Time for a big purse freeze

Ivan Morris
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Time for a big purse freeze

The 4 Aces celebrate winning the team prize at Bedminster (Photo by Chris Trotman/LIV Golf via Getty Images)

Overseas golfers have willingly joined the PGA Tour for two reasons: to earn more money and improve their chances of gaining entry into (and winning) any of the three majors staged in the USA.

In Bob Jones’s day, there were two professional majors: the US Open and The Open Championship in Britain. Then in June 1960, to facilitate a story he was writing about Arnold Palmer’s upcoming challenge for the Centenary Open at St. Andrews, Bob Drum declared in the Pittsburgh Press that The Masters (in retrospect) and PGA (arbitrarily) to be majors and Arnold had every chance of winning a Grand Slam. That’s how simply an almost unbreakable tradition (nowadays) was created. Due to one man’s crazy idea, something never previously discussed gained traction and nothing has ever been the same again.

Drum was also widely-read as an all-sports columnist with Sports Illustrated and was famous as the kind of writer who could make the taciturn, Ben Hogan, appear like a stand-up comedian. He once claimed that Arnold Palmer made 4,657 birdies in a week and that there really were no such people as Cary Middlecoff and Gene Littler, both of whom went about playing golf so inconspicuously that they ‘mailed in their scores’ when each of them won their US Opens in 1949 and 1956 (Middlecoff) and 1961 (Littler)

Once upon a time, one had to be a world-beater just to make a living playing tournament golf but, in 2022, LIV Golf can provide a ‘has been’ two million dollars by finishing last of 48 ‘runners’ in eight 54-holes, no cut exhibitions. It might be one’s last big pay day but, somehow, I doubt it. Money is never thrown around by the super-rich as freely as we might think.

The two most surprising things about LIV Golf are how different and exciting (so far) watching its tournaments have been on TV and that less than half of the players are fully contracted and own a share in their team franchises – the other participants are on inferior ’temporary’ contracts linked to how they perform. It really is the franchise aspect that has attracted the likes of Cam Smith, Dustin Johnson, Ian Poulter and Phil Mickelson to join. Apparently, the rewards are mega.

LIV seems to be here to stay as a viable counterweight to the dominance of the PGA Tour that the ET/DPW or Asian Tours have never been able to match. The PGA Tour has always been solely concerned with its own domestic interests, and has never done anything for grassroots golf – apart from ‘stealing’ the best overseas players.

Greg Norman has put the Commissioners Monahan (PGA Tour) and Pelley (DPW Tour) in a pickle. The issues are: how many top players like Cam Smith and Dustin Johnson (both of whom must be rated in the world’s top 10 or 5) will follow and take up the LIV opportunity? Will every participant in LIV Golf be banned (for life)? A mere slap on the wrist ban for the inaugural group of LIV players may well lead to a ‘rebounding-avalanche of bolters’ in 2023.

It has been widely reported that Johnson is receiving a ‘guaranteed $150-million’. Along with what he already has ‘in the bank’ he’ll hardly care if he ever has to find something other than tournament golf for his amusement. Who knows, Dustin may not actually enjoy playing golf? He doesn’t give the impression that he is head over heels in love with it. It’s a means to an end – lots of money!

Will Zalatoris who earned $10-million+ in his first season on the PGA Tour, in spite of it being blighted by injury, says: “The money that these (LIV) guys are given right now, is just more money. It’s not life-changing money, it’s just more”. Shane Lowry says the amount of money being earned is ‘disgusting’. By all accounts, Shane hasn’t been shy about spending it, more luck to him. Rory McIlroy says money does not matter to him and has not hidden his ’hate’ for LIV golfers who were once his team mates and friends. He does not want any LIV players on the Ryder Cup team. US Open champion, Matt Fitzpatrick, has a more sanguine view and would ‘happily’ play beside them on the team, if selected.

A Ryder Cup captaincy is a lucrative pension for life. For Graeme McDowell and Henrik Stenson to throw that opportunity away is so extraordinary that Seve Ballesteros must be spinning in his grave. Colin Montgomerie has said as much and that LIV will undermine the long term future of the Ryder Cup. Imagine a biennial match between LIV and U-S-A? The players (and fans) might have to wear helmets and shin guards; putting Ryder Cup rivalries in the halfpenny place.

LIV Golf has more resources than the PGA Tour and is well capable of undermining its structure. What Norman has cobbled together is better than what I thought and is certainly not a failure, in the short term, anyway. Older pros nearing retirement, who have ‘seen it all’ like Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter, remember the days when money was scarce and know well that a golf career can be cut short without a moment’s notice. It has made them hard-nosed and pragmatic.

Past their best and probably tired of living in the USA for a major part of the year, they are willing to accept the guaranteed money and run the risk of a ban that may, or may not, happen? Who can honestly blame them? Still, many fans are volubly indignant over LIV and believe there is no moral justification for the obscene prize money on offer at the same time as the PGA Tour’s response has been to dramatically increase its own purses, introduce twenty, new, no cut tournaments for reduced (invited) fields that are selected by social media performance rather than what is produced on the golf course. Go figure that kind of ‘meritocracy’ out!

Problems are usually a few years in the making. Jay Monahan’s predecessor as Commissioner, Tim Finchem’s recruitment policy of mandatory personality tests for all staff (to weed out dissension) is now reaping it rewards. All yes men does not make for a healthy organisation. Perhaps Norman believes he is wasting his time negotiating with PGA Tour staff clones and decided to cut loose and go “full rogue’ by declaring he has no interest in speaking to them either?

For amateurs, the epitome of the royal and ancient game is the touring professional, but this respect and admiration is not returned. The higher the level, the more fiendishly competitive the game of golf is. Those who can survive are rare personalities that can often be contemptuous of not only ‘humble amateurs’ but also dismissive of anyone who has not prospered as a pro.

Professional golf is big business and getting bigger all the time. LIV will make it (a lot) bigger or it will destroy it. I’m convinced that too much money, not too little of it, will kill all sports in the end. Rightly or wrongly, LIV has happened. It’s gaining traction and it will change golf. How it will change it (ultimately) is the big question.

No amount of money compares to winning a major trophy. The Masters, PGA Championship, U.S. Open and The Open increased their purses substantially (because of player gripes), while at the same time continuing to put as much as they could into enhancing their championships and the game. After a summer of absurdity, it’s time for a purse-freeze. Let’s see how many LIV and PGA Tour players turn up to play for a place in history and less money? Call their bluff! Nobody is forced to play in majors. If you do not like the prize fund – don’t play! There will be a long queue to take your place.


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