SGL May Be SOL

I tend to lean more towards being a traditionalist. I don’t love change. I’ll eventually embrace it, but historically it has taken awhile for me to accept, adjust, and get used to it. It takes a lot of convincing for me to get on board, but it is possible. So as you can imagine, I am 100% against the Saudi Golf League.

The SGL has been all the talk the last 6 months with what seems like a new rumor every day. PGA Tour players are asked in every press conference at every event their thoughts and if they plan to join or participate. If anything, it has made the PGA tour scramble and call meetings to come up with a plan of their own, both proactive and reactive. The PGA Tour has stated that any player committing to play the Saudi League will be banned from participating in tour events in the future, thus erasing and exemption(s) they may have. This doesn’t include the majors however, as each one is ran by a separate entity. The Masters is run by the Augusta National Committee, the U.S. Open is conducted by the USGA, the British Open is put on by the R & A, and the PGA Championship is the PGA of America.

When the news first broke that a new rival pro golf tour with a lot of money at its back was in the works, of course there was intrigue and interest. From both players and fans alike. Greg Norman quickly joined the project as CEO. This is no surprise as the shark has seemed to have a personal vendetta towards the PGA Tour for 30 years. He wanted to start his own world golf league back in the 90’s, but obviously had no success. His thoughts and ideas are actually what helped birth the World Golf Championships as we know them today. There are apparently 20 players that have already verbally committed to join the SGL, but no official announcement has been made and it has all been rumor and hearsay. In fact, the announcement was supposed to come a few weeks ago but it has been delayed. The new word is that it will be announced during the Players Championship in March. A bold move considering the TPC is the tour’s flagship event. But I think the delay is in result of players who may have committed early are now changing their tune.

High profile players who showed early interest like Rory, Dustin Johnson, and Justin Thomas have all now written off the SGL and have sworn their allegiance to the PGA Tour. Bryson DeChambeau was rumored to be the poster boy with the word being he was offered $100 million to jump ship. He has now stated that he is staying put on the PGA Tour. Jason Kokrak, winner of 3 PGA Tour events in the last 15 months, was quoted in saying that he is very interested in what the SGL has to offer and what their plan looks like once it’s unveiled. “I want to make sure my family is taken care of for a few generations”, Kokrak said. There is nothing wrong with keeping an open mind. We are all curious. But for anyone to commit without seeing anything is wildly irresponsible and incredibly disrespectful to the PGA Tour.

The ring leader of the SGL circus so far has been-surprise, surprise…Phil Mickelson. Never a stranger to the taste of his own foot, Lefty has said from day 1 that the threat of a world class rival tour can be used to the players’ advantage as leverage to get more of what they want from the PGA Tour. He has always been an outspoken proponent of the players getting access to their own media rights. But tour players are independent contractors, so every video of every shot they hit and every step they take is owned by the PGA Tour. For instance, if Rolex wants to use a cut of Phil hitting a flop shot from an event, he would like to be the one to broker that deal and sell that clip; not the tour. He calls the tour greedy and in the same sentence wants to join a tour that has nothing to offer but billions of dollars. Golf writer Alan Shipnuck released a quote from Mickelson during a recent conversation they had regarding the Saudi project. He quoted Phil in saying “Look I know they’re awful people and they kill homosexuals, but you have to admit, what they’re offering is exciting.” I’m sorry, what?! Is it any shock that since this quote was leaked that Phil has sort have been in hiding? He didn’t play last week in Phoenix, where he lives and where he won his first pro tournament as an amateur. He also didn’t play at Riviera, another staple on his schedule and somewhere he’s won. Not that I would condone or endorse the decision, I’m surprised in this cancel-culture age that Callaway hasn’t dropped Phil as a sponsor.

 I understand that you have to start somewhere and Rome wasn’t built in a day, but that’s all the SGL has is money. There’s no tradition or history to chase. Players cry in Butler Cabin when they’re handed the green jacket, not when they receive the $1.8 million winner’s check. Tiger had Jack’s major records taped to his wall, not his career earnings. Sure the money and the lifestyle is fabulous, as it should be. And compared to the other major sports, PGA Tour Players are underpaid. They’re actually paid based on performance. Nothing is guaranteed. But the Tour raises more money for charity annually then the NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL combined. I fail to see the greed in that aspect.

Former President Donald Trump has now entered the ring, and a lot of us saw this coming. Just as the SGL seemed to begin to lose its fizzle with key players bowing out, the Trumpster sweetens the pot. He’s been waiting for a way to get back at the PGA Tour, and here it is. For political reasons, the PGA and R & A pulled high profile events from Trump owned courses like Doral and Turnberry a few years ago. The Donald has inked a deal with the SGL to provide his courses as sites to host some of the events.

This rival Saudi operation may have lost its luster faster than it gained traction. Phil’s comments didn’t do them any favors. Many players who have come out and announced allegiance to the PGA Tour have done so while calling Phil a “loudmouth” and describing his words as “shocking,” “uncalled for,” and “disgusting.” I think some of the young guns rethought their plans when the tour stated that any player that left status on the table and joined the SGL full time would not be welcome back. If the situation occurred where the SGL was a flop and collapsed in a couple of years, the likes of JT, Spieth, and Morikawa wouldn’t have the US tour to call home. Now I have a hard time thinking the tour would deny these stars membership, but it could happen. That’s a risk I don’t think they’re willing to take.

The SGL has a $500 billion trust behind them That means plenty of coin and time for court appearances and lawyers. They could fight the tour on behalf of their players to allow them to play both circuits, including the majors. Phil said “Go ahead and try to ban us. I don’t think you can do that.” We all now how long and tedious court cases can be. Players could be duking it on on both tours for a year or two while the higher ups are duking it out in courtrooms.

Now where I can envision the SGL being a good thing is if it becomes a tour that world-class players who have struggled to get their PGA Tour card can call home. Not exactly another Korn Ferry tour with direct graduation access to the big dance, but another avenue with good venues and good purses that non-household names can make a name for themselves and play the game they love at a high level. There are so many players who shoot 65 at a Monday Qualifier and miss making it because three guys ahead of them shot 64 and 63. They get back in their car and drive to the next one. There are so many mini tours with lack of funding and sponsorships that have a player shoot -12 for 3 days and make $150 when his entry fee was $400. Not to mention meals, a place to sleep, and gas to get there. The lives of the top 150 players in the world that we have all heard of are spectacular. The rest that can shoot 63 on any given day on any given course yet sleep in their Kia Sorrento…spectacular isn’t the word. They have extreme talent. They just need one break. Let’s make that break easier to come by.

Enjoy the game and each other,

Seth Zipay – Head Golf Professional

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