CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Phil Mickelson will be 51 next month and admits his golf career is winding down. So the idea of being offered a reported $100 million per year to play in a rival golf league to the PGA Tour is understandably something that would give him pause.
Mickelson acknowledged Wednesday that he has heard from representatives of the Premier Golf League — or what is also being called the Super Golf League — in its efforts to entice well-known and highly ranked players to join a circuit that would play a global schedule with massive payouts — but with the likely stipulation that they’d be turning their backs on the PGA Tour.
In comments to ESPN and Golf Channel reporters at Quail Hollow Golf Club, Mickelson was measured, trying to point out the big picture of the concept while making no guarantees as to what he might do.
“I think the fans would love it because they would see the best players play exponentially more times,” Mickelson said after playing in the pro-am for the Wells Fargo Championship. “Instead of four or five times, it would be 20 times … I don’t know what the final number is.
“But that’s a big deal to give up control of your schedule. I don’t know if the players would be selfless enough to do that. But every other sport, the entity or teams or leagues control the schedule. The players kind of play where they are told to play. Whereas here, we’re able to control it.”
The Daily Telegraph and Guardian reported on Tuesday that the Premier Golf League (or Super Golf League) has set up headquarters in Jupiter, Florida, and is attempting to lure top-name players to a new circuit that would begin play in the fall of 2022.
The concept has been around for several years, and numerous agents and players have spoken about the various iterations of a plan that would see somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 to 14 worldwide events and would include a team concept. The monetary figures being reported are significant. So is the fact that Saudi Golf is involved, with deep pockets and the ability to guarantee seven-figure amounts to those who join.
PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan met with players Tuesday night at Quail Hollow in a previously scheduled meeting at which the PGL was part of the discussion. According to several players, Monahan made it clear that joining the PGL would mean an automatic suspension from the PGA Tour and the possibility of a permanent expulsion. According to a PGA Tour official, such an action is part of the tour’s regulations and has been approved by the players.
Among the many questions to be answered: Would the Official World Golf Ranking system sanction the new events, thus giving players who compete in them world ranking points? Would the major championships be on board with inviting players who compete in the rival league?
The Masters and the USGA, which runs the U.S. Open, both issued statements.
“The PGA Tour and European Tour have each served the global game of golf with honor and distinction,” Augusta National said in a statement issued Wednesday. “As it has for many decades, the Masters Tournament proudly supports both organizations in their pursuit to promote the game and world’s best players.”
Said USGA CEO Mike Davis: “The USGA is very proud of its long-standing partnership with the PGA Tour. We greatly appreciate everything the Tour does to create a global platform for the game’s elite players, which introduces millions of fans to the game worldwide.”
Davis did not address the issue of the how it might impact the U.S. Open.
The R&A, which runs The Open, declined to comment. The PGA Championship did not respond.
Rory McIlroy, who last year said he would not be taking part in the new venture, did not back off from that Wednesday.
“They first contacted me back in 2014, so this is seven years down the line and nothing has really changed,” McIlroy said. “Maybe the source of the money’s changed or the people that are in charge have changed, but nothing has happened. No sponsorship deals, no media deals, no players have signed up, no manufacturers have signed up. There’s been so many iterations at this point.
“You go back to what happened last week in Europe with the European Super League in football. People can see it for what it is, which is a money grab, which is fine if that’s what you’re playing golf for is to make as much money as possible. Totally fine, then go and do that if that’s what makes you happy.
“But I think the top players in the game, I’m just speaking my own personal beliefs, like I’m playing this game to try to cement my place in history and my legacy and to win major championships and to win the biggest tournaments in the world. That’s why I’m playing this game. Golf has been very good to me, obviously, over the years by playing in Europe starting off, coming over to the PGA Tour and playing here. I honestly don’t think there’s a better structure in place in golf, and I don’t think there will be. You have the strategic partnership as well between Europe and the PGA Tour, and that’s only going to strengthen the structure of golf going forward as well in terms of scheduling and all sorts of other stuff and working together a little bit more.”
Justin Thomas also said he’s not interested: “I’m very content and very happy with how everything is going here.”
Mickelson offered up the counter, saying that fans want to see the best compete against each other more often and that such a plan would give certainty to those who buy tickets, sponsorships and TV rights.
“Golf is really the only major sport where the players have control of their schedule,” he said. “The sponsors and television are not able to know exactly what it is they’re buying. I just don’t know if the players are going to be selfless enough to give up control of their schedule. We all make a very good living. We all do well. I’ve already had kids. I had the ability to control my schedule and be at big moments in their lives. If you’re a younger player, are you going to give that up?
“It would take a lot to give up control of that, even though the entire sport would benefit. Even though the fans would love it and get to see the best guys play more often. And there would be global events. Imagine all the best players having to go global and what it would do for the game.”
Two weeks ago, word got out of a player incentive program that quietly went into effect this year. The PGA Tour program was viewed as one way to push back against the Premier Golf League, as it would reward those players who “move the needle” the most beyond their play through various social media and fan engagement measures.
The tour put in place a $40 million bonus pool, with $8 million going to the leader and 10 players in total being rewarded.
“I do think it’s a great way to show appreciation for a lot of the guys who helped create so much opportunity and revenue for many of the other tour members,” Mickelson said.