ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — Are we asking the right people what to do about LIV?
The joke amongst journalists is that when a player wins an event, they are all of a sudden ordained with special knowledge and have magical insight into any subject they are asked about.
If they become world No. 1, they are much smarter than anyone on Tour and their opinion is necessary when writing about any golf-related issue and sometimes even on non-golf topics.
The theory being that if they found a way to win a tournament, a major or become world No. 1, they must have some insights the rest of the world is lacking.
So, when LIV Golf and Greg Norman became an issue, journalists flocked to the players to get their take on all aspects of LIV Golf, the rebels that defected and the overall state of golf with the insurrectionist at the door.
What we failed to see is that just because Matt Fitzpatrick won a U.S. Open or world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler won the Masters or that world No. 2 Rory McIlroy is not only proficient on the golf course with four major wins but is also on the PGA Tour policy board, that any of these individuals have the special skills or knowledge to tackle the LIV issues effectively.
Don’t forget that ultimately this dispute is about money and power, and every player interviewed is a multi-millionaire, and while money is still an object for some, the players generally asked questions about LIV are more than financially set.
Popular go-to sources Tiger Woods and McIlroy have generational wealth, so their opinions are clouded by that fact as well.
Instead, the questions should be directed to individuals that understand the business issues of LIV Golf within the golf ecosystem and, more specifically, the business model of professional golf.
Someone with a business background, maybe even a takeover specialist, would approach the issue dispassionately and not from the emotional place that many of the players and golf executives are coming from.
The moral high ground would not be an issue with a business professional, and listening to R&A Chief Executive Officer Martin Slumbers in his annual press conference at the 150th Open Championship, it’s clear he is not concerned about the inflows of money to the game.
It’s important to remember that before coming to the R&A, Slumbers was in business, logging time at Price Waterhouse, Salomon Brothers and Deutsche Bank, where he was Global Head of Global Business Services.
“I’m very comfortable in golf globally growing in terms of more and more people growing and the sport being a force for good, yes,” Slumbers responded when asked about is he was comfortable with golf taking money from the Saudis.
Generally, those in golf are looking at the golf ecosystem and how it would be disrupted by a Saudi insurgence.
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“My primary concern about the ecosystem is we spend multimillions every year, the proceeds from this championship on grassroots and amateur golf, from bottom, bringing people into the sport and playing elite golf,” Slumbers said. “I can look in the eye of any boy or any parent of that boy and know that, if he comes into the game and wants to get to the top, wants to play this game, that there is a pathway to the top totally based on his ability and his willingness to work hard.
“And that has been fought for by our sport for 100 years, that pathway from picking up a golf club to playing at the top level. And I think that is something that is fantastic about our sport. And I think it’s worth fighting for. And that pathway is the biggest piece of the ecosystem for me.”
While this is an interesting soundbite, it really doesn’t get to the heart of the controversy, which is the ultimately money and the loss of power and control, whether it be around the PGA Tour, DP World Tour, USGA, Masters, R&A or the PGA of America.
Woods offered comments in his Tuesday press conference at the Open that put in question LIV Golf and its issues.
Oddly, Woods’ issues were about the ability for current players to gain access to large amounts of money, both signing bonuses and prize money, without working as hard.
“What these players are doing for guaranteed money, what is the incentive to practice?” Woods said. “What is the incentive to go out there and earn it in the dirt? You’re just getting paid a lot of money up front and playing a few events and playing 54 holes. They’re playing blaring music and have all these atmospheres that are different.” Woods also shared similar concerns as Slumbers about the youth of golf and how that they have an encumbered pathway.
While both Slumbers’ and Woods’ concerns are laudable, they are emotional and not based in any fact.
When asked if the ecosystem would be in peril with Saudi involvement, Slumbers said “Possibly, let’s see how it develops.”
No one can accurately predict what golf would look like with LIV Golf’s involvement in three years, but it will look a lot less positive if those in golf ecosystems don’t figure out how (and if) LIV Golf can become part of the ecosystem.
Slumbers intimated he would take the money, as did Jack Nicklaus in a press conference at the Memorial Tournament and then McIlroy last week at the J.P. McManus Pro-Am — all believing that the additional money to grow the game would be beneficial.
Anyone in business would agree that communications are key and understanding what the other side wants is crucial to any successful negotiations.
With potential antitrust issues on the PGA Tour’s plate again, working to a peaceful resolution with LIV Golf may become more important for keeping the Department of Justice at bay.
In the end, golf is better when everyone is working off the same sheet of music, meaning it’s time for a veteran composer, with knowledge of issues that are not golf-related, but business-related, to sit down and work through the issues.
While I would listen for hours about how Woods hits a stinger or Fitzpatrick executed the 9-iron on the 18th hole to win the U.S. Open, I don’t think it’s prudent to listen to Justin Thomas or any other professional golfer on their LIV concerns, it’s just too far above their pay grade.
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