Tour Confidential: LIV golfers at BMW PGA, Tour’s new season, Presidents Cup
Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors as they break down the hottest topics in the sport, and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com. This week, we discuss LIV Golf players at the BMW PGA Championship, the PGA Tour’s new season, the Presidents Cup and more.
1. In the latest chapter of LIV Golf vs. PGA Tour drama, Jon Rahm, Billy Horschel and Rory McIlroy were among the PGA Tour players who spoke out about LIV players competing in the BMW PGA Championship, which knocked some DP World Tour players out of the field and helped LIV players receive valuable World Ranking points. Do Horschel and Co. have the right to be angry with these LIV players?
Josh Sens, senior writer (@joshsens): I understand why Horschel and Co. would be irked. These are heated times. LIV guys were technically within their rights to play. Were they honoring the game in the purest fashion? Hardly. But also hard to vilify them without running into some intellectual contradictions. On the emotional front, I’d probably save the anger for what Sergio Garcia did, taking someone’s spot, shooting a bad first-round score and then withdrawing with no immediate explanation. Lame.
Jack Hirsh, assistant editor (@JR_HIRSHey): I understand Horschel spoke to several regular DP World Tour members before making his comments during the week. He definitely has a point and is qualified to talk about that as the event’s defending champion. However, I would have loved to see more of the regular DP World Tour pros, i.e., the guys who aren’t also regularly playing on the PGA Tour, speak up. I also think the bigger issue is how the suspensions of LIV pros on the Euro Tour isn’t resolved yet. It’s hard to fault the LIV guys for taking advantage of that situation since it was still available to them. Then again, like Bubba said last week about Augusta, why would they want to play in an event where they were clearly unwanted?
Josh Berhow, managing editor (@Josh_Berhow): Absolutely, but at the same time, if you are one of these LIV players and earned a spot in the field, it’s your right to be there. The LIV guys know they need World Ranking points so it makes sense to be there and they earned a spot. But you can also be Jon Rahm and Billy Horschel and be annoyed at them. Both things can be true. As for Sergio, what a bad WD (even showing up at a college football game on Saturday), but I’m sure he’s not losing sleep over it.
Sean Zak, senior editor (@sean_zak): I’m not sure Billy Horschel gets to be the majority leader, but his opinion is shared by numerous others. I’m most interested in what G-Mac said during the week: that there should be a membership vote on if LIV players should be allowed to compete. While not really practical, it would sure be fascinating to see the results.
2. Due to the ongoing riff, the state of golf has made major headlines over the past year, but should the sport be worried that the constant bickering and jabs might hurt the game and turn off fed up and uninterested viewers?
Sens: I think it cuts both ways. In the ‘any publicity is good publicity’ sense, this has drawn a ton of new eyeballs, more than any non-Tiger-related story in memory. But there’s no doubt it has also turned off a lot of longtime golf fans. Too bad pro golf is such an important economic engine for golf. Because it’s definitely not the best or most interesting part of the game. The best parts of the game are the places it takes you and the people you meet. This past year has underscored that for me and a lot of golfers I know.
Hirsh: Absolutely not. Viewers love rivalry and controversy. Think about the ratings some of those Heat-Pacers games got in the early 2010s because LeBron and Lance Stephenson had such an intense rivalry. Now this isn’t the fabricated Brooks-Bryson rivalry. This is actual controversy, which it seems fans can’t get enough of. We didn’t get it this week, but it will no doubt happen soon enough where we see a LIV player in contention for a major, or potentially with a significant lead. Ratings will be through the roof.
Berhow: It can work both ways. I know people who hated watching golf 4-5 years ago when Tiger was struggling because the telecasts would show all of his shots no matter what, even if he was bound for a missed cut. That turned them off. But it also generated ratings because, well, it was Tiger. For every fan who is annoyed at golf’s constant bickering — and there are many — there are more who are intrigued by the constant consternation of the current state of the game. Part of me thinks majors, if LIV guys are still allowed to play (I think they will be), will be even more entertaining now since the two leagues will join together those weeks for some interesting sub-plots.
Zak: There won’t be enough bickering to make this an issue. Because there won’t be enough opportunities to bicker. This was a huge deal this week, but I don’t expect on-site tournament interviews to be as vital as they were this week. Players are about to settle in for the silly season.
3. The 2022-23 PGA Tour season begins on Thursday with the Fortinet Championship in Napa, Calif. As we turn the page to the next season, look into your crystal ball and predict how you see the LIV vs. PGA Tour battle playing out in the next year?
Sens: Not as much of a tug-of-war over talent. Feels like that fight has settled down, at least for the biggest names. I expect a smaller, underground skirmish over the amateur pipeline. But the most important battle (given that the antitrust stuff won’t likely be settled next year) will be over OWGR and access to the majors. If I had Fred Ridley on speed dial, I’d be willing to predict more.
Hirsh: Josh is right, it’s unlikely we see many more established pros not named Mito make the jump before the beginning of the next LIV season. I don’t see much changing from the end of this season until the court case finally gets settled. We’re going to continue seeing pettiness from both sides, especially at the majors, which I think it’s unlikely we see LIV players barred from. The main difference (and we’ll get a taste of it this weekend) will be seeing more PGA Tour and LIV going head to head in the same weekend. But even that won’t make that big of waves, unless LIV secures a TV deal.
Berhow: A few more players will jump — I think the last batch has kind of solidified teams for a bit — but I see LIV players being allowed in majors and World Ranking points granted for the new league. It even might all start to seem more … normal?
Zak: LIV players who are already qualified for majors will not be banned. However, the USGA AND R&A will alter their qualification rules for the next year of championships in slight ways to make the OWGR less necessary, making the LIV fight for OWGR points less necessary as well.
4. The Presidents Cup rosters are set, as both teams made their captain’s picks last week. While both squads lost players to LIV Golf, the U.S. roster, on paper, still appears to have a major advantage over the Internationals. Much has been talked about how the new state of golf might hurt the Ryder Cup, but could it cause even more damage to the Presidents Cup, which has been even more lopsided and has much less history than the Ryder Cup?
Sens: It’s a bigger threat to the Ryder Cup because the Ryder Cup has more to lose. Maybe a bunch of new names is exactly what the Internationals need? I’m reaching here, but underdogs make better stories.
Hirsh: The Presidents Cup was just starting to get competitive and the Internationals had a lot of stars before LIV took away a bunch of them. I think this sets back the International team several years, and thus the legitimacy of the Presidents Cup with it.
Berhow: I think the Presidents Cup takes a bigger hit, especially since it was in need of growing and gaining popularity and instead goes from a U.S. team that was captained by Tiger Woods to two teams that both lost some firepower. You could also argue it hurts the Ryder Cup more, since some golf fans might not have been interested in the lopsided Presidents Cup to begin with. To ramble even more: The European Ryder Cup team needed new blood anyway, and while some of those veterans were likely to finally miss out on that team next year regardless, this will just expedite the whole process. The Ryder Cup will be just fine.
Zak: In two weeks, we’ll have our answer. We also might have the kind of result that reminds us that Top 100 golfers are all capable of winning matches filled with theoretical randomness. What I’m saying is the Americans aren’t just guaranteed to beat two top 100 players just because they’re OFTEN better during stroke play events. I’m expecting it to be closer than everyone thinks.
5. Rickie Fowler recently changed his caddie and now his coach, as he split with John Tillery, whom he spent more than three years with, and will instead work more with former coach Butch Harmon. Fowler’s finished 133rd and 134th in the FedEx Cup standings the past two years. With these two recent changes, does Fowler finish better or worse in the standings next season?
Sens: Better. Butch Harmon has that effect on pretty much everyone.
Hirsh: Better. He was one of the best players in the world for the better part of the past decade with Harmon in his corner. To watch the swing changes they made from his amatuer days to when he finished top-5 in all the 2014 majors was quite remarkable. No reason to believe he can’t regain some of that form.
Berhow: Buy! He still wants it. Love to see it. I like him having his best season in a few years.
Zak: Sure, count me in. It’s not a high bar to clear.
6. Speaking of the new PGA Tour season about to start, give us one bold prediction for the upcoming 2022-23 campaign.
Sens: Cameron Smith not only plays in the Masters — he wins.
Hirsh: Tiger Woods plays in a non-major.
Berhow: Some LIV players suffer from buyer’s remorse come 2023 Ryder Cup week.
Zak: I think feeling buyer’s remorse is against the rules for LIV players, and written into their contracts. My prediction is that the PIP becomes sponsored.