|The time to make a decision came: the PGA has not granted the release requests for the tour members that requested to be able to play in the first event of the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Series event in London, which clashes with the PGA’s RBC Canadian Open in early June.|
Promptly, Greg Norman (AUS), a former PGA number-one player and current CEO and commissioner of LIV Golf, branded the PGA as ‘anti-competitive’ (Sky Sports) upon the denied requests. Some might agree with him. Some, such as PGA player Justin Thomas (USA), see the PGA’s decision as to the right course of action (Sky Sports).
Having several sport leagues competing against each other is not necessarily a bad thing, just as in any other industry. However, in sport it is desirable to have unified organizations sanctioning the most important tournaments, insofar as the audience and the sportspeople want to know who is the best among the best, and that can only happen if there is an institutionalized centralization of the competitions, such as the World Championships or Official World Rankings in several sports.
Under that premise, it is a good thing that the PGA did not grant the release requests, regardless of the political juncture that surrounds the LIV Golf Series in controversy. We have seen that the separation of sports leagues with similar competitions has been detrimental and sent sports back for years.
A clear example in a different sport is the fragmentation of CART and IndyCar, which severed the perhaps best car racing series in the world at the time, to compete in its flagship event. In golf terms, it was similar to the PGA players suddenly not being able to play the Masters. The separation ended two decades to close, albeit not without affecting the sport competitively and financially.
Perhaps the particular difference with the LIV Series is that it will have a different competition format: no-cut, 54-holes, shotgun starts, and a yearlong team competition. In that sense, it is technically a little bit different and an individual league and a team league could coexist as they, on paper, do not try to crown discover the same “Champion”.
The PGA’s position, however, is still understandable. It could be slightly different if the event was just a one-off overseas. But the league has decided to play its first event on the same day that the PGA has a traditional tournament on the calendar. This is a direct clash that competes for the best players.
Allowing its players to compete in this other league would be a direct detriment to the sponsors and tournaments that have supported the league for years. It would also set a precedent for any other attempt at a competing league to set up a tournament with a high purse and cannibalize golf.
This is counter-intuitive to the policy that the PGA has had of stretching its relationship with the European Tour (now DP World Tour), the Asian Tour, the PGA Tour of Australia, and others. A legitimately recognized organization has built the infrastructure that allows us to see the best players facing each other on a week-by-week basis and that should be valued and protected.
Watching new formats of the sports we enjoy is always interesting, and we will pay attention to what LIV has to offer. The financial opportunities it will afford players that are under the radar.