LIV, Saudis, PGA Tour — and the thing ‘no one wants to admit,’ according to analyst

Jay Monahan

Jay Monahan in August at the Tour Championship.

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Frank Nobilo says it’s a thing “no one wants to admit” when talking LIV Golf, the PGA Tour and the proposed agreement between the Tour and LIV’s backer, the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund.  

“They don’t want to say it,” he says.  

But Nobilo believes it, ironic as it might sound considering he’s a longtime pro and analyst himself.

“Golfers are overpaid,” he says, “compared to every other sport.”

He was talking this week on the Five Clubs podcast — which you can and should listen to here — and the Saudi topic has been both complicated and evolving. For one year and two seasons, the Tour and LIV had quarreled over players and prestige, only for men’s pro golf to spiral when Tour commissioner Jay Monahan and PIF governor Yassir Al-Rumayyan said they had come to a funding deal. And now there is waiting. 

Will the sides meet their Dec. 31 deadline? Probably not. Could they eventually agree? Perhaps. Could it fall through? Potentially. Could another funding suitor come along? Maybe. What does LIV’s future look like? Unknown.    

So on the podcast, Nobilo was simply asked this by host Gary Williams:

In 24 months, what do you think it will look like? 

“Wow,” Nobilo started. 

His thoughts were layered. He talked first of the original fight. 

LIV, he said on the podcast, is a divorce. 

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“And there’s nothing amicable,” Nobilo continued. “When you go two different ways, it’s the best way to put it. And so all the acrimony has come out. If LIV never happened, would the people who have gone talked so poorly of the PGA Tour? I think we all know the answer to that. 

“Does that mean that the PGA Tour is cookie-cutter clean? No, we’re not. We never get invited to the mandatory meeting to explain TV, for example, to the players. The players have no idea of the TV product, right. So there’s lots of things that I think the PGA Tour can brush up on, too.” 

But what if the deal went through? Earlier this week, Rory McIlroy, as big of a critic of LIV as there has been, even said he hoped PIF would be involved. 

There would be agreement benefits, Nobilo said on the podcast. Perhaps a smaller commercial load, thanks to the influx of dollars.

Then again, Nobilo wondered where golf fits in the sports picture. There were thoughts of money and sustainability here, and he admitted it’s strange.  

“But I also think there’s a realization — we don’t rate high enough, as much as it pains me to say,” he said on the podcast. “Golfers are overpaid compared to every other sport. No one wants to admit that. They don’t want to say it. 

“If LIV never came along — we’re going to have so many 20 million-plus purses. And we don’t have the ratings. We’ll globally — and I’ve used this a bunch of times — volleyball worldwide rates higher than golf. I don’t see volleyball players racing around in private planes and all sorts of things. So we are in a really weird space. 

“So I would love to have an answer for 2024, but if Jay Monahan and his team stick with obviously the statement, which was September 11th, and decide to go in a different direction, we’re going to have a war. We really will. … You’re inviting competition. And it’s going to be like Coke and Pepsi.”

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Also on the podcast, Williams asked Nobilo about Phil Mickelson, as big and as controversial a part of LIV as anyone, and whether “there will be at some point a re-entry for him at a level that we always thought was going to be commensurate with who he was.”

Nobilo said no. Which he said was sad.   

“I was at CBS [and] we called the PGA Championship, where we won, and I’m like, when you get to be part of a — I was at Zozo when Tiger [Woods] got 82 wins — Phil winning that PGA Championship, it’s a well moment,” Nobilo said on the podcast. “And the way in which he did it, Winged Foot, Johnny Miller riding off on a white stallion, all those things have been redeemed. Phil had a record that nobody else had. And that Tiger Woods isn’t going to have. And I’m like, finally you’re complete in this generation. 

“And so I look at that Phil — as a contemporary as well; I played a lot against him — that I admire his skill and ability. And then I see the statesman role, which is really what it is now, and it’s very disastrous. It saddens me. The books that are written, and obviously at the moment we’re only hearing the bad stuff about Phil — they’re all true, to be honest. I’ve suffered with Phil, whether it’s a Presidents Cup on the other side and some of the things that I know how he can behave. But I also know that for our own foundation, for example, if we ask for a Masters flag to be signed by Phil, Phil and Amy [Mickelson’s wife] used to send two back, not one. Sadly, Phil is always going to be — there’s dual personalities, and it’s a shame. That’s the tragic part of it right now. 

“I don’t think we can answer that question fairly until he hangs the clubs up.”

Editor’s note: To listen to the entire Five Clubs podcast with Nobilo, please click here.   

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