Tour Confidential: PGA Tour shakeup, LIV contracts and lawsuits
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 Tiger Woods-led players-only meeting, LIV contract details and more.
1. Both the Fire Pit Collective and Sports Illustrated reported Saturday some of the details of this week’s Tiger Woods-led players-only meeting that addressed LIV Golf’s threat to the PGA Tour. Among the reported items discussed were the creation of ‘a tour within a tour,’ where there would be 18 no-cut featuring 60 players playing for $20 million purses. Could this work?
Josh Sens, senior writer (@joshsens): Sure. The super-rich get richer. That pretty much always works. Is it good for fans? Doesn’t sound exciting to me. If you want to fend off the kind of threat the Tour faces, why make it an economic arms race you can’t win? How about differentiating the product? Golfweek on Sunday reported plans for Tiger-and-Rory-led one-day events in non-green-grass arenas. Details to be revealed soon, apparently. It already sounds awful to me, but even as I type that, I can hear the kids saying, ‘OK, boomer.’ On the plus side, at least it’s different. My preference? Roll back the ball for some events and scrap the cookie-cutter bomb-and gouge courses in favor of more interesting designs. Make the players hit more creative shots. Enforce a shot clock. I know, it doesn’t involve trillion-dollar purses. But it would be more compelling than a lot of the same-old. And you might even turn a profit. Though I realize that several lifetimes of wealth isn’t enough for some.
Jack Hirsh, assistant editor (@JR_HIRSHey): Sure, it could work, if the guys who are staying on the tour now aren’t jumping to LIV by 2024. But I also agree with Josh: Why basically copy LIV’s format (save for a three-round event). I’ll add to the suggestion of playing more alternate formats (but not the non-grass arena idea) like alternate shot or a team event with the LPGA. Players seem to love the Zurich Classic; why not have a mega-purse team event? All the limited-field stuff does is alienate the mid-level pro.
Dylan Dethier, senior writer (@dylan_dethier): I’d argue that by stealing some of the things that LIV got right, the PGA Tour is adopting some overdue changes — part of what made it vulnerable in the first place. I have slightly mixed feelings about the no-cut aspect, because we’ve seen some relatively lifeless WGC events over the years. But the fact that we as golf fans would know when we should be watching would be extremely helpful. And because the Tour has built-in advantages — TV deals, decades of history, Tiger Woods, etc. — it wins most tiebreakers.
Nick Piastowski, senior editor (@nickpia): It works for the players’ bottom line ($$$) and the Tour’s (survival), which, like it or not, is the goal. But I have questions. It would create a tournament tier, and go ahead and laugh about the fate of some events, but they mean a lot to those cities and fans. It also creates a player tier. Can others move up to the big events? Or are you stuck with those 60 players, who, obviously, can slide over time? Which leads to my biggest question, and one that Tiger himself has mentioned — if the cash is guaranteed across now an entire season, is that incentive still great to dig it out of the dirt? Let’s hope this doesn’t trickle into the majors.
2. A group of LIV golfers last week filed an antitrust suit against the Tour alleging that the Tour is unlawfully sanctioning them for signing on with the rival circuit, and this week, a handful of legal documents were unsealed, including player contracts. Having seen some of the details, what stood out to you?
Hirsh: For me, the limitations on media availability are the most shocking, considering Phil wanted the rights to his highlights. What he gains in that, he loses in freedom to communicate with the media. These players seemed like they wanted more freedom, but it’s fairly obvious that the price of the millions of dollars from LIV is their freedom to talk to the media. Also wasn’t that Bryson-Brooks feud staged to help them win the PIP? No more of that.
Sens: Agreed on the compromises on the media front. One clause that caught me was the prohibition against saying anything that might bring any person of note into ‘disrepute.’ How are we defining disrepute? What are the new boundaries of decorum? Will a lot of what used to be considered honest and acceptable talk become punishable?
Dethier: I was intrigued by the apparel talk! LIV guys are going to be wearing LIV gear like, all the time? At majors, even? It was interesting to read about LIV’s hold over players’ sponsorship decisions and displayed logos, which require approval for something as small as a coffee cup. These contracts are all different, so we don’t have a complete picture, but getting a little window into how LIV will exercise control was telling.
Piastowski: Dylan, why aren’t you wearing your GOLF shirts and hats? But yes, the apparel bit is great. As is this, which may cut into ‘family time.’ This is from Zephyr Melton’s story: “One of the stipulations indicates that players must ‘participate fully in up to 7 additional Service Days’ in 2022, with ‘12 additional Service Days in each following year.’ A Service Day is defined in the contract as ‘any day during which the Player is required to participate in and assist the League Operator and/or the Team Operator with meetings, negotiations and/or other activities with corporate sponsors or other business partners of the League.’”
3. In more court news, Patrick Reed has filed a defamation suit against Brandel Chamblee and Golf Channel, alleging they “have conspired as joint tortfeasors for and with the PGA Tour, its executives and its Commissioner Jay Monahan, to engage in a pattern and practice of defaming Mr. Reed.” The lawsuit uses quotes from Chamblee from his time on the air for Golf Channel and Sky Sports as well as on podcasts to allege damages in excess of $750 million. What are your takeaways to Reed’s move?
Sens: That pro golf is taking on a whiff of the Jerry Springer Show. Maybe the actual courts will see it differently, but in the court of public opinion, I think the verdict would be that any damage to Reed’s reputation has been largely self-inflicted.
Hirsh: No matter what becomes of all the other suits, I just can’t ever see Patrick Reed playing on Tour again after this. Should he win, and most seem to agree the lawsuit has very little legal merit, would that then mean no media person could critique a player? That’s part of sports. Interesting he chose not to tee it up in this week’s International Series event in South Korea, which he committed to a few weeks back.
Dethier: I think it’s a sham and a shame. Brandel Chamblee is polarizing, sure, but he does a ton of homework, tries to get it right and generally does. Imagine an athlete in any other sport suing an analyst for offering takes on television. LeBron James might not care for Skip Bayless, but he would never sue the guy. I’m not sure how far this will end up going, but I’m sure there would be some interesting documents that would come through if we reached the discovery phase…
Piastowski: Fan reaction is part of the game. Reed shouldn’t expect to be cheered. He has to earn that. I’ll leave it at that.
4. The PGA Tour made a player-focused hire this week, bringing aboard Jason Gore as Senior Vice President, Player Advisor to the Commissioner, a role he similarly held with the USGA. There he was Managing Director, Player Relations, and Gore was widely appreciated by players. “I think about how contentious the relationship was between the players and the USGA, so much so that in 2013 there was massive talk of a player boycott at Merion, right. So for it to — it’s done a complete 180,” Rory McIlroy said. “It’s probably, I would say, if you polled players, I would say it’s probably one of the top two majors now in terms of how the players are treated and the feedback that they can give and Jason has been a massive part to do with that. And the team that sort of worked with Jason, too.” What’s your take on the hire?
Sens: A smart, experienced guy who has the respect of the players. Seems like a smart hire in every way.
Hirsh: Hugely popular with the players, great move for the tour at a time when stability is not the best. Surprised it took this long. Let’s just hope it doesn’t negatively impact the U.S. Open.
Dethier: His impact on the USGA is tough to measure but undoubtedly significant; he got players back on board with the U.S. Open as an entity. This week’s meeting underscored that the top PGA Tour players are taking control of their Tour; Gore’s hiring will make communication between pros and executives that much stronger.
Piastowski: Smart. Hiring someone who can wear multiple hats is wise.
5. Tom Weiskopf died Saturday at the age of 79, and he leaves behind a legacy as a major champion, course designer and announcer. How will you best remember him?
Sens: The beautiful swing. The close calls in majors. I didn’t get to watch him in his prime, but I interviewed him many times in his later years. He was smart and funny and frank. He had a reputation for orneriness, but by the time I met him, he seemed to have softened. He came off as a bit wistful about some of those near-misses. But also content with where he stood. And a terrific designer — with a special knack for short par-4s
Hirsh: Pardon my youth here, but I will remember Weiskopf most as the architect who brought us the venue for arguably the most electric atmosphere in golf, TPC Scottsdale. While he obviously didn’t erect the grandstands that would become the stadium hole, more people follow golf because of that event and it wouldn’t have been possible without Weiskopf.
Dethier: He loved golf. And he played the hell out of it, too. His run at the majors in the ‘70s — 18 top 10s, seven podiums and an Open Championship title — was incredibly impressive.
Piastowski: The swing. Fluid and effortless. And four Masters runners-up, which is damn impressive. And the lifetime in the game, from player to announcer to designer. So I guess a lot.
6. As the PGA Tour enters the final week of its regular season, we’ll spin things ahead. What will pro golf look like a year from now?
Hirsh: LIV is not done announcing signings; it just depends who those players are going to be. Several are going to be announced next Monday after the Tour Championship, and more could come after the Presidents Cup. I don’t think pro golf will look much different from where it is today because very little will be settled legally by the Tour Championship next year. What will look different is where players are playing. Now let’s look two years ahead, after the new PGA Tour schedule changes really kick in, and maybe we truly learn the results of the Tiger meeting from earlier this week. Maybe that means we see tour pros competing for millions at PopStroke!
Sens: The lower-wattage events should look pretty much the same. But If rumors about Cam Smith are true, the Players Championship will be without its defending champ. Tiger’s invitational will be without some past regulars. And depending on what position Fred Ridley and Co. wind up taking, their little invitational in Augusta could have different invitees. Will LIV events get OWGR points? What shifts will we see in Ryder Cup rosters? I guess my rule would be: The bigger the events, the more likelihood of significant change. Or at least change that the average fan will care about.
Dethier: One year from now, the PGA Tour will be staring down its first season under a new scheme, one that involves a true schism between its Super Tour and its regular Tour. We’ll also be thinking about LIV’s relegation system and evaluating how it has gone in Year 1 of its streaming deal with established teams. Both tours will still exist. They’ll be firmly entrenched in the American Culture War. The online discourse will be plenty toxic. But it will remain intensely interesting!
Piastowski: All good thoughts! I worry about the majors. We want to see the best of the best. There’s a chance that might not happen, which would be incredibly sad. Now, as to where pro golf could be in 25 years … if I’m you, the golf parent, and I’m seeing all this money out there, I’m booking that lesson for junior yesterday.