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Saturday, June 12, 2021

Bidding war is a bad look for golf

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Golf. Where titles are won. Legacies are made, and champions are Major.

You could’ve fooled me. For all the talk of honour, prestige and tradition, new-age golf is a different beast where multi-millionaires are made without winning.

Talk lately has been far from cheap. It’s all about money, lots of it. When will enough be enough? Well, if your name’s Gates, Bezos or Buffett, then the answer is never. If it’s Mickelson, DeChambeau or Johnson, we’re about to find out.

If you haven’t already heard, the Premier Golf League is back baby, rebranded the Super Golf League because what are the odds of two takeover bids with Super in the name failing in a fortnight?

Yes, after 12 football teams were disgraced for having their greedy heads turned by dollar bills and big business, it’s now the turn of golf’s superstars to take the moral high ground, or grab the money and run.

Where the football clubs felt the wrath of their legions of supporters furious that their teams would have the gall to shite all over years of history in favour of finance, the independent contractors of golf’s main tours only have their own moral compasses to consider, and many of those broke long ago.

Rory McIlroy’s still points true north, thankfully. McIlroy sees no reason why a player’s head would be turned by the Saudi dollar. You might claim that’s easy for him to say with $150million in the bank but no player approached for this mega-bucks Super League experiment is short a penny either and you can be sure they’re a lot more tempted than McIlroy.

You only have to look at The European Tour’s new flagship event, the Saudi International, to see the lengths golfers will travel to grow the…. Jaysus, I almost said game there… Wallets. I meant grow their wallets! Where McIlroy has repeatedly turned down multi-million dollar appearance fees, the likes of Mickelson, DeChambeau and Johnson have been only delighted to indulge themselves in the Saudi Government’s sports washing drive.

Johnson’s been lured to the desert multiple times, twice a winner of the Saudi title forged in the fires of Mount Doom. But he’s also golf’s number one player who surprised many when shedding a few tears last year when winning a first Green Jacket at the Masters. Maybe the titles and traditions of the game mean more to DJ than many give him credit? Then again, if he’s to defy the boss’ orders and join a breakaway league reportedly offering the likes of Johnson upwards of $30m just to show up, then you’d wonder what he was crying about.

Still, innocent until proven guilty and all that. For the record, there’s been no word as yet from DJ, Bryson or Phil about the latest rumours of a SGL coup. Then again, I’d bide my time too before I nailed my colours to the Saudi mast.

For starters, much will depend on the consequences of joining such a league of extraordinary gentlemen. I’d wager (look at me with my money) that many top players could accept suspension or expulsion from the Tour, especially if they can still compete at the game’s biggest events. Take the Majors off the table, however, and maybe at a stretch, the Ryder Cup, and it would be hard to see how anyone’s head could be turned by such a proposal.

Hope can be found elsewhere, too. Not least, because players have turned down money before. Take the European Tour’s unimaginative efforts at bridging the gap with the PGA Tour pre-Covid. They threw money at their problems with a record $2 million first prize cheque in Turkey in 2019. A week later and they’d up the ante by half a million in South Africa. It rose to a $3 million bonanza in the oil-rich UAE; the largest individual tournament prize in golf, and that was before they started chopping up a $5 million bonus pool between the top-5 players on the Race to Dubai.  

Good money if you can get it says you. Well not for those at golf’s top table with only one of the top-20 golfers in the world traveling to South Africa at the time. Tommy Fleetwood won the $2.5million first prize cheque, and at least he was sound enough to admit it meant little.

“I mean, the money’s not that important,” Fleetwood said. “Obviously, I guess being a golfer these days, you have a chance at a young age to set your family up for life. I’m just very proud of that.”

And so you should be, Tommy. Fleetwood’s so rich that in August 2018, a $154,000 cheque with his name on it went to a Wells Fargo bank account with his namesake’s details attached. An unsuspecting Thomas Fleetwood received $154,480 via direct debit; the then world number 11’s reward for tying 12th at the Open Championship a fortnight prior. Fleetwood didn’t even know it was missing.

A good story for social media that one, where, by the way, if you haven’t already heard, the top Tweeters in golf will split a further $40million bonus just for the craic.

They’re nice problems to have, if you can get them. Then again, just because these independent contractors aren’t held to the standards that football clubs are by their fans, it doesn’t mean they won’t lose some support along the way.

Golf was already testing my resolve with its insane prize purses, FedEx Cup bonuses and general aptitude for being completely out of touch long before the Player Impact Programme and the Super League came to town. No more than the millions that have mangled the so-called beautiful game, golf’s commercialisation has been steadily eating away at the soul of the sport for as long as I can remember.

Maybe lockdowns and Zoom calls and the home office on repeat have magnified it for me but I find it impossible to relate to Ian Poulter chipping golf balls through the windows of his convertibles when so many people around the world are struggling. In golf terms, I find it impossible to fathom PGA professionals wanting more money when last week I wrote about three Irish players enjoying top-10 finishes on the Alps Tour and earning a combined $4,951 for their best work in months.

Sadly, this isn’t a golf problem. Last week it was football. Next week it will be something else. And I know it’s not the fault of top golfers that they’re overpaid, though it would be morally reprehensible for any SGL converts to aid the sports washing drive of the Saudi Government. The money has to go somewhere. I get that. It’s just a pretty horrific reflection on the PGA Tour that in order to maintain player loyalty, their go-to move is to make the rich, richer, time and time again.

 

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