#AskAlan, Vol. 60
With thoughts about the death of the Match Play, Masters predictions, Tiger and the new ball, LIV’s financial future and more
By Alan Shipnuck
Do you sense the players are disappointed the Tour may no longer have a match play event, or are they not that bothered? @tonyjdear
Both. Everyone loves the idea of a match play event…until it is conducted. The players always hated that when the Match Play was single-elimination, they could have an embarrassingly brief one-day work week. Sponsors and TV execs anguished over losing so many stars early in the week. The solution was the round-robin pool play, which guaranteed every player three matches but robbed the event of its win-or-go-home essence and corresponding tension. It’s a symbolic loss, but the top 64 players on Tour will gladly sacrifice the Match Play for a no-cut designated event, which is essentially what has happened.
Talk me out of these and/or rank them in order of least likely to most likely:
Masters — Rory; PGA — Spieth; U.S. Open — Rickie; Open — Xander @Blulinski
Rory McIlroy is a top-10 machine at the Masters but has accumulated so much scar tissue along the way that he’s approaching the point of no return. (That he’s messing around with new putters two weeks ahead of Augusta does not inspire confidence.) Big, bad Oak Hill seems ill-suited to Jordan’s flighty play; he has looked so shaky in crunch time lately I’m not sure he is ready to win anywhere. Rickie Fowler is trending, but after all these years lost in the wilderness it’s a big ask for him to win the national Open. Xander Schauffele at Hoylake seems like the best bet here.
Q: No matter how you slice it, the proposed ball rollback is a rule aimed at only a few thousand golfers worldwide. Why are the governing bodies so interested in policing the pro game? It has no impact on amateurs or the courses we play. #askalan @kevin_demsky
You just eloquently explained why the USGA has decided to bifurcate the rules! No one is going to touch your ball, or mine. We can keep chasing the distance we desperately need. But professional golf is a powerful force in our game—it inspires and educates and entertains weekend hackers. Alas, modern, tech-infused athletes have gained too much of an advantage over their ancient playing fields. The USGA is trying to slow the inexorable distance gains and restore some balance in how the pro game is played. I think it’s the right call.
Do the Green Coats have it in them to mix pairings with LIV and PGA Tour guys? It would be so juicy to have a Rory/Cam or Tiger/Phil pairing for the first two rounds. Once we get to Sunday, though… the scenes around 18 green if a LIV guy is in contention will be something. How’s it play out? @EddieK619
Rory/Reed would be even better! And, gawd, Tiger/Phil would be epic, not to mention Freddie and Phil. Alas, that’s not happening. The lords of Augusta are not interested in creating any sideshows. The polarizing LIV players will be paired with the most innocuous, easygoing Tour players and as many amateurs as possible. Everything the Masters does this time around will be about defusing tensions. If a LIV player is in the hunt I expect the reception will be a little tepid but ultimately respectful, because no one wants to get kicked out of the Masters for life for bad behavior. Might be a little ruder/rowdier at the ensuing majors, though.
What do you think is the singular biggest thing that could put LIV on the mainstream news cycle for its golf product (vs. political/disruptive news so far)? @rchav9
Only five LIV golfers can move the needle, roughly in this order: Phil Mickelson, Cam Smith, Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka. Maybe Patrick Reed, but usually for the wrong reasons. LIV badly needs these guys to play well, and one or more to dominate. Most of all, it needs a few of its biggest names to contend at the majors. If one of them wins the Masters, the volume gets turned all the way up on this thing.
LIV won’t gear back the ball. They will promote the same ball us mortals use. Big marketing point for LIV. @Deadcenter12
Yes, that would be a clever way to endear themselves to the mythical casual fan who, anecdotally, hates bifurcation. (In reality, I’m not sure how many care.) But all of the major championships will be played under whatever rules the USGA sets, so if LIV renounces the new ball—but the PGA Tour doesn’t—that would put LIVers at a monumental disadvantage at the majors. Having a chance to win major championships will trump pandering to non-conformist fans. I think LIV will wait to see what the PGA Tour does and then mirror that.
When at the LIV event, did you get a sense from any player that it could be the beginning of the end? @The_Real_DA
No, just the opposite: Those guys are all-in. There was already an us-against-them mentality on that tour, and the new emphasis on the team model has only increased the players’ buy-in. Believe it or not, it appears they’re having fun out there.
If the USGA or PGA went with a model of 8-9 courses to be rotated through every 10 years (the other 1-2 being wild cards), what would your preferred rotation look like? And what 2-3 wild cards would you like to include? #AskAlan @thestables1896
The USGA dabbles in new venues, but I want it to lean in on the classics. Meanwhile, the PGA of America needs to differentiate itself, and the easiest way would be an emphasis on new, buzz-worthy sites. I’d love to see these roots:
USGA: Pebble Beach, Winged Foot, Pinehurst, Oakmont, Oakland Hills, The Country Club, Los Angeles C.C. (it’s gonna be a smash hit), Shinnecock Hills, Olympic, Bethpage
Wild cards: Myopia Hunt, Merion, Cherry Hills, Chicago GC
PGA: Pine Valley, Prairie Dunes, Pacific Dunes, Sand Hills, Friar’s Head, Whistling Straits, Southern Hills, Bandon Trails, Ocean Course
Wild cards: Chambers Bay, National Golf Links, Quail Hollow
Will LIV have to do some sort of revenue sharing to make sure teams remain viable financially? If a team isn’t winning enough, how can they afford the expenses of global travel? In other words, are the Cleeks destined to be the Pittsburgh Pirates? #askalan @jjgottschalk
Lotsa questions about the LIV business model after my stories from Mexico and Tucson. LIV has extended each team a line of credit to be used as needed for this year and into next. In 2024 the franchises will go up for sale, and if/when they sell, the owners will be footing the bills. Selling the teams is a key to LIV being a viable business. Let’s say they sell for an average of $100 million. That sounds like a lot, but there are tons of bored billionaires who want to buy their way into professional sports. Almost none of them will get an NFL or NBA franchise, which cost at least a couple billion dollars. But if they love golf, LIV could be a fun consolation prize; you can party with Dustin and Paulina on their boat or have Phil play in your member-guest. For nerdy rich dudes who can’t break 90, this kind of access is probably a bargain at only 100 milli! LIV owns 75 percent of each team while the players (mostly captains) have the rest of the equity.
So in this thought experiment, LIV gets $75 million on each sale. Times 12, that’s close to a billion dollars, which is more or less what will have been spent on purses and signing bonuses and operational costs last year and this year. Now the PIF has gotten back its initial investment. Let’s say LIV’s operating costs are $500 million a year. Going forward it would need to get that back in TV deals, ticket sales, corporate suites, pro-ams and the usual revenue streams. This might be doable if LIV can cut TV deals with SKY Sports and the Japanese, Korean, Aussie, South African and Mexican versions of ESPN. There are a lot of ifs and optimism built into these scenarios, but I think you can construct a theoretical case to where LIV breaks even, which would be a huge win considering the ridiculous burn rate at the outset.
Can you please comment (go ahead and ramble) on Tiger’s chances once the ball changes for the majors?? He’ll still be under 50 and playing with a shape-y ball!! Getting goosie bumpies. @tommy_tracker
This is an underrated and still unknown piece of the rollback: How much more with the new balls spin compared to the current versions that have minimal curve? If it’s a lot, that certainly helps an artiste like Tiger, especially because he grew up playing that game while all these twenty-something hot shots came of age in the Pro-V1 era. I mean, if we went to balatas for this year’s Masters, Tiger would have to be the favorite, despite everything.
Will anyone discuss golfer acquisition for LIV moving forward? How can they enhance their current lineup? Will another name PGA Tour guy jump? @mcdermott_randy
There are two key political/judicial factors: the World Ranking resolution and the ongoing arbitration case in the U.K. LIV folks have been told to expect a OWGR ruling by July. I think LIV will get points simply because the World Ranking as an institution will act in its own best interests. From its website, it has the following mission statement: “The objective of OWGR is to devise, maintain, review, update, administer and promote the recognition of a system that fairly ranks the relative performances of male professional golfers participating in the leading golf tournaments throughout the world.”
It says nothing there about turf wars between rival tours. Love or hate LIV, Cam Smith, Dustin Johnson, Abe Ancer, Talor Gooch and sundry others are undoubtedly among the best players in the world. If the OWGR continues to exclude LIV, Mark Broadie or some other sharpie will simply formulate a new algorithm that becomes the gold standard. Don’t forget, the World Ranking was invented by superagent Mark McCormack as a way to make more appearance money for his players. It is not sacrosanct. It can be replaced. So once LIV gets World Ranking points, it will obviously become easier to attract PGA Tour players. And if litigious LIV golfers win their appeal against the European Tour’s ban, that will change the landscape dramatically, allowing them to play all over the world, and also in the Ryder Cup. That would put immense pressure on the PGA of America to alter its criteria for Team USA, allowing LIV folks on that squad too. So let’s see how things play out in the coming months. But if golfers can play in the majors, play in the Ryder Cup, earn World Ranking points and get guaranteed money upfront, LIV clearly becomes more attractive.
In 1994, Alan wrote his first cover story for Sports Illustrated as a 21 year-old intern, and in the ensuing quarter-century he typed two dozen more. He is the author of eight books, including best-sellers Bud, Sweat & Tees; The Swinger (with Michael Bamberger); and Phil. Shipnuck has won 13 first-place awards in the annual Golf Writers Association of America writing contest, breaking the record of Dan Jenkins, a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame. Alan lives in Carmel, Cal.