Forget about the money

Mark McGowan
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Rory McIlroy (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)

It’s the easiest thing in the world, to sit on the fence, to not be drawn to one side or the other in a quarrel. Absolute good and bad exist only in fiction, in real life it’s never simply black or white. Instead, we live in various shades of grey and when the darker and lighter shades are battling it out, to stick your head above the parapet is asking to be caught in the crossfire.

That’s why what Rory McIlroy is doing for the PGA Tour – and The DP World Tour to a lesser extent – is worthy of such admiration. A string of “no comments” or banal responses when queried about LIV Golf mightn’t win him many friends, but he’d make no enemies either. Instead, he’s taken it into his own hands to generate a reform of the PGA Tour designed to make LIV much less enticing to the top players in the game.

McIlroy, along with Tiger Woods, was the driving force behind the recent top-circle players meeting at the BMW Championship during the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup playoffs and has been the most vocal critic of the Saudi-backed rival tour. Whether you agree with his sentiments or not, that he’s willing to speak his mind so candidly on the issue is impressive to say the least.

That being said, I’m a little uncomfortable at their criticism of players’ decisions to take the money. McIlroy turned pro in late 2007, aged just 18, and became an overnight millionaire by signing with Titleist. Playing on sponsors’ invites, he earned his European Tour card in just his third professional start – the youngest to ever do so – and had cracked the all-important top-50 in the world by the end of 2008.

Since then, his meteoric rise has seen him become the most marketable face in the game, sign the most lucrative equipment contracts, and has a business and investment portfolio that would be worthy of a post-golfing career on the Dragons Den.

Tiger Woods turned professional in 1996, aged 20, signing a five-year, $40 million contract with Nike before he’d hit his first ball as a pro. Most US College graduates are crippled with student loans, but Woods, who spent just two years at Stanford, was already one of the highest paid athletes in world sport. According to Forbes, as of last year, Tiger has earned $1.7 billion in endorsements alone, and that doesn’t include on-course earnings, appearance fees, etc.

So, what’s my point? Well, McIlroy and Woods have been wealthy from the moment they relinquished their amateur status, and their fortunes have only grown since. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t begrudge them a penny. Their talent is what made them rich, but talent can only take you so far, and it’s taken incredible work-ethic, single-minded ambition and an ability to perform under pressure that’s made them superstars because professional golf is a cut-throat business.

But that’s just the thing. At the top of the sport, the margins are so fine that even the most talented golfers are not guaranteed to make it, and the feeder tours are littered with players who, often for no clear and obvious reason beyond form, have dropped off the face of the earth. There are very few guarantees in life, so when you are offered a career’s worth of earnings at the stroke of a pen, regardless of future performance, it must be incredibly hard to say no.

Sure, none of the LIV players were on the breadline prior to signing, but nobody knows what the future has in store. Economic crises? Famines? Global warfare? Forced planetary migration? In each of these doomsday scenarios, those with means will be at the front of the queue for food, shelter and safe harbour, so though I think it’s unlikely that an impending apocalypse is fuelling the exodus, it’s as plausible as the overarching desire to ‘grow the game.’

And let’s face it, if it was all about golf and titles, neither Woods nor McIlroy would’ve tethered themselves to equipment manufacturers where they are contractually obliged to put certain clubs in the bag even though there may be more suitable alternatives out there bearing a competitor’s logo. Maybe both feel that TaylorMade are genuinely the best in the business, but there’s no way either would make a ten-year commitment without the nine-figure sum attached.

We’re all chained to our bank balances to some degree, I suppose, it’s just the length of our leashes that differ.

And that’s why I find it a touch discomforting to hear Tiger and Rory criticise players for making the decision to take the money, but as far as the battle for golf is concerned, they’ve formed the vanguard when it would’ve been much easier to watch from the side-lines.

That deserves respect. And respect is something that money can’t buy.

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One response to “Forget about the money”

  1. Ben Hayes avatar
    Ben Hayes

    What a ridiculous article. If you know your golf you would have mentioned Andy Ogletree in the article. That might have put some weight behind your argument. That said, I dont think fans of the game have a problem with the LIV players taking the Saudi money but then don’t come back and take it out of the pockets of the Andy Ogletree’s of this world and disrupt the order of play. Your ranking is earned and you play by the rules. Right now LIV players can play the DPWT but there’s players playing for their livelihoods who don’t have that option to take Saudi guaranteed money.

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