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Tour Confidential: What would a new star-driven global tour mean for the PGA Tour?

January 27, 2020

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 the potential of a new star-driven global tour, big names at the Farmers Insurance Open, Tiger Woods chasing PGA Tour win No. 83 and more.

1. A new global golf tour, the Premier Golf League, might soon become a reality, as first reported by Geoff Shackelford. The league, of which there have been rumors for years, is aiming to create a circuit with 18 big-money worldwide events featuring the world’s best players, with a launch date of 2022 or 2023. While PGA and European tour brass have stayed relatively mum on the prospect of a new tour, the PGL released a statement saying: “We would like to say that it is our intention to work with, rather than challenge, existing tours for the betterment of golf as a sport, pastime and media property.” If the PGL actually takes flight, can you see a way the three tours could work together, or is this ultimately bad news for the PGA and European tours?

Josh Sens, senior writer (@JoshSens): I don’t see them playing nicely together. There are a lot of ifs here, of course, one of the biggest ones being if fans really have a huge interest in seeing this come off. Maybe I’m out of touch, but isn’t there already an overabundance of limited-field events where the biggest names play for obscene purses? Do we really need more huge cash grabs at just-add-water (or should I say, just add money) events? I don’t think we do.

Dylan Dethier, senior writer (@dylan_dethier): To Josh’s point, this hypothetical tour would be a better and more efficient way for the top players to cash in — but it’s not necessarily better for fans. Lacking any of tradition or identity of the established tours, this would lean heavily on star power to start new traditions. I think that can work, but I’m not positive it can.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer: There is no way they can work in harmony. The people who put up the PGL money are not going to play nice with anybody. What they are proposing is a direct threat to the other major tours.

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer (@AlanShipnuck): This is the most boring idea I’ve ever heard. It’s basically 18 Hero World Challenges — except Tiger might not play in any of them, or only a few. There are already too many mediocre golf tournaments out there, we don’t need more!

2. Several players were asked about the Premier Golf League at the Farmers Insurance Open, and while the majority were hesitant to comment, Rory McIlroy shared a few thoughts. While saying “I’m still quite a traditionalist, so to have that much of an upheaval in the game I don’t think is the right step forward,” he also added: “It might be a catalyst for some changes on this Tour that can help it grow and move forward. You know, reward the top players the way they should be.” How did you interpret McIlroy’s remarks?

Bamberger: Exactly what he says. There are not that many global players that can carry this thing. Palmer was on the fence about starting the PGA Tour in 1968. Rory has similar sensibilities. I would think he will be a tough sell.

Sens: McIlroy is saying that the biggest names are the biggest draws, and that they essentially subsidize the lesser names and lesser events and should be paid accordingly (as if they’re not already making enough already). What he says also points to a Catch-22 in trying to launch a rival tour like this: you need those big names to draw big money, and the other way around. And if players like McIlroy aren’t onboard, this is a non-starter.

Dethier: Sens (and McIlroy) are both right — the top names on Tour DO subsidize the lesser names and events. But the entire system is built on that! So many of the Tour’s stories are based on relative nobodies playing their way into money and fame alongside bigger names. As people who write about golf, I think we’re inclined to want to protect the system that produces those storylines. McIlroy’s remarks about growth on Tour remind me of the current predicament of my beloved New England Patriots and their star QB. Tom Brady has essentially said that he’ll explore free agency, but it seems most likely a play to get better wide receivers. In my eyes, the most likely scenario here is still for McIlroy and Co. to get some sort of sweeter deal on the PGA Tour and the current structure remains relatively intact.

Shipnuck: “Catalyst for change” is the key phrase here. It would make sense for the PGA and European tours to work more closely to create a master, worldwide schedule that makes more sense and props up some great old tournaments that need it, like Wentworth and the Australian Open (which the PGL has rightly been targeting). The threat of a new tour may end the complacency of the existing ones, which would be a good thing.

3. Tiger Woods made his first start aiming for a record 83 PGA Tour wins at the Farmers Insurance Open, and while he was never out of contention he never seriously threatened, either (thanks in part to an ugly second-round four-putt), closing with a 70 to finish six back of Marc Leishman, in a tie for 9th. How would you grade Tiger’s 2020 debut?

Bamberger: Excellent. Bad weather, long rough, long days — he did much better than I thought he would in those conditions.

Sens: Michael’s right. Cool air. Shaggy rough. Those have been Tiger’s Kryptonite in his comeback. It was a great showing.

Dethier: Ditto to the above. Last year, it felt like Tiger had no chance if he was wearing a sweater. His Saturday front-nine charge teased us into thinking he might contend, and even when those chances fizzled he battled through all 72. Great start.

Shipnuck: Solid B+. Maybe even an A-.

4. Do you suspect Woods is feeling additional pressure to win what would be his record-breaking 83rd PGA Tour win, or is it just another W for him?

Bamberger: No, because he already has the record. Everyone knows Snead’s 82 is not a real thing. From here on out, Tiger is playing with house money. It should make things easier for him.

Sens: And besides, pressure? He’s the greatest pressure player of his generation, maybe of all time.

Dethier: I think Tiger puts plenty of pressure on himself as it is; I doubt 83 makes a difference during the course of play — especially since he just won 82. As time wears on, I could see that pressure mounting, but it’s not there at the moment.

Shipnuck: I think it’s meaningful to Tiger. He’s a sports junkie with reverence for stats and records. This is a big one and will make official what we already know: he’s the game’s ultimate winner. I’m not sure if he’s feeling pressure but I have no doubt it’s motivating.

5. The Farmers brought together the biggest, baddest field we’ve seen thus far on U.S. soil in 2020. What was the biggest learning?

Bamberger: That you don’t, as a right-handed golfer, have to have a straight left arm at the top of your backswing. Calvin Peete did the same, but for different reasons.

Sens: Well, given my bent-elbow backswing, I’m glad to hear that. I didn’t draw any earth-shattering conclusions from this week. Just a reminder of what we knew: that guys like Rahm and Rory and Tiger are a threat to win any event they enter, but that the field is still always the favorite. I was hoping to see a sparkling showing out of Jordan Spieth. Along with Woods, he’s going to be one of the more interesting stars to watch this year.

Shipnuck: That Jon Rahm is an absolute menace. He had a complete crack-up on the front nine today…and still nearly pulled out the win.

Dethier: That Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm join Justin Thomas as the hottest players on the planet. Tiger’s right behind them and Patrick Reed isn’t far behind.

6. Much of the golf world showed off its wares last week at the annual PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando. Which product or service most caught your eye, either in person or online?

Bamberger: The one I bought, the one that makes me happy, the one bag to which I make a pledge of fidelity: the Jones carry bag.

Sens: Aside from all the images of CBD-oil products a friend kept texting me, I would say the Sure Set. I’ve never used a training aid, but based on how that same friend was hitting the ball after testing one of those out this week, I might have to try it.

Shipnuck: I was 3,000 miles away and still utterly overwhelmed by the Show, thanks to the onslaught of social media. People have become the top product, the Influencers more important than whatever it is they’re supposed to be influencing.

Dethier: I was at the show and was blown away by A. The number of simulator-type companies and B. The sheer volume of CBD-related companies. They’re everywhere! Presumably they’ll consolidate over time, but one thing’s clear: the golf market is considered a prime target for CBD startups.

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