To better understand LIV vs. PGA Tour, I talked to a top player in the fray
In Xander Schauffele’s mind, none of this is particularly simple.
The world of men’s professional golf has begun imitating the world at large. Pick a side. Dig in deep. Cover your ears. That’s how we get Shane Lowry winning “one for the good guys” as a Tour loyalist triumphing over LIV defectors. It’s how we get to Talor Gooch trumpeting that LIV’s atmosphere was like a Ryder Cup. We’re prone to simplicity, hyperbole, tribalism. So it goes.
As for Schauffele: How long you got? The No. 5 player in the world is thoughtful. He’s intentionally understated. He chooses his words carefully. And now that the job requirements of his profession have surpassed athletic excellence to include understanding of geopolitics and the legal system, whew, sometimes it’s easier to say relatively little instead. While his PGA Tour peers were gearing up for an awkward showdown at the BMW PGA Championship, Schauffele went off the grid. He and Maya, his wife, joined Patrick Cantlay in Napa for what turned out to be Cantlay’s engagement weekend. Then he laid relatively low, fulfilling a couple sponsor obligations in southern California (his original home) before packing up his car for a road trip to Las Vegas (his new home). That’s where I caught up with him, sitting in traffic, to recap an unforgettable PGA Tour season. And once he knows what he wants to say, Schauffele isn’t afraid to do so. He’s a straight shooter. You can listen to the entire chat on the Drop Zone podcast below (or here on Spotify).
We worked our way through his entire year, beginning at last fall’s Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits, where he won three points and then worked his way through an assortment of High Noons and champagne before a memorable performance at Team USA’s winning press conference. We dived into his red-hot stretch of wins, too, and his relief at getting over the line on the PGA Tour after so many close calls. “I think subconsciously it definitely was [weighing on me] more than I wanted to admit,” Schauffele said. And then, as all golf conversations do these days, ours gravitated to LIV vs. the PGA Tour.
Of late, Schauffele has made it clear his interests are with the PGA Tour. But that’s not to say he was never curious about an alternative to the current setup. He went to the Saudi International, after all, where there was plenty of talk about the rival circuit. But he said there was nothing more to that decision than dollars and cents.
“I went to collect an appearance fee, I’m not going to sit here and lie about it,” he said. “Nothing really came of it except playing a tournament on a different continent and me collecting some cash.”
See? Straight shooter, once he gets around to it.
We talked about the Genesis Invitational, which was a particularly pivotal week for the LIV-PGA Tour dynamic. That was the week LIV seemed to be getting close to launch. It was also the week that Alan Shipnuck’s book excerpt was released, an excerpt that included biography subject Phil Mickelson opening up about his feelings on the Saudis. His “scary m—–f—–s” comment made headlines. Mickelson vanished. The Tour secured vocal commitments from top pros — Schauffele included. It was a strange chapter in the saga given Schauffele and Mickelson are friendly and were in the habit of playing sporadic practice rounds together at home. Schauffele wasn’t eager to condemn Mickelson; he offered praise for his general vision. But he didn’t let him entirely off the hook, either.
“He said what he said, so in terms of feeling bad for him, it’s hard,” Schauffele said. But like some other players, he’s somewhat sympathetic to Mickelson’s claim that he thought his comments were off the record, calling it a pro’s “worst nightmare” when speaking to the media.
As for Mickelson’s larger goal? When it comes to leverage, Schauffele thinks he had a point.
“The main points he was trying to make, and what he really wanted in his vision, maybe we’re living it out now on the PGA Tour, and it’s unfortunate he isn’t a part of that, because this is pretty much what he so wanted,” he said. “But at the same time, he kind of knew it would take something drastic, and he had to pick which side of the fence he wanted to be on.”
Thus far they’ve found themselves on opposite sides of that fence.
Schauffele met with the LIV group. “I felt like it was stupid for me not to do that,” he said. He wasn’t sure how things would break from there. Wasn’t sure what the end result would be. Now, though, he thinks there has unquestionably been financial gain for all players involved.
“Everyone that’s gone over there has obviously gotten a lot of guaranteed money, and people that are on this side of the fence here are making more money because of the LIV tour and what they’ve presented,” he said.
Schauffele was also at the PGA Tour players’ meeting in Delaware that yielded a relatively unified front; he felt that was a turning point for the collective power of its players. He appreciated the commanding presence of Tiger Woods plus the newer leadership of Rory McIlroy and gave credit to Cantlay, too, who he called “a very good thinker.”
“One of the things I’m wary of is that we need to continue to stay together during this process because we are stronger together,” he said. “So yeah, absolutely, walking out of that room I think everybody felt a lot better than they did before they walked in.”
As for the flow of pros from one tour to the other? Schauffele is done being surprised when new pros leave. Loyalty to the establishment has proven flexible, to say the least.
“In terms of other guys going over there, I really couldn’t tell you,” he said. “I think everybody has a number or a reason, and they don’t seem too afraid to shell out. So I could imagine, if you tell me five or 10 more guys are going to go in the next year, I wouldn’t bet against you. I don’t know any more names personally, but the way things are going, based on our short historical analysis here, you wouldn’t bet against it, either.”
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