Tour Confidential: Sergio’s rant, Phil’s gambling and the spicy PGL letter
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 Sergio Garcia’s dustup with a Tour rules official, Phil Mickelson’s reported gambling debts and much more.
1. Both start-up tours made headlines this week. Let’s start with the LIV Golf Invitational Series, the Saudi-funded tour headed by Greg Norman, where the field for its first event, in early June, is beginning to take shape. Ahead of this week’s British Masters, Lee Westwood and Richard Bland expressed their interest, and a report from The Telegraph said Martin Kaymer would also request a release to play. Perhaps most notably was the revelation from Sergio Garcia following a ruling at the Wells Fargo Championship. There, Garcia said, “I can’t wait to leave this Tour,” and later, various outlets reported that Garcia was, in fact, looking to play in the first event. How much, if at all, do these developments alter your view of the fledgling tour’s prospects?
Sean Zak, senior editor (@sean_zak): Absolutely zero change in my opinion. Players like Westwood, Bland and even Garcia are exactly who we’ve been assuming will take part in these events. The youngest and best players have all committed to the PGA Tour. Older players outside the top 10 in the world seem to be considering LIV Golf. So this checks out completely.
Josh Sens, senior writer: Sean’s right about all of that. I also don’t think there was ever much doubt that the LIV was here for the long haul, given the financial muscle behind it. So the ‘prospects’ question is really two pronged. There’s longevity. And then there’s allure. Yes. It’s got the former. What remains to be seen is how interesting it will be for fans. Big purses alone do not guarantee interesting golf.
Alan Bastable, executive editor (@alan_bastable): Right, an archetype for LIV “A-listers” is now coming to the fore: past-their-primers who (1) are no longer regularly competitive in the majors, (2) can’t cash in on PIP money or the Tour’s other bonus structures and (3) as Westwood demonstrated last week, don’t appear fazed by the weighty moral and ethical questions before them. Question is, as these guys start to cash monster checks, how many other notables — especially those struggling to find their games — will continue to be content watching from the sidelines as Sergio and Co. fill up their Brink’s trucks. This new tour will have as much longevity as it wants, for one simple reason: it has endless Saudi capital.
Josh Berhow, managing editor (@josh_berhow): I don’t think any of these names being interested in that tour is surprising and it’s a group of players — late in their career, already made some good money, European, etc. — we thought might be joining this tour in the first place. So my view hasn’t changed, but it was pretty entertaining to see Sergio get upset and act childish on his way out.
2. How much should the Tour be concerned that other players could threaten to leave should they disapprove of Tour policy/governance? Remember, we heard Charley Hoffman make a similar remark in February at the Waste Management Open.
Zak: The PGA Tour has a responsibility to host tournaments played under the Rules of Golf. If that is a reason a player actually leaves, the Tour should send them on their way. In case it wasn’t clear with Hoffman, the Rules of Golf will never be the reason a player leaves the PGA Tour.
Sens: The occasional rules snafu is a non-issue. Name a sport that doesn’t have the occasional rules hiccup. They all do. The concern, I would think, isn’t guys leaving over governance. It’s guys being part of an antitrust suit if the Tour tries to block them signing on to a rival. Every legal expert I’ve spoken with about this says there would be a legitimate case to be made.
Bastable: Let us not forget that LIV’s rules department will be run by the very rules sharpie who used to lord over PGA Tour events: Slugger White! So if Sergio is looking for some fresh officiating blood, he best find another tour. But, no, the PGA Tour isn’t out of the woods yet in terms of managing discontent players. Its membership will continue to force the Tour to evolve and make paydays fatter. Hopefully that also means revising the endless slog of the Tour schedule. The team/F1-inspired format in play on LIV, which is exactly what the PGL has been pushing for years, makes sense on a lot of levels — most especially for fans.
Berhow: I don’t think a few bad apples should shape what the PGA Tour is doing. It’s still the league 99% of the world’s best professional golfers want to play in, and you can’t make everyone happy. When these players complain when they are on the course it says more about them than it does the PGA Tour.
3. Another player connected to the Saudi-backed tour, Phil Mickelson, was also in the news, albeit for a different reason. In an excerpt from an upcoming book, published on firepitcollective.com, Mickelson, according to source, accumulated more than $40 million in gambling debt from 2010 to 2014, or roughly the equivalent of his estimated annual income during that period. What’s your takeaway from the latest Phil news?
Zak: That there was merit to anyone who called it a gambling addiction. You don’t build that amount of debt up without being addicted to it.
Sens: If you’ve paid even loose attention to news around Mickelson over the years, you can only be shocked by this in the Casablanca sense. The reported numbers? Not hard to imagine either, given the kind of earnings Mickelson has pulled in and the sort of allegations that have swirled around him. Anyone who has ever been around gambling and gamblers knows how quickly it can get out of hand.
Bastable: I’m not sure we can just laugh off 40 mil as “Phil being Phil.” That’s a huge sum, and another reminder that he was in deep. Remember, this a guy who the SEC alleged acted on a stock tip to pay off a seven-figure debt to notorious gambler Billy Walters. Pretty dark stuff. You have to wonder what, if any, effect losing that kind of dough had on his play. Distracting? Hard to say. He did win five times from 2010-14, including a pair of majors.
Berhow: It’s a staggering number. Just yet another unsavory question he’ll have to face when he returns and meets with the media. I’m not sure if he’ll actually answer it, but wow is there a lot going on in Phil Mickelson’s world right now.
4. The Premier Golf League, meanwhile, sent a letter to PGA Tour players asking that they “message your player representatives on the PAC and the Policy Board and tweet/retweet: ‘As a member of the tour, I instruct you to obtain and publish an independent valuation of the PGL Proposals #playerpower #transparency.’ If seventy or more of you do this, it will happen.” Can it? Will it? What’s the future of the PGL?
Zak: I haven’t seen a Tour player send those tweets yet! So no, it probably won’t happen. The Premier Golf League needs this, though, so I don’t see them giving up. I see them talking to as many influential players as possible. They don’t have the various stigmas facing LIV Golf, and there’s clearly enough interest in changing something about how elite golfers get paid. I think their days of playing a passive role — letting LIV take their format and run with it — might come to an end soon.
Sens: I try to steer clear of Twitter as much as possible. Life’s too short, but if Sean says he hasn’t seen it, I believe it. Seriously, though, like the Saudi-backed Tour, the Premier Golf League isn’t going anywhere. At this point, it costs relatively little to keep agitating for change. Whether they can put together a circuit that gets fans excited is another matter. The idea of elite golfers getting paid more is not especially interesting to most of us. There has to be more to it than that.
Bastable: Agitating for change may cost relatively little but it does cost something, and, as I understand it, the PGL’s financial backers are getting antsy, thus last week’s letter. PGL brass is deeply frustrated that the Tour won’t give its proposal the attention they believe it deserves. As I mentioned above, there’s actually a lot to like about the team model — in particular in terms of drumming up fan interest — but the Tour seems unwilling to capitulate, and PGL can’t keep lobbying forever.
Berhow: In the public eye, one of the biggest things working against the PGL is that most people think it’s the same thing as the LIV Golf league. I can hardly keep all of this straight, but no, I can’t see this league working.
5. One of the more famed holes in golf, the dramatic, par-4 8th at Pebble Beach, is undergoing a makeover. The work came to light Friday when Twitter user @GlorifiedDonkey, who identifies himself as a Pebble Beach caddie, posted four photos of the construction project. A source familiar with the project told GOLF.com that the green is being enlarged and its back-to-front slope made less severe to create more hole locations. Give us another design tweak you’d like to see at Pebble.
Zak: Cut down the tree in the fairway on 18. It doesn’t do much for me.
Sens: Somehow, I think we can all guess where Sean has left his drives on that hole. Personally, I liked the 11th green better before they changed it. The tilt on it was exciting stuff. Also, for every day play, I’d shorten the par-3 12th hole and give the average player some hope of actually hitting it.
Bastable: The pushover par-3 7th is way too short. Extend the peninsula into the bay so it can play 220-230 on calm days. I kid! I kid! The par-4 1st is a ho-hum opener. How about removing one or two trees from the corner of the dogleg so mere mortals can fly the corner like the pros do?
Berhow: Don’t people on Twitter always say Pebble would benefit from a re-routing? I don’t know if it does and I can’t think of a good answer here, but don’t you dare take that tree out, Sean.
6. With the PGA Championship a week away, Joe Buck confirmed that he would lead a “Manningcast”-style broadcast for the tournament. In the football version, brothers Peyton and Eli Manning invite guests so who would you like to see join Buck?
Zak: I would like to see randomness join Buck. Chevy Chase. Jerry Rice. Not just folks who have played in the Pebble Beach Pro-Am, but people who we can actually learn something about while they watch! Shaquille O’Neal. Kristin Stewart. People from the industry who we should listen to more often. Meg Maclaren. Nancy Lopez.
Sens: I can’t think of any broadcast that Charles Barkley doesn’t make better.
Bastable: There’s only one right answer: Phil.
Berhow: Phil. Anthony Kim. Tony Romo. Juli Inkster. Cristie Kerr. Gil Hanse. And a bunch of big-name pros who might miss the cut and offer to join on the weekend.