Men’s golf is back in the news for all the wrong reasons. Lawsuits are flying like Phil Mickelson tee shots. Rumors continue to swirl about who will be the next player to escape the shackles of his multi-million-dollar PGA Tour life for the warm embrace of Mohammed bin Salman. Golfers who used to be pals are angry with their former playing partners. Tour players are holding unprecedented meetings, the four majors don’t have the courage to take a real stand and some golfers who left for LIV Golf have already sued for the right to come back.
There’s only one man who can save pro golf now. He’s done it before. Perhaps he can do it again.
Tiger Woods limped off his private jet Tuesday in Philadelphia on his way to Wilmington, Del., for a meeting with a group of top players at the BMW Championship. Someone with knowledge of what went on in the meeting said those in the room with Tiger were in full support of the PGA Tour and doing everything they can to strengthen it.
Tiger’s agent, Mark Steinberg, texted that Woods wouldn’t have anything to say publicly about the meeting. But, according to Greg Norman, who happens to be the sports personification of self-centered greed perfectly cast as LIV Golf CEO, Tiger turned down an offer from LIV that was in the $700 million-$800 million range, so we already know exactly where he stands.
Tiger’s visit to Wilmington came the same day that LIV golfer and 2018 Masters champion Patrick Reed filed a lawsuit against the Golf Channel and commentator Brandel Chamblee, claiming that they conspired with the PGA Tour to defame him. He is seeking more than $750 million in damages; in other words, LIV money.
The hits just keep on coming. What a mess this is. The staid, country club pastime of ladies and gentlemen has exploded into all-out civil war.
One wonders: What if?
What if, instead of going silent as Mickelson and Dustin Johnson bolted to LIV back in June, the organizations running the four men’s majors had spoken up, forcefully, right away, threatening banishment from the Masters, PGA Championship, U.S. Open and British Open, or actually banning Phil, DJ and whoever else joined them, right on the spot? That certainly would have gotten the attention of all future LIV escapees.
The so-called leaders of golf did nothing of the sort of course, instead standing by as the floodgates opened, watching the game they used to control descend into unprecedented chaos that has confused and infuriated fans, unsettled sponsors and TV networks and generally ruined the sport’s summer.
Wondering if any of the Big Four feel differently now, I emailed representatives of each major Tuesday, asking if they had banned LIV golfers from their 2023 events?
The PGA Championship, U.S. Open and British Open said no decisions have been made yet for 2023. As the PGA of America said, “There will no doubt be a lot that unfolds before May of next year. It would be premature for the PGA of America to speculate at this time.”
Augusta National, home of the Masters, didn’t reply.
Here’s another What if: What if golf were more like tennis? In other words, what if golf lived in the real world, where minorities (including women) have been welcomed and encouraged for generations, where dozens of athletes have taken serious social and cultural stands, where the game has reached into every corner of society?
Unfortunately for golf, it was built on the twin pillars of discrimination and exclusion, willingly walling itself off from others. Today’s leaders — almost exclusively middle-aged white men — came from this cloistered background.
So when asked, even required, to scramble to adapt to a fast-paced development that demands their action and their outrage, they find themselves well outside their comfort zone, and, mostly, lost.
Taking powerful action against the men who are using golf to sports wash Saudi atrocities and threatening to ruin the professional game should be a gimme for the powers that be in golf. Instead, sadly, it has paralyzed them. All these years they had golf clubs in their hands, when someone should have given them a moral compass.