Is this an inflection point in the history of professional golf or simply Fyre Festival 2.0? The din of chatter about the Super Golf League, a Saudi Arabian-backed rival that would ostensibly take on the PGA Tour, has never been louder than it has been this week during the 2022 Genesis Invitational.
However, the league currently has the same feel as the infamous 2017 music festival in the Bahamas which birthed a dozen documentaries: loads of promises about how awesome things are going to be with nothing to show (yet) for all the bloviating.
That could change, and it sounds like it will. According to PGA Tour golfer Kramer Hickok, 17 golfers have signed up to “jump” to the Super Golf League, which will be financed by the monetary arm of the Saudi Arabian government and played under the banner of the Asian Tour. According to a late Wednesday report, that number is up to 20, which is the tipping point for an announcement … at some date in the future.
The nine-figure signing bonuses and visions of globetrotting have to either be realized or crushed at some point, and it seems as if we may reach that pendulus moment during, of all weeks, Players Championship week. This event is an annual celebration of all the PGA Tour has done and what it could become in the future. This year, it might be more about what it won’t become in the future.
It’s not as if the PGA Tour isn’t laboring to satiate the players. It has been floating some big-money fall team events where its stars could collect without fear of missing cuts, according to Golf Channel.
However, the proposed Saudi league can offer what the PGA Tour cannot: unholy sums of cash with no strings attached. The PGA Tour does not pay appearance fees, and it cannot because of its 501(c)(6) tax status. And of course, there are always strings attached, especially when the Saudi government is slapping its name all over the league. There are probably more strings attached than anyone involved has ever experienced before.
So the line in the sand has seemingly been drawn (perhaps literally), and golfers have been asked about it all week at Riviera. The demographic that seems interested tends to skew older and more accomplished. Think about the aging shooting guard looking for one final monster contract with the Orlando Magic. Phil Mickelson is the biggest name who has been linked to the league, especially so after his “obnoxious greed” tirade about the PGA Tour a few weeks ago.
Bryson DeChambeau appears to be the outlier in all of this: A young, still-developing superstar who can contend wherever he wants to contend. Adam Scott, who said he was “sworn to secrecy”, was a bit of a surprise, but he’s the archetype for the player I envision potentially going to the Super Golf League.
“I think the schedule they’re proposing is very appealing to probably most golfers, I would think,” said Scott. “You know, depending what your goals are in golf, I think the schedule is very appealing. From that side of things, I would consider doing that, for sure. From a lifestyle side of things, yes.”
Scott was in the minority this week, though. Some of the game’s more powerful (and arguably more relevant) players spoke strongly against the SGL.
Rory McIroy: “I guess I’m intrigued. … Like, it just seems a massive risk and … I can maybe make sense of it for the guys that are getting to the latter stages of their career, for sure. I don’t think that’s what a rival golf league is really. That’s not what they’re going to want, is it? They don’t want some sort of league that’s like a pre-Champions Tour. I understand the financial part of it for guys that are later on in their career. You look at the people that have already said no — Rahm, No. 1 in the world, Collin Morikawa, myself. You’ve got the top players in the world are saying no, so that has to tell you something.”
Jon Rahm: “I’ve said it many times in press conferences before: I don’t do this for the money, which to me is the only appeal to go over there. They throw numbers at you and that’s supposed to impress people. I’m in this game for the love of golf and the love of the game and to become a champion, right? I grew up watching many great players play great events such as this one, and there’s history and legacy to those things. That’s something that has a lot of appeal to me.”
Collin Morikawa: “As it goes to the Saudi stuff, I’m all for the PGA Tour. I’ve been a pro for two-and-a-half years. My entire life I’ve thought about the PGA Tour, I’ve thought about playing against Tiger [Woods], beating his records, whatever, something that might not even be breakable, but I’ve never had another thought of, ‘What’s out there?’ Right? I’ve never thought about anything else; it’s always been the PGA Tour. Has it opened up things for us as professional golfers to open things for the PGA Tour to look at what to do better? Absolutely. We’ve seen a lot of changes: some good, some bad, some that are still going to be amended, I’m sure, as time goes on.”
As far as trios to have on your side, that’s a pretty great group. But having three of the best players on the planet on your team does not, of course, quell all uprisings. And apparently the payoff for all the Super Golf League talk is coming soon, and not in the form of soggy cheese sandwiches and makeshift lean-tos like we saw in the Fyre Fest documentaries.
However, as has been true for months and even years now, there is still nothing to show for all the hubbub. A recent comment from Mickelson even suggested that the whole thing is simply a bluff to funnel more money from the PGA Tour to the players who play on it (which is a whole other issue altogether).
Regardless, we’ve reached a breaking point where two tours and a lot of golfers have some real decisions to make about what the future of pro golf looks like. The exciting part is also the scary part: Nobody knows what in the world comes next.