Money! Money! Money!

As the PGA Tour throws more cash at the players in a desperate attempt to thwart the Saudis,
the timeless appeal of pro golf is being destroyed

By Michael Bamberger
June 23, 2022

Take-take-take-take-take-take-take-take-take.

Also: more-more-more-more-more.

Everywhere you look these days in professional golf, there’s a whole lot of taking going on, coupled with a demand for more. It’s not good for business.

The LIV Golf series—Greg Norman presiding; the notorious MBS lurking—is taking various name-brand players from the PGA Tour.

The players leaving for greener pastures—Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed, Bryson DeChambeau, Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia and various other me-me-me’s—are taking all that Saudi have-you-over-a-barrel oil money and falling into the richest black hole in professional golf history.

Can you imagine the LIV events as competitive tournaments with meaningful outcomes, with events that paying fans and TV viewers and the mainstream sports media will ever really care about? Hard to see it. Maybe LIV Golf will try to buy Golf Channel, or start something similar, and pay people to watch.

Quick aside: On the Monday after a Masters, nobody has ever talked about the first-place money. But millions of us have discussed so-and-so’s second shot into 13.

And now comes the PGA Tour’s misguided response to the Saudis, as outlined on Wednesday at the Travelers Championship, Jay Monahan, playing an expensive round of tit-for-tat. Here’s the subtext of what he said: The Tour will now take hundreds of millions of corporate dollars from publicly traded companies—our money, really—in a desperate attempt to stop the upstart league from buying more Tour players.

By the commissioner’s own admission, adding all this eureka money into the pot is not a sound or sustainable business plan.

“If this is an arms race and if the only weapons here are dollar bills, the PGA Tour can’t compete,” Monahan said. Behind him was a scrim adorned with FedEx and Travelers and PGA Tour logos. By his right hand was a bottle of Dasani water, a Coca-Cola product. Coca-Cola is a proud sponsor of the PGA Tour. In 2018, Dasani Sparkling water became the official sparking water of the PGA Tour. Well, somebody has to pay the bills around here. 

Quick Aside II: FOX Sports executives found they couldn’t make any money from the $1.1 billion deal they signed with the USGA in 2013. Plus, they didn’t understand golf and didn’t do golf-on-TV particularly well. Both sides couldn’t wait to get out. History has a tendency to repeat itself.

Monahan on Wednesday, from prepared remarks: “The PGA Tour, an American institution, can’t compete with a foreign monarchy that is spending billions of dollars in attempt to buy the game of golf.”

Nobody owns golf. You can’t buy it. But you can buy the appearance of looking modern and capitalistic and mainstream, and that’s what the Saudis are doing. Yes, this golf-washing is a real thing. We’ve all taken mud-encrusted golf balls, put them in those red-and-black ball-washing cylinders and seen the magic they can produce. Multiply that by infinity.

Donald Trump is all in on this LIV series, after being rejected by the PGA Tour and the USGA and the PGA of America and the Royal & Ancient. As the 45th president of the United States, he was our first president who would not publicly commit to the peaceful transition of power. Trump is fun to play golf with—I’ve played with him a bunch—but how can you not see that as dangerous? Yet as the de facto host of two LIV events in the U.S. between now and October, he will have opportunities to press flesh with Bryson and DJ and Phil. He will be engaged in some high-quality golf-washing, and the fellas will be his co-conspirators.

Quick Aside III: Trump, as president and now ex-president, has tried and is trying to turn a sacred American practice, trust in the independent counting of votes, into a piñata. Here’s a golf equivalent: Can you imagine any kind of serious golf where we could not trust the score the players say they shot?

Monahan guided the Tour with considerable skill through the dark days of the pandemic. Now, though, the Tour he leads is suddenly hyper-focused on the wrong thing, trying to keep the Saudis from buying more name-brand players. The starting point to the Tour’s appeal is that millions of us like to watch golf, a notoriously difficult game requiring astounding ethics and self-control. There was barely a nod to us in his 40-minute press conference.

The players cashing in with LIV (including Graeme McDowell and Louis Oosthuizen) made their names by contending at multiple televised PGA Tour events and (most especially) in Grand Slam tournaments. Pretty much all of the players cited in this story could walk the Mall of America near Minneapolis for a week and be recognized about three times. As people, they have no cultural impact on the world at large. They take. Their lack of gratitude for the world that enriched them is stunning.

I cannot imagine any player making the jump to this LIV series having the mettle it takes to win another Grand Slam event, but maybe that’s just wishful thinking.

John Feinstein wrote this the other day in The Washington Post:

“[Rory] McIlroy and Garcia are good friends; they were in each other’s weddings. But when Garcia told McIlroy the reason to join the LIV Tour was `so we can finally get paid what we deserve,’ McIlroy laughed out loud. `Sergio,’ he said, `We’re golfers. We don’t deserve to be paid anything.’”

Maybe Rory will take over the tournament that Mickelson used to host, the old Bob Hope event. He has to be in line for something here. I wish I could take credit for this next idea, but I’m stealing it from one of Monahan’s compatriots. Here’s a message for any player who wants to leave the PGA Tour for the LIV series: Bye-bye

Quick Aside IV: Create a new system for earning World Ranking points. You can only get them by playing in 72-hole events with a cut. If that forces the LIV series to redefine its whole MO, so be it. If that compels the PGA Tour to rethink the WGCs and the newly proposed big-money events, I’m all for that.

The Tour is taking its cues from LIV, and we’re going to be stuck with it for years to come. All this emphasis on the top 70 players brings to mind the old Tour, where only the top 60 money winners had full status for the following year. Top 60 used to be a magic number. Come 2024, top 70 will be. It guarantees you a place in four tournaments with giant paydays and small fields, including Tiger’s event (L.A.), Arnold’s (Bay Hill) and Jack’s (the Memorial).

In professional golf, free and fair competition, to use a phrase Monahan likes, starts with full fields and four rounds with a cut. The PGA Tour, pretty much as is, might have been in for a couple of rocky years, but new players, new so-called stars, would have emerged, by winning these hard-to-win events and contending, and maybe winning Grand Slam events.

Quick Aside V: Will Zalatoris. There are others Willie Zs out there. We just don’t know their names yet. Did you know his name three years ago?

I think this needs to be said: It’s not like the PGA Tour is some cuddly us-against-the-world sports league. Over the years, I’ve had dozens of conversations with players, caddies, reporters, fans, course operators, sponsors, volunteers, TV executives and others who can cite for you, chapter and verse, the Tour’s astounding arrogance. The tournaments do all manner of good works. They put on a show and raise money for charity. Nobody would ever accuse the NBA of taking itself too seriously. The modern PGA Tour strikes me as too self-satisfied for its own good. It’s overstuffed.

I won’t waste much time on this because it’s too late and it’s a fantasy, but I would have liked to see the Tour keep its traditional January-through-October schedule, pretty much, with some serious tweaks to the three playoff events. I would have used October, November and December to invent some forms of competition based on what fans might enjoy watching and players might enjoy playing. Team events. Events with men and women and seniors and top amateurs playing together. Maybe an event where the players can use only four clubs. Six similar-but-different events would have been plenty and maybe would have brought in new viewers. But the main point here is, start with the fans. Fans draw sponsors. Sponsors draw players.

The players want to be shown the money.

Instead, the Tour has gone straight down the same rabbit hole as the Saudis. We all know the famous O’Jays lyric:

Money-money-money. MON-ey. Mon-EEE!

The song, you may know, is called “For the Love of Money.”

The oddest bit of news this week is Nick Faldo’s retirement announcement. Trevor Immelman, winner of the 2006 Cialis Western Open (its name then) and the 2008 Masters, will replace Faldo as the new CBS lead golf analyst. Faldo said he wants to spend more time on his Montana ranch with his wife, Lindsay De Marco. If you say so, Sir Nick.

Quick Aside VI: The comedian Tom Segura has a three-year-old son who insists on being called “sir.”

What a shame, for golf if not for Phil, that he didn’t get Faldo’s job. What a shame that he danced with the Saudis as they showed all those sparkling rubies, got even more cocky (which had been his stock in trade) and then mouthed off to my colleague Alan Shipnuck.

Had he played his hand with a soupçon less greed, Mickelson could have played the Masters this year as the reigning PGA champion, maybe even made the cut, then climbed into the booth late on Saturday and been introduced as Sir Nick’s worthy successor.

This would seem more than realistic: a $100 million deal for 10 years, 10 tournaments a year and Mickelson could still play wherever he wished, including the Masters. (Imagine what Callaway and KPMG and Workday would have paid Mickelson in that scenario!) That would have made the PGA Tour a more interesting, as they say these days, product.

Maybe that’s the root of the problem, turning golf into a product, something that can be bought and sold. An entertainment product. None of us care about a product. What drew us in was the game.

Michael Bamberger welcomes your comments at [email protected]

39 thoughts on “Money! Money! Money!”

  1. superb…as always. I have had fun at a place I used to play with an annual 4 club tournament…the best fun! Michael is onto so many good thoughts here. Yes, imagine Phil with CBS instead of with the sportswashers and the shotgun start! thanks for your excellent perspective!

  2. I think your assessment is spot on without even making mention of source of the money. Well written, I look forward to more. This is my first stop at the Fire Pit.

  3. Phil in the booth for that contract and the ability to play the Masters and other tournaments would have been phenomenal. A shame it won’t happen. Oh well…I live in Frisco, TX where the new PGA headquarters will be. I just hope that the new rise in tournament payouts don’t lead to a rise in what it will cost for residents like me to play the 2 new courses that are being built at their new location.

    1. Respectfully Ferndog…
      PGA of America is in Frisco TX
      PGA Tour is on Ponte Vedra FL
      Both have a shiny new campus.
      Inflation and supply / demand for tee times are the enemy of your greens fees. Not the PGA of America.

  4. I don’t see a lack of gratitude. What do they owe the PGA. If they don’t perform, the PGA takes their card with no sympathy. It is all performance based and that includes the PGA Tour. LIV made a better offer. It is no different than one NFL team offering more than another NFL team. The player shouldn’t be accused of a lack of gratitude for taking a better offer. Is LIV overpaying?… Yes. But they can do that if they want.

    1. THISSEASONWILLBEDIFFERENT

      They certainly made a better financial offer. But is it a better offer if the players are in fact prevented from playing in PGA Tour events, do not earn OWGR points, and are prevented from playing in the blessed Majors? To say nothing of the stigma of where the money comes from? The quality and character of the defectors thus far I find fairly telling. Not one will be missed. Not a single one. I am no fan of monopolies and anti-competitive behavior, but the Sovereign Fund does not recognize competition in the conventional sense – because nobody can compete with them financially. Nobody. They simply do not care about making a profit. It’s a joke this league. The author’s best point (among many fine ones) is the Zalatoris observation. Phil, DJ, Koepka (cause he’s a just a dick) and even (gasp) Tiger – you can have all of them. Out with the old and in with the new. Here’s hoping we can keep them…

      1. Unfair to include Tiger in the context of this discussion. He has expressed his commitment to the PGA tour and turned down twice (at least) the money Phil took to jump ship.

        1. THISSEASONWILLBEDIFFERENT

          Should have been clearer – obviously Tiger is not involved with LIV. That is well publicized. How much credit we choose to give him and Nicklaus for turning down LIV is an interesting but different topic.

          My point is this – many young, very promising golfers on Tour and it is high time they become the focus. One perhaps unintended good from all of this is that a number of the older and less likable players (Phil, DJ, Koepka, DeChambeau, Reed, etc.) will be gone and make room for this new class. As for Tiger, yes I think it is high time we move on. But NEVER going to happen I am afraid. Just look at the Ads playing now for The Open – “if Tiger could win his Third, it would be LEGENDARY.” Tiger is not the future, he is not even the present. Let’s start focusing PR and marketing efforts elsewhere.

  5. Chris Gallagher

    Very well-written, which is not surprising. What is surprising, however, is that Michael Bamberger is aware of Tom Segura. Try it out!

  6. I am really very worried about how many commercials we will be subjected to – as Alan notes, the $$$$ has to come from somewhere.

  7. I agree with virtually everything you wrote here Mr. Bamberger. But two questions: 1) Why is having a cut a necessary element of receiving OWGR points? A tournament where every player completes the full tournament would be a better measure of how they performed against each other. (And all should be paid for their play, so they at least don’t lose money for their work). 2) If Trump is as bad as you say (and he clearly is and has been for years), why are you playing golf with him? You’re better than that.

    Steve

    1. I asked myself the same question. Why play with Trump? He’s bad for the game, not good. A notorious cheater. And he drives his golf cart on the green.

    2. Good question on the Trump play. I guess Mr. B isn’t immune to the lure of rubbing shoulders with the rich (supposedly) and (in)famous.

      The cut requirement is because all the tournaments with a cut are “full field,” whereas the no-cut events are limited-field, featuring only the elite. And when you give those OWGR points, you are by definition tilting the playing field to benefit the already-successful.

  8. As an Australian, a massive golf-loving country; we have suffered at the US Tour’s ‘growth’. The expansion to an all-year program has destroyed our local tour. Our complaints/compromise offers were dismissed in the typical US manner.

    1. This is a very good point and little talked about (or perhaps even known?) in America. The PGA has shown zero regard for our tour and various others. Greg Norman always returned to support the tour (and played well). It is a rich opportunity for LIV to pour big money and players into them. What happens if they “own” the Australian and Japanese tours for instance? What do Matsuyama, Smith, Scott and Co do? I’m no fan of how they’ve gone about it but why do they always wait for the disrupters before addressing the obvious ?

      1. These are really good points. Australia once had an amazing tour with many of the best locals and often top international players making for brilliant vibrant events with big crowds. Once the PGA Tour went year round, that quickly disappeared. No doubt it has affected many other smaller tours. I hate what is happening but there is clearly a global element to all this playing out and some chickens may come home to roost.

    2. brandon martin

      Couldn’t agree more. The Shark always said the seed was planted in his head when “The Tour” gave him all kinds of grief for going home to play in the Australian tournaments.

  9. Phil, Dustin, and the other LIV pioneers have spurred the PGA tour to increase tournament purses. That is good for the sport and the players. The money was always there, but the PGA repressed pro golfers pay. Competition will revolutionize pro golf for the better. Greg Norman and Phil were right all along. Competition is good for the tour, the players and the fans. More power to LIV. Rock the golf world. Great job Greg Norman. Visionaries are villianized until people see results and progress. Next up will be the adoption of team play at PGA tournaments. That’s an exciting feature for viewers.

    1. One man’s pay rise is another man’s price rise. The fans ultimately get screwed over here, when all’s said and done.

    2. Next up will be the adoption of team play at PGA tournaments. That’s an exciting feature for viewers.

      Reply lol

  10. It’s probably not a coincidence, but none of the guys who have left so far are ones I would have chosen to sit down and have a beer with before all this began anyhow. As you say, Michael, good riddance.

  11. This: “Competition will revolutionize pro golf for the better. Greg Norman and Phil were right all along. Competition is good for the tour, the players and the fans. More power to LIV. Rock the golf world. Great job Greg Norman.”

    What a load of nonsense. Splitting the best players in professional golf into two completely separate entities is ludicrous. You don’t want to see Rory and Bryson go head-to-head off the tee? You don’t want to see if Dustin Johnson can add to his victory total against the best young players in the world? Sure, you may be the one guy who wants to get yet ANOTHER look at fading veterans such as McDowell, Oosthuizen, Westwood and 52-year-old Phil Mickelson, but real golf fans want to watch the best go at it ALL AT ONCE.

    And yes, Greg Norman has done “a great job.” At putting his foot in his mouth. The murder of a Washington Post reporter on orders from the Saudi monarch? “Everybody makes mistakes.” Sheesh….what a crock.

  12. Where is the LGBTQ community? I haven’t heard a peep. Also, strange to me that Justin Thomas calls himself a “fag” that is caught on mic, and looses Polo, and other deals (i don’t think he’s homophobic, he just got caught in a momentary act of immaturity). He’s then forced to apologize for weeks, and has to take “sensitivity” training. Meantime players taking money from a regime where homosexuals, Christians, and Jews are jailed (only jailed if lucky), gets no equal repercussion from worldwide corporations that advertise on their persons and gear? Hmm…have the Saudis already bought enough stock to keep them quiet?

  13. I enjoyed Mr. Shipnuck’s book on Phil Mickelson. It’s not something I would typically read but I downloaded a sample and blew through the first 30 pages. It was well done. So I decided to buy it. Kudos to Mr. Shipnuck. I had no idea who he was until the excerpt was printed a few months ago where Mickelson discussed the Saudis.

    It seems to me that Mickelson was correct. He could have articulated it better but in essence Monahan is a nice guy but won’t do the right thing unless boxed into a corner. Well, he was. It took just *one* LIV event and now all of a sudden there’s no wraparound season, there’s 8 events with $20 million purses, etc, etc.

    I think PGA Tour players should get $350,000 in upfront payment when they secure their card for the year. That at least covers operating expenses and a modest income left over. Just because Pros couch surfed for 35 years (before Tiger came along and with it bigger money) doesn’t make it right. No other major pro sport behaves this way. Are NHL players staying at Motel 6?

    Like most things, when the raw emotion wears off, there will be a solution to all of this.

    I think Monahan’s big mistake was the morality angle (BTW they’ve been playing in Saudi for years). Obviously, many pro players don’t care where the money comes from. Now he’s playing catch up. He’s done a disservice to his players and made this a bigger mess than it otherwise would have been.

    1. Yup. Monahan got caught with his pants down. It’s time for a visionary and someone who will constantly talk to the players and find a way to make the Tour work for everyone. And yeah, the players need to show more gratitude to the fans. Most say nothing at Tour events and avoid interacting with fans.

  14. If MONEY has ruined golf, it began with the very first exhibition matches over 100 years ago, in which players were lured to play in front of various audiences for MONEY.. Mr, Hamburger is a traditionalist, but he seems to have forgotten the history of professional golf. By definition, “professional golf” is about money. The PGATour was founded with the idea that the best golfers could make more MONEY by separating from the Professional Golfers Association.. Before the current World Golf Rankings there was “The MONEY List”, used for years to rank golfers, using their MONEY winnings to measure their success and quality as a player. The PGATour itself publicizes tournaments as more newsworthy based on the prize MONEY. The first tournament with a $1MM first prize was the Las Vegas tour stop in 1996, won by Tiger Woods (photographed with the trophy flanked by scantily clad Vegas showgirls, BTW). MONEY was really the only reason to think about the FedEx Cup when it launched: a putt with $10 million dollars on the line was the draw, because nobody could follow the points and the playoffs. Now the points are a bit easier to understand, but the PGATour is proud to offer a prize of $25 million dollars. More MONEY is not the problem, it is the fuel that has enabled professional golf and the PGATour to progress to its current state.

    If Mr. Bamberger wants to illuminate the situation with LIV golf with truth, he could use his journalism skills to get answers to questions like these: 1. Why is the PGATour comfortable with money from the United Arab Emirates government to sponsor it’s new partner, the DPWorld Tour, but it considers the Saudi government sponsorship of LIV to be somehow immoral? The human rights records are remarkably similar for UAE and Saudi Arabia. 2. Phil raised a point about media rights on the PGATour, but what are his media rights with LIV? 3. What is the precedent for the World Golf Rankings to ignore LIV Golf, but consider lesser competitions in developing countries? 4. Why are the new formats of LIV Golf so threatening? If they are not more interesting, then viewership will remain with the PGATour, and its business model will continue to function just fine.

    We need less moralizing and more digging for the answers to the questions that matter. Please help!

      1. Thanks for the correction. After some more research, I realized my muddled memory was thinking of the first $1 million dollar purse for a tournament, which was the Las Vegas tournament, but in 1986, a decade before Tiger won there. With this important factual correction, my point still kind of works: the Las Vegas Tournament in 1986 issued press releases and promoted the fact that it was the first PGATour tournament with a purse of $1 million dollars. The MONEY was the news, and it was considered a point of progress for the PGATour. I appreciate your engagement here.

        1. Thank you. I think what the tour craves most is prestige, and without a major or the Ryder Cup all it has to cling to is money. It resented the PGA’s slogan ‘Glory’s Last Shot’ as it undermined its late season money-grab, but now it is beaten at its own game. In time it will be LIV Golf’s poor relation, its equal only in tasteless self-promotion.

    1. I completely agree. Two other things I have haven’t heard mentioned about the moralizers yet. 1. What is the status of PGA Tour China and how was that any better than getting in business with the Saudis? 2. Rory McIlroy, the biggest anti-LIV player, was “Mr. appearance fee” early in his career and played with the Sultan of Dubai’s logo on his hat. How is not getting called out to explain this hypocrisy?

  15. I can agree with Michael Bamberger about Trump and the Saudis. But can we treat them honestly as pariahs in the game of golf when the president is planning to meet with MBS and others to convince (beg?) them to pump more oil to address a problem? The line is rather hard to draw, it seems to me.

    1. I agree with your insight. The moral dilemma also applies to the PGATour itself, which is comfortable with money from the United Arab Emirates government to sponsor its new partner, the DPWorld Tour, but it considers the Saudi government sponsorship of LIV to be somehow immoral? The human rights records are remarkably similar for UAE and Saudi Arabia.

  16. Heard some TV type say that if Phil wanted to do TV he would get “Romo money.” I guess anything is possible, but you would think PGA tour ratings would need to be waaaaay higher. Probably just me but most of the time I watch TV golf the sound is off.

  17. I think the golfing world is now starting to understand why so many of my fellow Australians loathe Greg Norman!

  18. Nobody ever accused the NBA of taking itself too seriously? What planet have you been living on the last few years. Some players threatened to cancel a season over supposed social issues that have nothing to do with uneducated young men playing basketball for ungodly amounts of money. Leave your politics out next time. I am not a Trump fan but why the need to drag him into a piece about players choosing money over legacy. You don’t think Obama hasn’t cashed in with countries we wouldn’t consider to be morally clean?

  19. “Romo money” is $18 million a year and NO professional golfer/announcer would ever get that. Not Mickelson, not Woods. Why? Because the PGA Tour is NOT the NFL. Now, I don’t know ANYONE who would ever tune into a nondescript, unimportant football game just because “Tony Romo is on the broadcast!” But somebody at CBS thought he had “star power” and thus he gets more for a single season of football than vastly-more-skilled partner Jim Nantz earns for the SAME number of football games, the PGA Tour (including the Masters) plus NCAA basketball. Right place, right time, Tony. Mickelson’s legacy is toast. Forgotten is his win at the 2021 PGA Championship at Kiawa, his marathon autograph sessions, his six major championships. Now, to me, he’s just a deserter; a guy who turned his back on the tour that made him for the last 30 years. He’s a two-faced pariah. Good riddance. (He won’t win on the LIV tour either, I’m betting.)

  20. I understand Bamberger’s lament for a disappearing time, but it isn’t practical, certainly from a player’s perspective. Average shortstops are signing for $100 million, guaranteed. Basketball contracts go up over $30 million a year for six or eight years — guaranteed. NFL players get screwed on the guarantee but their contracts are in the stratosphere. Slightly above average linebackers easily make over $10 million a year. As viewers, we love the charm of the dog-eat-dog, ‘keep only what you kill’ structure of professional golf. But from a players perspective, they have to wonder why every other sport gives guaranteed contracts but golf doesn’t? This is the way the players will prefer, and it’s inevitable. They are professional athletes. They play for money and their livelihood. Get over it.

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