For now, the fairways may be still and largely silent but the fate of the Premier Golf League is still being argued about loudly. And recently, two of the game’s top players came out against the PGL, but not necessarily for reasons relating to the PGA TOUR and their status on it.
The PGL is already a hot-button topic in the sport. It’s an obvious competitor to the PGA TOUR – which has made it clear that players should be prepared to choose to participate in one or the other. If it goes according to plan and kicks off in 2022, the PGL would have an eight-month, 18-season event with a total prize purse of $240 million. A total of 48 players hand-selected from among the world’s top pros would compete in 54-hole tournaments with no cut and both an individual and team format.
In mid-March, Brooks Koepka and Rory McIlroy noted that was one more reason not to like the concept. The PGL, they said, eliminates amateurs, and that doesn’t sit well with either of them.
Koepka spoke about the majority of the PGA TOUR, whom he thinks would be left out in the cold by a league that just focused on star players competing as a team.
“I get that the stars are what people come to see,” Koepka told the Associated Press. “But these guys who we see win, who have been grinding for 10 or 15 years, that’s what makes the cool stories. I’d have a hard time looking at guys and putting them out of a job.”
Koepka, the Golf Channel notes, should know. He himself scrabbled for a place on the PGA TOUR, played remote spots on the Challenge Tour, earned a European Tour card and eventually made it to the PGA TOUR, where he won his first tournament in early 2015.
“I don’t forget where I’ve come from,” Koepka said. “There are guys from that top 125 who could be the next star.”
"I think one of the great things about golf is the fact that there are these storylines of the underdog," McIlroy told the Associated Press. "The fact that anyone can really qualify for the U.S. Open, and have a great tournament and have a chance to win. Those are the wonderful things about golf."
The storylines of golf have long been the stuff of legends and the reasons the sport has been exciting. It’s much the reason March Madness garners viewers year after year. Comeback stories, up-and-coming amateurs and just plain feel-good heroes are the reason the PGA TOUR continues to be a success, and the reason its players are going to be loyal.
"I’m going with the PGA TOUR,” Koepka said. “I have a hard time believing golf should be about just 48 players.”
Brooks, whose views on golf’s image as a sport that puts too much emphasis on social graces rather than the game itself, are already well known; he recently stated the sport’s “stuffiness” and country club image were hurting its ability to grow and attract new players.
And another blow fell on the PGL when 25-year-old no. 2 player Jon Rahm said he too would stick with the PGA TOUR. The sport’s top three players are publicly against the concept and it is likely others will follow suit.
The PGL’s proposed launch is two years away so it has time to regroup and make its plans. It may continue to try to recruit players or it is possible we will see the concept be reformatted. The PGL may decide to focus on other players, such as excellent amateurs who have previously held day jobs and who, until the advent of the PGL, never considered playing professionally. In this case, the league might have more of a ‘next top golfer’ focus which could garner it some interest. It could also focus on retired players whose dealings with the pro tour have concluded. Another demographic that might be tapped is players coming straight out of college and more willing to take chances. (If they opt to go in the latter direction, PGL’s organizers might do well to recognize the growth of the sport at the collegiate level on the women's side).
But another consideration – and it’s by no means a small one – is whether the PGL’s events will find a home. In fact, golf-specific destinations in the U.S., especially those that currently enjoy a good relationship with the PGA, might be uneasy about signing on to host events for the PGL. And in light of tour postponements caused by the coronavirus, destinations might be very reluctant to jeopardize the chance of hosting events once the PGA TOUR resumes.