By Brian Wacker
Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images
Rory McIlroy grew up idolising Tiger Woods. These days, the 30-year-old Northern Irishman and four-time major champ, is the game’s brightest star in the post-Woods galaxy.
In other words, when the current world No. 1 speaks, his words carry gravitas.
“There are only a handful of guys that carry the tour,” Matt Kuchar said. “[Rory] is one of them.”
So when McIlroy said on Wednesday at the WGC-Mexico Championship, “I’m out,” on the idea of the much-publicised but still very much fantastical Premier Golf League, it meant something.
What exactly? The answers span multitudes.
For one, McIlroy’s words had to be sweet music to PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan’s ears. The reigning FedEx Cup champ and Player of the Year picking Ponte Vedra over the proposed big-money, 18-tournament, 48-player league that is prepared, according to one source, to throw upwards of $100 million at him, is a statement that the status quo, or at least many elements of it, are the better option. He’s also the first high-profile player to publicly choose sides — unlike Woods, who has been non-committal, or Phil Mickelson, who remains intrigued and expects to have his mind made up by the tour’s flagship event, the Players Championship.
For another, as McIlroy’s fellow countryman Shane Lowry pointed out, if the Premier Golf League can’t land McIlroy and other big names, then it’s dead on arrival.
“The point I’d make to other players is, if Rory’s not doing it, then why isn’t he doing it?” said Billy Horschel, who, along with McIlroy, is a member of the Tour’s Player Advisory Council. “He looks at things from many perspectives.”
Among those perspectives that McIlroy highlighted on Wednesday: The ability to choose his own schedule, that he doesn’t play golf for the money, and that he’d like to be on the right side of history on the matter.
Still, the alter-organisation, or at least the ideas it has presented, persists and players remain (as McIlroy noted) very split on where they stand and which side they’d choose.
“It’s intriguing,” Kuchar said of the PGL. “If you could design a better version of the PGA Tour, it wouldn’t look like the current version. What we have is awesome, [but] I think there’s a lot of hope that the tour moves in a direction that is slightly different moving forward, and guys like Rory have an influence on that direction.”
Those directions, according to a source, could include more prize money, potentially fewer events and therefore a shorter season, and the possibility of incentivising stars for playing in certain events (or, again, for money).
Already, players are starting to reap at least some increased benefits from the tour.
The purse for this year’s Players Championship has been bumped to $15 million, up from $12.5 a year ago — news that came as talk of the PGL ramped up. A new television deal, which could be announced by this year’s Players, would also likely lead to higher purses in other events as well, according to sources familiar with negotiations.
“The appeal for the cash grab is going to be less appealing than it once was,” said Webb Simpson.
So where does the Premier Golf League go from here?
It depends on whom you ask.
“At the end of the day we’re pro athletes and the definition of pro means getting paid, so it’s going to come down to money,” Kevin Na said. “Money tends to persuade players. If the money is that much better, I wouldn’t be surprised to see some players go.”
Even McIlory conceded there might come a day when he might not have a choice if everyone else goes.
And if McIlroy and the game’s other stars don’t?
“It’s interesting but for me it’s not that interesting,” said Bryson DeChambeau. “If you can’t get the top guys, then what’s the point?”