Disruption of Pro Golf may reach a defining crossroads on the Burma Road   

Ivan Morris

Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter (Photo by Maddie Meyer/PGA of America/PGA of America via Getty Images)

Ivan Morris

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Ever since the Harry Colt designed West course at Wentworth near London opened in 1926, it has been renowned for its toughness. During World War II when German prisoners of war from a camp nearby in Egham, Surrey were brought in to clear the unruly vegetation that had overgrown the last six holes, the course was appropriately nicknamed The Burma Road.

Now, in 2022 judging by the public comments being made on either side of the divide, a different war has broken out. Tensions are running very high indeed. Some of the golfers appear to be spoiling for a fight as they fire verbal daggers at each other with no holding back. Big time golf is on a collision course.

After winning his third PGA Tour Championship at East Lake last week, Rory McIlroy didn’t hide his feelings: “I hate LIV Golf. I really do. I do not know how I will stomach competing side by side with the eighteen LIV Golfers entered in the BMW Championship next week.

“If you believe in something you have to speak up, and I believe very strongly about this. I hate what LIV Golf is doing to the game of golf. It doesn’t sit right with me.”

How can exchanges in the locker-room not be tense and fraught with comments like that in the public domain? Waiting to see if they spill over into fisticuffs is one good reason not to miss a minute of the BMW on TV.

Personally, I don’t blame golfers at the end of their careers joining LIV. Past their best, they are prepared to run the risk of ending their careers on a sour note for ‘one more chance’ at having their biggest-ever pay day. So what? Let them go and they should go. What I do not understand is why they still want to continue to play where they are not wanted and allow themselves to become embroiled in public rows. They made a decision: live with it!

Greg Norman knew from way back that he would be wasting his time attempting to negotiate with the PGA Tour so, he cut loose. Unaccustomed as we may be to thinking of professional golf as an industry, that is what it is: big business getting bigger. Behind the eye-watering numbers lie carefully built relationships with major corporations that sponsor tournaments, charitable organizations that share in the financial rewards and the television networks that pay millions of dollars for broadcast rights. It was against this background, that a a condition of joining the PGA Tour was being forbidden to play in a non-PGA event without permission and appearances on televised golf programs were vetoed. Without those rules, the PGA Tour could already have been swept aside by a sea of LIV money.

Eamon Lynch, writing in Golfweek, articulates the situation better than most: “Commissioner Monahan must prevent the PGA Tour from becoming LIV-lite, cushioning elite players with an extensive roster of no-cut events. The Tour can’t lose the penalty for poor showings. The highs and lows of meaningful competition ought to be preserved. There is sufficient guaranteed money in what has already been announced, and fans deserve to see their favorites stress-tested. It remains unclear what tournament eligibility, if any, will be tied to the controversial Player Impact Program (PIP). Let’s have clarity on that and make the monthly PIP standings public. Don’t stop there when it comes to transparency. Dump the ingrained culture of secrecy and be candid on disciplinary issues.”

I’m not a LIV Golf fan. I have never watched it. But, neither am I a fan of the PGA Tour and its bully boy monopoly economics. Most of all I detest the PIP payments and the arranging of events to favour a select few. That isn’t the meritocracy that professional golf should be.

If LIV was really smart and really does want to live up to its own slogan: ‘To Supercharge the Game of Golf’ and be in it for the long haul, surely it should consider investing some of its millions in secondary and third tier tours worldwide – not to mention financing teaching academies and playing facilities for grassroots golf where there aren’t any? It won’t happen – it’s not part of Greg Norman’s DNA or end game.

If enough players take the Saudi’s money, how will the PGA Tour survive the leakage? Meanwhile, how will all defectors fit into a limited field set up? The PGA and DPW Tours have no choice but to stand firm. Next week’s BMW Championship may be the last occasion that we will see members of LIV Golf and DPW and PGA Tours playing in the same tournament with ‘the perceived good guy’ members of the PGA and DPW Tours and eighteen members of the ‘bad guy’ LIV Golf fraternity on the opposing side. It’s a potential flashpoint that could cause huge damage and unforeseen consequences between the two groupings of former allies that is most unlike the normally staid and decorous Royal & Ancient game.

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