Imagine this scenario with me. It’s April in Augusta, Georgia. The sun is shining. The pine trees are rustling in a gentle breeze. The azaleas are in full bloom and resplendent. Jim Nantz’s congenial voice comes across the airwaves into your living room with his warm and welcoming, “Hello friends.” You kick back with your food and beverage of choice – I’d recommend pimiento cheese and sweet tea – and wear everything green on that you own. You’re ready to see which of the world’s best golfers makes that last Sunday push up the leaderboard at the most prestigious tournament in the United States – The Masters. But there’s a problem…they’re not there. Brooks Koepka? Dustin Johnson? Bryson DeChambeau? Phil Mickelson? They’re nowhere to be seen. This can’t be happening, can it? Calm yourselves. It’s not happening (unless they miss the cut). But if the powers (and money) behind the Premier Golf League had their way, it might.
What Is the Premier Golf League?
Headed by British attorney, businessman, and league CEO, Andrew Gardiner, the Premier Golf League is a proposed alternative golf league to the PGA and European Tours, wherein the best of the best compete for immense prize pools in a series of events played in the United States and abroad. Not only would players be competing with each other individually in 18 tournaments, but there would also be a team component.
What is the #PGL?— Premier Golf League (@premgolfleague) February 24, 2020
Elevating everything we love about traditional tournament golf, culminating in a team event that delivers the passion and excitement of team sports.
1 Individual World Champion
1 Team World Champion#GolfYourWay
🌎 ⛳️ 🏆
While the idea of an elite – and separate – league has been floating around professional golf circles for a while, only has this recent iteration gained enough traction to merit conversation. According to reports, top players such as Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau, Justin Rose, and Dustin Johnson have already been approached about signing exclusive and lucrative deals, estimated to be $30 million each. Phil Mickelson played with the league backers in the European Tour’s Saudi International Pro-Am early in 2020. And, yes, the GOAT himself has confirmed that he was approached in 2020 as well. Aim high, right?
Is It About the Caliber of Players?
So clearly the Premier Golf League is trying to reel in the big fish. Why limit to the “top” 48, though? Sure, we all love seeing the big names at the top of the leaderboard. Who didn’t love Tiger Woods’ sheer dominance over the competition for more than a decade, all the while waiting for that one big challenger to dethrone him? We’ve seen generation after generation of “elite” players and competition – some of which have stayed around and others that faded into obscurity. All were good players. For every Jordan Spieth, there’s a Jan van de Velde. For every Dustin Johnson, there’s a David Duval. These are professional golfers, but ultimately they’re known for being almost good enough.
Isn’t this what makes golf tournaments must-watch TV on weekends, though? The so-called elite talents matching up against the ever-so-talented field. The field has given us Collin Morikawa’s 2020 PGA Championship victory in his second major start, Shane Lowry’s first major championship at the 2019 British Open at 32 years of age, not to mention the countless other winners week in and week out, grinding away at the season to maintain their respective Tour cards. Winning is everything and the paychecks that come with it mean more chances to prove your worth and show that you belong. This sounds to me like an analogous situation to another – let’s say failed experiment – wherein the powers that be tried to isolate elite talent for competing against one another while alienating those who were deemed inferior. Are Super Leagues really that much more of a draw for viewership than the already existing alternative?
Money, Money, Money
Realistically speaking, the best of the best on Tour aren’t lacking for money. Between corporate sponsorships, endorsement deals, equipment deals, to say nothing of the winnings, the funds are sufficient to maintain their quests for dominance. So why should they then jump at the $30-40 million guaranteed against a narrowed field on a rigid schedule? Why sacrifice their ability to prepare how they wish and enter tournaments to their liking? For many of these top-level golfers, they’re already looking at that kind of money with a regular PGA or European Tour schedule. Is Premier Golf League money more valuable to the players involved or the backers propping it up?
Rory McIlroy has described the proposed Premier Golf League as a “money grab” and has insisted he will not sign up to any kind of breakaway from the PGA Tour— Belfast Telegraph Sport (@BelTel_Sport) May 5, 2021
Read what he had to say here ⤵️https://t.co/VjUabqSITI
How Are the Tours Reacting?
To say that the PGA of America and European Tour have reacted negatively to the Premier Golf League concept would be an understatement. In fact, they’re united in their cause against it. Among the complications yet to be sorted out include things such as eligibility for international participation in the Ryder Cup and effect on/lack of inclusion in the World Golf Rankings. The PGA of America has gone a step further to counter the financial allure. The newly implemented “Player Impact Program” is set to offer a $40 million bonus pool which will split amongst 10 players based not on their tournament scores and finishes, but rather their engagement and promotion of the Tour’s product through a specifically calculated formula. Although this idea has been around for a few years as well, the timing of its release is not coincidental. While some players will undoubtedly choose to focus solely on their golf game (I’m looking at you, Koepka), many have broad social media followings and will immediately latch on to this program as a way to grow the game… and possibly their bank accounts.
Premier Golf League: Net Positive or Negative?
What would the effect of such a league be on the game of golf? Backers would have you believe that elite vs. elite competition generates big interest and high viewership totals. Of course, these things make money. Money which would, in all likelihood, only increase the size of the financial guarantee for participants in the Premier Golf League.
But what about young kids who would like to see themselves in Beau Hossler’s or Will Zalatoris’ shoes one day? Who’s thinking about the Mini-Tour players grinding it out, traversing the country by cheap airline flights and rental cars hoping to earn enough to merit a chance at the big time? What happens to the Monday qualifiers who finally get their big break and are hoping just to make the cut for a payday? These are the stories that can’t be quantified. You can’t put a dollar figure on hard work, dedication, sacrifice, and inspiration.
That’s not to say that Phil Mickelson, Rickie Fowler, and the like don’t work as hard as the rest. In fact, they work even harder. But their stories are written. Viewers want high-level competition with heart. They want to be on the edge of their seats, but they want a happy ending. Fans want it all. The Premier Golf League, in my opinion, can’t offer that. No matter how much money they throw at it, you’ll never feel the same as when the underdog prevails. Because when it comes down to it, among the top 48 golfers in the world, there really are no underdogs. There are only 48 alpha dogs. 48 VERY RICH alpha dogs.
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