I heard a faint creaking sound in the distance last Thursday. It was Arnold Palmer rolling over in his casket. This occurred right around the same time the first pairing teed off, at the LIV Golf Tour event at Centurion Club outside of London. The LIV Golf Tour is funded by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund in conjunction with the Saudi Arabian government, initially pledging $400 million to start the league. LIV Golf has used mega-million dollar contracts to lure players from the PGA. According to reports, Phil Mickelson’s deal is $200 million and Dustin Johnson’s contract is $125 million. To give you some perspective, that $125M is more than Tiger Woods’s career earnings on the PGA Tour ($121M). That’s before DJ puts a tee in the ground on the LIV Tour! Johnson only earned $75M during his 12 years on the PGA Tour. I’m biting my tongue to guard against a sarcastic rant.
The PGA Tour has been the gold standard since it was formed in 1968. Greg Norman who is now the CEO of LIV Golf had moaned for years about the PGA Tour’s policies; some of it justified, most of it not. While he achieved notoriety and had tremendous success, during his years on the PGA Tour, he only won two majors. His career earnings totaled $15 million, give or take a couple hundred thousand. Greg parlayed his golf fame into multiple businesses and according to Forbes (2020), his net worth is $400M. In spite of his flair on the golf course, I haven’t been a fan of his since he ignored my autograph-seeking 6-year-old son, at a charity golf event.
I’m a huge sports fan. I love football, baseball, basketball, and golf. When it comes to sports I’m a traditionalist. I just happen to follow teams steeped in tradition. I acknowledge the need for sports to evolve to keep fans interested and for the various leagues and team owners to remain solvent.
For me, golf has always been a profession where the participants earn every cent they get. This separates golf from most other professional sports where contracts are guaranteed for multiple years. The PGA Tour is comprised of a bunch of independent contractors who don’t get a paycheck unless they make the cut. Many have sponsors who help defray their out-of-pocket expenses, but they have to play at a certain level to make the big bucks. This aspect of the professional game creates drama and fuels the stories of perseverance and the will to win. It also accentuates the agony associated with defeat.
I started hearing the rumblings about LIV golf mid-year 2021. It didn’t have a name then but it became public knowledge that it would be funded by the Saudis and there were a couple of golf’s biggest names involved. As an ardent golf fan, I hoped the idea would never get off the ground. Little did I know the toothpaste was already out of the tube. It’s now a full-blown issue surrounded by controversy and uncertainty about what the future holds.
I’ve followed this debacle closely over the last several weeks. The more I learn, the more disconcerting it becomes. This is such a complex emotionally charged issue it is difficult to discern fact from fiction. However, I do have clarity on several important points:
- This is all part of Saudi Arabia’s master plan to distract the US (and other countries) from their egregious human rights policies.
- The Saudi government has unlimited resources to fund LIV Golf and other activities, so the regime can continue the way it governs.
- The money they are paying players (just to show up) is obscene.
- In the inaugural event, last weekend, the total purse was $25M Charl Schartzel won and collected $4.75M. The golfer who finished in last place pocketed $120k. Purses for PGA Tour events are between $3M and $15M.
If money is the most important thing in your life, you opt to play on the LIV Tour. What irks me the most is the insulting script LIV has provided for the PGA TOUR players who have defected. When the players are asked why, they give the same repulsive response. This is the right decision for my family, LIV is reinvigorating the game of golf, we are growing the game around the world, it’s unique format is fun and exciting for the players and the fans. It’s weird to listen to these repetitive responses, it’s as if they joined a cult.
I understand free enterprise and the right to make choices. I’m convinced that this is different. It’s about morality and doing the right thing. It’s 2 former PGA TOUR players (Norman and Michelson), with gigantic egos, trying to start a revolution in golf. Both lack self-awareness and compassion for others. The worst part is they have partnered with a devious regime that has an ulterior motive.
The PGA TOUR will be fine, the defecting players, while they have to live with themselves, are financially set for life. Unfortunately, the biggest loser is the fan.