In this week’s edition, we celebrate the designated value of the field in Phoenix, the lessons to be learned from football’s battle with a breakaway element and some sort of resolution – any resolution – to the divide in Europe.
Bring the noise. It’s clear this week’s WM Phoenix Open is not everyone’s brand of vodka, but with the event’s designated status came an expectation that the Tour’s best players would be at TPC Scottsdale.
Twenty-two of the top 25 players in the world ranking joined the “Greatest Show on Grass,” including world No. 1 Rory McIlroy who had played the WM Phoenix Open just once prior to this year.
“I was joking to Harry out there today, it’s like almost you get two free rounds at this because you can go out and just completely wing it, either shoot 63 or 80, and you know you’re going to have a good weekend regardless,” said McIlroy who struggled to a 2-over 73 on Day 1. “Either have a chance to win the tournament or you go and enjoy everything that this tournament has to offer if you don’t make the cut.”
McIlroy wasn’t the only player embracing the center of the sports universe this week, with the Super Bowl set to be played Sunday in nearby Glendale, Arizona.
“It almost becomes white noise,” Xander Schauffele said of the loudest fans on Tour. “I’d say [No.] 16 would almost feel creepy if it was completely quiet, which is impossible anyway. You’ve just got to enjoy the experience.”
Still Open. The USGA announced a series of qualification changes for both the U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open, with the addition of the NCAA men’s and women’s individual champions and the 2022 Korn Ferry Tour points leader to those who are exempt into each championship.
The more significant news, however, was who wasn’t mentioned in the USGA release. There was no mention of LIV Golf or “unauthorized events,” and the criteria to qualify for the U.S. Open remains open for any player regardless of tour affiliation.
Seven players who joined LIV Golf (Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Martin Kaymer, Phil Mickelson, Cameron Smith and Joaquin Niemann) are listed as qualified for this year’s championship through various categories, with one notable exception.
Talor Gooch finished inside the top 30 on last year’s FedExCup points list but joined LIV Golf and was suspended by the Tour before the Tour Championship. The new USGA regulation reads, “Those players who qualified and were eligible for the season-ending 2022 Tour Championship.” The qualification criteria also require players to be “be considered eligible per PGA Tour regulations at the time the exemption is determined to qualify for the [U.S. Open] exemption.”
The USGA’s decision to not draw a line against the players who joined LIV Golf falls in line with Augusta National’s decision to adhere to traditional qualification criteria and sends a clear message – it may all be one professional golf ecosystem, but this fight is between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf.
A super lesson. Apple TV’s four-part docuseries “Super League: The War for Football” was particularly insightful for those in golf who have spent the last year trying to envision how the PGA Tour-LIV Golf clash plays out.
The breakaway Super League launched in April 2021 with 12 of Europe’s top soccer teams – from Real Madrid and Barcelona to Liverpool and Manchester United – and a plan to play big-money matches against the Continent’s best programs with heavy financial backing from JP Morgan Chase. Replace football, top teams and JP Morgan Chase with golf, top players and the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund and you get the connection.
The lesson for professional golf is how the Super League unraveled in a matter of days after it was announced, when faced with the potent combination of fan pushback, governmental threats and a unified front from both the European football establishment (UEFA) and world soccer (FIFA).
Professional golf’s ecosystem, from the USGA to Augusta National, appears to have coalesced around the established products, but fan support remains somewhat indifferent, and it doesn’t seem as if the U.S. government is racing to the Tour’s aid.
Resolution. It doesn’t appear the antitrust lawsuit that was filed against the Tour last year by a group of players who had joined LIV Golf and been suspended by the circuit, is any closer to a conclusion. The Tour requested last week a new trial date with both sides mired in discovery disputes. But a similar fight in the United Kingdom should be decided soon.
Attorneys for a group of players sanctioned by the DP World Tour and the European circuit argued this week before a three-person arbitration panel in London. Arguments ended Friday and a ruling is expected within a few weeks.