Exciting times? Not Really says Vousden

Thought for the Day
It’s easy to identify people who can’t count to ten. They’re in front of you in the supermarket express lane

Exciting times? Not Really
Variety is the spice of life, or so it’s said. Which is (almost) another way of saying that change is inevitable, so why not embrace it? Unfortunately, in golf over the last three years we’ve had far too much change, or turbulence, and most of us, I suspect, are crying out for a period of stability. If that’s not achievable, the tiniest modicum of certainty would be welcome.

Ever since the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund (PIF) raised its head and started scattering money like excited confetti-throwers at a trailer-trash wedding, the game has been in flux – which is defined as instability or change. And now, over a month after the PGA and DP World Tours were supposed to have ironed out their strategic agreement with PIF, we’re little wiser as to what this might look like and increasingly unsure whether it will even come about.

Despite ongoing, presumably torturous negotiations – which would explain why they’re dragging on for so long – PIF, in the guise of LIV Golf, continues to up the ante by signing more and more of the world’s best golfers. Their astonishing capture of Jon Rahm in December, followed by Tyrell Hatton and Adrian Meronk, respectively ranked 16th and 44th in the world, made a bold statement. That statement being: ‘Don’t come to a gun fight with a knife in your pocket.’ In other words, we still hold several aces, and an almost bottomless pit of money, so you need to take us seriously when it comes to brokering a deal.

The PGA Tour responded by announcing a major investment in the Tour, to the tune of $2.4 billion, by the Strategic Sports Group (SSG), a consortium led by Fenway Sports, who own, among other majestic organisations, the Mighty Red Machine that is Liverpool Football Club. It was a case of: ‘We see your hand and raise.’ The muddied waters became even murkier when Jordan Spieth, a member of PGA Tour policy board, said in effect that because of this injection of cash, the PGA Tour no longer needed to negotiate with LIV.

Jordan is a likeable, intelligent and thoughtful young man but to sabotage your own side’s negotiations in this way will not prove to be his finest moment. He’s effectively saying: ‘Now that we’ve got this extra moolah, LIV can take a hike because we don’t need them.’

He’s wrong. First, this additional $2.4 billion is but a fraction of what LIV has already paid, and demonstrates that it will continue to pay, in order to sign golf’s biggest names and break forever the PGA Tour’s hegemony of the most prestigious players and tournaments. Second, you don’t, if you can help it, antagonise powerful people with whom your own tour is trying to barter a deal of compromise.

Rory McIlroy found himself dragged back in, as the Tour’s effective spokesperson, after removing himself from the online PGA Tour player chat group where Spieth made his comments. They later had an hour-long ‘frank’ discussion (for which I read: ‘Heated, if not acrimonious, argument’).

McIlroy said: ‘My thing was, if I’m the original investor that thought that they were going to get this deal done back in July, and I’m hearing a board member say that, you know, we don’t really need them, now, how are they going to think about that, what are they going to feel about that?

‘They are still sitting out there with hundreds of billions of dollars, if not trillions, that they’re going to pour it into sport. And I know what Jordan was saying, I absolutely know what he was saying and what he was trying to say. But if I were PIF and I was hearing that coming from here, the day after doing this SSG deal, it wouldn’t have made me too happy, I guess.’

Rory, understandably, has become rather sick of being the Tour’s mouthpiece in light of the continuing silence from Tour commissioner Jay Monahan and last November resigned from the policy board, presumably because he wanted to concentrate on his family and game. Unfortunately for him, whenever the subject of LIV Golf comes up, particularly in the wake of Jordan Spieth’s ill-judged remarks, he’s the first person that journalists turn to for a quote. It also has to be said that he has strong opinions and sometimes can’t resist offering them to the world.

Last month he offered his own template for a compromise agreement by suggesting that golf could follow the model of India’s Cricket Premier League, in which the world’s best players compete head-to-head in a team format. Rory suggested that a month could be set aside at each end of the season for these events. And although it would involve the PGA and DP World Tours amending their own schedules, it wouldn’t be impossible.

Then again, it would be a sensible compromise and recently, in golf, one of those hasn’t been spotted for quite some time.

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