KILKENNY, Ireland – Clumsy.
That will be the tone Monday morning at stately Adare Manor when the stars of the game, sanctioned or not, gather for the JP McManus Pro-Am. It’s far too easy to imagine an uncomfortable brush as Tiger Woods, who will be playing in public for the first time since the Masters, passes Bryson DeChambeau, who was one of the second wave of PGA Tour players to join LIV last week. wave added.
Imagine at some point that Rory McIlroy, the outspoken frontman of the anti-LIV set, LIV convert Graeme McDowell or Ian Poulter or Lee Westwood offers a nervous nod of the head and nothing more.
It’s a disturbing status quo that professional golf seems to be aiming for as the gap widens by the day (Paul Casey became the last player to perform for LIV late on Saturday) and the news cycle is only speeding up.
Last week saw the first LIV event on US soil, adding seven more Tour players to the list of excommunicated people and the apparent first of what promises to be a parade of lawsuits, appeals, motions and files. Tour commissioner Jay Monahan has been clear there is no turning back for those provoked by the deep pockets of the Saudi-backed rival league, but the game will go on.
Here’s what we know, what we think and what could be:
an alliance† Last week the PGA Tour and DP World Tour a strengthened alliance announced that will now include a direct path to the US circuit for the top 10 finishers each season in Europe. But how far are both sides willing to go?
The new deal did not come with additional sanctioned events, such as the original deal which includes the Scottish Open and Barbasol Championship next week, as well as the Barracuda Championship.
The deal will give the Tour additional ownership (now 40 percent) of European Tour Productions and give the European circuit a valuable marketing partner who has been instrumental in securing title sponsors for both the Irish Open and Scottish Open. But where the alliance is headed remains unclear.
When asked at a players’ meeting earlier this week whether the current alliance was a harbinger of an outright merger, European chief executive Keith Pelley seemed deliberately vague: “Only if [a merger] makes sense and if [the membership] wanted to do,” he said.
The enhanced alliance creates a united front at a crucial time for the sport, but it’s not seamless.
A distinction† Moments after the first tee shots were played at the inaugural LIV Golf event in London last month, the PGA Tour announced that members who defied tournament rules and played the breakaway circuit have been suspended indefinitely. It was an equally quick response last week when the circuit seven more players banned who were in the field at the second LIV event.
However, the DP World Tour’s response is noticeably more nuanced.
Pelley, after weeks, finally made up his mind on how to handle her members joining LIV, it was much less final than the PGA Tour’s response. The European players were fined (approximately $105,000) and banned from participating in the co-sanctioned events (Scottish Open, Barbasol Championship and Barracuda Championship). According to various sources, the European Tour does not have the legal license to suspend players indefinitely, such as the PGA Tour.
As much as Monahan and the Tour would like to see a united front, when it comes to the LIV players, it’s not that simple.
a gap† What was a unique golf response among players to the LIV Golf Challenge is beginning to unravel.
The view across the professional ranks had clung to the “independent contractor” notion of live and let live. But as the uneasy economic realities set in, that tolerance has been tested.
“To be fair, most players on this side [the DP World Tour] will think the sanctions are too light, way too light,” Padraig Harrington said at the Horizon Irish Open. “The players would want more.”
Justin Thomas gave a very personal answer to the growing divide on the podcast No Laying Up last week.
“It hurts us,” said Thomas. “I’ve heard someone bring up a good point, which is that they say I’m sure at some point, you know, there’s going to be some sort of lawsuit and if one of those guys that left on the other tour to play, the Tour, they are suing me, they are suing Rory, they are suing Tiger, they are suing everyone they looked in the face, looked in the eye and played rounds, played on cup teams with, shared moments, whatever, with and they’re suing us.”
At best, interactions between factions are sure to get tense. At worst, old friendships will be replaced by animosity.
An answer† Given Monahan’s hardline, it’s hard to imagine an ecosystem where everyone — the PGA Tour, DP World Tour, and LIV Golf — can coexist. But if all involved reached a turning point, there could be a path to relaxation.
According to Monahan, the Tour has not had any meetings with representatives from LIV Golf or Golf Saudi, and in any case there is no point in entering into a dialogue. Pelley did not reject the idea, however.
“We are not unfavorable to work with Golf Saudi in the future,” he told his members at Tuesday’s players’ meeting. “But that would have to be within the current professional framework.”
While the PGA Tour has made this a moral line that cannot and will not be crossed, the sensitivities on the European tour seem to allow for more flexibility.
“Remember, depending on where you come from in the world, everyone has a very different idea. Your idea of what’s right and wrong isn’t my idea,” Harrington said. “We’re all different and it really depends on where you grew up and your cultures and things like that.”
Any chance of a potential compromise between the established tours and LIV Golf is littered with non-starters and deal-breakers — not least of all LIV’s Greg Norman, who has become more of a Twitter troll than a CEO in recent weeks.
But if there is a chance to find common ground, it will probably be found on this side of the Atlantic.