of US Golf Digest. Both unions give us unrivalled access to the sport’s biggest names, in turn bringing you the very best coverage of the game.
But as Golf Australia boss James Sutherland regularly preaches: all golf is golf. It’s why we’ve put its most colourful and complicated figure on the cover of this issue. Whatever your take on Norman, the man or commissioner, is – and there have been many! – the fact remains he still transcends the sport (how else to explain our website traffic ballooning 25 percent over the past three months?) like he did all those years ago as world No.1 for 331 weeks. But who’s counting, hey Rors?
Inside this issue, a reflective Norman sits down to finally talk about LIV in what is absolute must-read material. While we’re at it, our man Evin Priest speaks exclusively with the Aussie players that cashed in at the inaugural LIV Golf events to get their honest take on all the kerfuffle. And we asked PGA of Australia chief executive Gavin Kirkman to detail how the re-imagined PGA Tour alliance will benefit pro golf Down Under.
But, as has been the case throughout this entire ordeal, not everyone will be thrilled with everything they read. As Shipnuck points out, “The Saudi money is highly unpalatable,” before adding, “But the Euro Tour [would have] gone out of business years ago without money from China, the UAE, Qatar and, yes, Saudi Arabia. The best hope for reunifying the game is for more players to go to LIV – that increases the pressure on the PGA Tour and DP World Tour to cut a deal that brings LIV into the fold.”
It is quite the conundrum, one that could have all been avoided, according to former European Tour player Mike Clayton: “If Norman’s tour was funded by the corporate world as opposed to a state (with a legitimate business case as opposed to zero business case) and it committed to playing 35 national opens and PGAs around the world, it’d be the best thing ever to happen to golf.”
Maybe so. But then again, perhaps when this is all said and done, and Australia gets the game’s best players to finally return to our shores like the good ol’ days – via whatever tour – we will have one man to thank for it?
As Steve Jobs, Apple co-founder and big-time disruptor once said: “Innovation is the ability to see change as an opportunity, not a threat.”
Australian golf’s leaders must now seize the opportunity, however it’s presented. It’s time to stand up and bargain hard. We deserve it.
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