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MULLIGAN MISGIVINGS

Mistrust between players and golf’s PGA leadership still simmers at 151st Open 

Mistrust between players and golf’s PGA leadership still simmers at 151st Open 
Jordan Spieth believes that PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan will need to re-earn the trust of players after the merger between the PGA and PIF. (Photo: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Several golfers stayed loyal to the PGA Tour when they were offered tens of millions of dollars to join the Saudi-backed LIV Golf, only to see their own organisation take the Saudi money; this eroded trust between the parties.

The 151st Open Championship at Royal Liverpool in Hoylake this week enjoyed a strange kind of peace permeating the air after the recent PGA/DP World Tour/Saudi Arabia Golf merger. But that doesn’t mean the acrimony has completely faded.

Several golfers stayed loyal to the PGA Tour when they were offered tens of millions of dollars to join the Saudi-backed LIV Golf, only to see their own organisation take the Saudi money; this eroded trust between the parties.

Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), which is worth $600-billion and owns other sports entities such as Newcastle United in the Premier League, will bankroll the entity that emerged from the merger.

The PGA has argued that it had no choice but to find a way to work with the PIF in a golf arms race it couldn’t sustain against Saudi Arabia’s billions.

“The PGA Tour is not that big in terms of players,” PGA Tour board member Jimmy Dunne said during sworn testimony before the US Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations in Washington, DC earlier this month.

“If [LIV] takes five players a year, in five years they can gut us. They’ve got a management team that wants to destroy the Tour. And even though [LIV] could take five or six players a year, they have an unlimited horizon and an unlimited amount of money.

“It isn’t like the [LIV] product is better. It’s just that there’s a lot more money that will make people move.”

Lack of consultation

The PGA Tour might have come to the only conclusion it could — that it was impossible to compete with the PIF’s billions — but that hasn’t appeased leading players.

The fact that the deal was done without any consultation with members (players) still rankles as golf’s focus moved to Britain for a fortnight. Last week’s Scottish Open — won in spectacular fashion by Rory McIlroy — and this week’s Open have put the merger back in the spotlight.

“As a player on Tour, we still don’t really have a lot of clarity as to what’s going on and that’s a bit worrisome,” world No 1 Scottie Scheffler said at the Scottish Open.

“They keep saying it’s a player-run organisation — and we don’t really have the information that we need.”

Former Open and Masters winner Jordan Spieth took a similar line.

Jay Monahan

Jay Monahan, PGA Tour Commissioner, returns to work on 24 July after medical leave. He will have to mend some fences with players after the merger. (Photo: Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

“Just based on conversations I’ve had with players [trust issues exist], and I think he [PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan] realises that,” Spieth said last week. “I’m sure he’s preparing a plan to try and build it back.

“It’s a member-run organisation with a voluntary board that’s supposed to look out for the interests of the PGA Tour players on the board. I don’t believe that these decisions had to be made without involving players on the board and other board members.”

Leading player Xander Schauffele also piled in. “I’d say he [Monahan] has a lot of tough questions to answer on his return [Monahan has been on medical leave],” Schauffele said at the Scottish Open.

“And yeah, I don’t trust people easily. He had my trust, and he has a lot less of it now. I don’t stand alone when I say that.”

There has been some informal discussion that players who turned down LIV offers to stay on the PGA Tour, should be offered some sort of compensation in the final details of the new deal.

Jon Rahm, PGA

Jon Rahm of Spain during a practice round prior to The 151st Open at Royal Liverpool Golf Club on 18 July, 2023 in Hoylake, England. (Photo: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)

But 2023 Masters winner Jon Rahm, who turned down a reported $350-million to join LIV Golf and stayed loyal to the PGA Tour, struck a more conciliatory tone at this week’s Open.

“We all had the chance to go to LIV and take the money and we chose to stay at the PGA Tour for whatever reason we chose,” Rahm said.

“I understand the PGA Tour wanting to do something for those players who helped and stayed on the PGA Tour, but at the same time — and I’ll be the first one to say — I wasn’t forced into anything.

“It was my choice to stay. I just stayed because I think it’s the best choice for myself and for the golf I want to play. Now, with that said, if they want to do it, I’m not going to say no.

“I already make an amazing living doing what I do. I’m extremely thankful, and that all happened because of the platform the PGA Tour provided me. They’ve done enough for me, and their focus should be on improving the PGA Tour and the game of golf for the future generations.”

Rory McIlroy, PGA

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland won the Scottish Open last week and is among the favourites to win the 151st Open at Royal Liverpool Golf Club. (Photo: Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

Rory roars

While tensions and questions about the future of the game still swirl like the wind off the Irish Sea across Hoylake, the tournament could be one of the classics.

All the sport’s leading players arrived at The Open in good form and confident — none more so than McIlroy. And the course itself has some sharp teeth. Especially when the wind blows.

After two years of being the face of the PGA Tour’s resistance to LIV Golf, McIlroy was sideswiped by the merger and left deeply betrayed. That he has managed to come back and play such good golf under the circumstances says a great deal about his character and state of mind.

At the Scottish Open he produced a birdie, birdie finish, including a two-iron shot from the semi rough to a few feet from the 18th hole that will go down in folklore, to win it by a stroke.

It’s been a season of close calls for McIlroy who started the year with victories but faded in the middle part. Last week’s win was a boost.

“That two iron on the last will always be up there as one of the best shots, period, of my career. I’ve improved as a wind player and those shots prove that,” McIlroy said.

“I’ve had my chances over the last couple of months and been knocking on the door. I just haven’t quite been able to get over the line so hopefully this breaks the seal and we can go on from here.”

McIlroy won the Open the last time it was played at Royal Liverpool in 2014, which was the fourth of his five majors. He subsequently won the 2014 PGA Championship to have five majors by the age of 25. It prompted Jack Nicklaus to predict that he would win “15 or 20 majors”. McIlroy has not won another since.

“I’ve had so many close calls,” McIlroy said. “I’ve had a great nine years and won a lot of tournaments but the big four have eluded me. Hopefully this week that’s something I can change.

“It’s nice to be back here. It’s not like I think about it all that often so it’s nice to come back and re-familiarise myself with the course. It’s nice to come back to a major venue you’ve won on, but it also makes you feel a bit old.” DM

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