It’s been a difficult week for the PGA Tour. The Players Championship is the pinnacle of their season, the self-styled “gold standard”, and the build-up is hyped for weeks. Similar in many ways to a pay-per-view boxing event in marketing and promotion, the constant barrage is designed to instil a must-see-TV mindset.
The PGA Tour are so keen for the Players Championship to dominate the narrative that they even had NBC cut away from final round coverage of the Arnold Palmer Invitational to show Phil Mickelson arriving at Sawgrass.
They released tee-times and featured groups a full three days earlier than usual, brought us live coverage of the flower barge launch at the 17th, and had international broadcast partners such as Sky Sports rebrand their channel as “Sky Sports The Players” on tournament week.
This is not a complaint, rather, an attempt to highlight the frustration that must’ve been building as PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan addressed the press last Tuesday and was forced to use Floyd Mayweather-like defensive skills to combat an hour’s worth of questions primarily focused on the danger posed by the coronavirus and by the Premier Golf League.
By Friday morning’s press conference, Monahan had taken on the gaunt appearance of a man emerging from his corner for a twelfth round with Mike Tyson. OK, he wasn’t quite beaten to a pulp, but he did look as though he hadn’t slept in days and just had the worst week of his life. And both scenarios were quite possible.
We’re not going to go into the rights and wrongs of the Tour’s actions here because that’s already been covered, but it’s safe to say there was very little to smile about at Tour headquarters in Ponte Vedra beach.
But every cloud has a silver lining.
Faced with a weekend off, and little reason to hit the range or heavy bag, several professionals were more than happy to talk to the media, and some of the biggest names in golf were ready to strike some blows for the PGA Tour.
Jon Rahm and Brooks Koepka were joining Rory McIlroy in supporting the existing structures against the attempted coup led by British businessman Andrew Gardiner and financed by a consortium that includes Saudi Arabian financial giant Softbank.
World numbers one, two and three have landed a three-punch combo that has the PGL pinned against the ropes. Others to land jabs are Bubba Watson and Charlie Hoffman, and though they carry significantly less force than those of McIlroy, Koepka and Rahm, they all take their toll.
At this stage, the PGL’s corner is conspicuously empty and though Phil Mickelson’s shape was seen in the vicinity, he appears to be inching towards the neutral corner as the one-way barrage continues to unfold.
But the final bell has yet to sound, and the PGL have one haymaker left to throw. Were Tiger Woods to announce his intention to defect to the breakaway tour, then that would certainly throw the cat among the pigeons. Pun most certainly intended.
But that seems highly unlikely now. Too many rounds have passed since Woods shadow boxed with the PGA Tour by refusing to shut the door on the new venture at Riviera last month and the Tour has edged each of them on points.
Professional golf may be on unstable ground at present, but the PGL is balancing on spaghetti legs.
The canvas beckons.
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