Premier Golf League in doubt as Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm commit to PGA Tour
Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm delivered the only good news available to golf’s bosses who are trying to run a game mired in coronavirus chaos.
Amid the fallout from tournament cancellations and postponements, at least the threat from a planned 48-player breakaway tour is receding.
Funded to the tune of £183m, the proposed Premier Golf League (PGL) has now been spurned by the top three players in the world. Koepka and Rahm have joined world number one Rory McIlroy in rejecting the plan.
“I am out of the PGL,” American four-time major winner Koepka told the Associated Press. “I’m going with the PGA Tour. I have a hard time believing that golf should be about just 48 players.”
Spain’s world number two Rahm has also stated he will remain with the status quo. “I think what I’m going to do is focus on just the PGA Tour,” he said.
“At the end of the day I’m a competitor. I’m a PGA Tour member and I’m going to stay that way.”
To have any chance, the PGL needs support from top players and none have come forward. It must be a near-fatal blow for the organisation fronted by British businessman Andrew Gardiner.
He wanted the new league running in January 2022. Gardiner’s plan includes 18 tournaments worth $10m each played over 54 holes, staged around the world with individual and team formats to create a Formula One style narrative.
But he has already conceded the need for top level consensus if the Saudi-funded circuit is to work. “This only happens if everybody wants it to happen,” he said.
We can draw our own conclusions when the three highest placed voices in the game give it a resounding “no”.
Mcllroy led the way on this issue the first to break silence on a project that had golf’s leading tour administrators worrying about retaining their biggest stars.
Those concerns might be easing but new and obviously very serious headaches have emerged with most sport suspended while the world tries to contain the Covid-19 outbreak.
There are far greater worries right now than whether we will see 2020 versions of the Masters, Open and Ryder Cup. But a massive year for golf is in abeyance and it is difficult to see how it will be rescued once it is safe to play again.
Next month’s Masters has been postponed, all events leading up to the intended April 9 tournament have been cancelled.
Record major winner Jack Nicklaus believes it is highly unlikely we will see the famous green jacket awarded this year.
“How in the world could they work it into the schedule?” he said on ESPN. “I think we are probably going to miss the Masters this year. That’s just my opinion.”
For the next eight weeks, America’s Centre for Disease Control had recommended the postponement and cancellation of any event that brings together more than 50 people.
That would rule out a May Masters before the Augusta course traditionally shuts for summer. More likely is the tournament in September or October, but that could depend on PGA Tour’s play-offs finishing on time at the end of August.
What happens with the Olympics also impacts men’s and women’s golf schedules. There are also September showpiece dates for Wentworth’s PGA Championship and the Ryder Cup to be considered as well as string of other tournaments.
More immediately the CDC’s shutdown effectively ends the chances of the US PGA Championship being played at San Francisco’s Harding Park between May 14-17.
And where will we be come high summer and The Open at Royal St George’s? The R&A will be very keen to play their championship on schedule in July given that next year’s St Andrews event is earmarked to celebrate the 150th Open.
They will have considered playing behind closed doors this summer, but given current travel bans and the numbers of people required to put on a golf tournament for 156 players that seems a highly unlikely prospect now.
Maybe the Open rota slips a year? Sandwich could still play host to the 149th Open but in 2021 instead. St Andrews would be the venue in 2022, Hoylake in 23 and Royal Troon in 2024 – 101 years after first staging the championship.
The scale of upheaval and logistics, contractual and otherwise, is daunting – especially with installation of stands and infrastructure due to start at Sandwich in coming weeks.
As for June’s US Open at New York’s Winged Foot, the USGA are dependant on a several qualifying events across the United States with local tournaments scheduled as early as April 27.
It is a similarly bleak story for the women’s game and particular hardship will be felt on the relatively impoverished Ladies European Tour which was, at long last, celebrating a significantly expanded schedule.
This week their players were due to be playing for a £750,000 prize fund in Saudi Arabia but that earning opportunity has gone.
Yes, of course, there are people in far worse situations than international golfers as we all feel the impact of the current crisis.
But for those involved in the golf industry these are very challenging times, even when the biggest names choose not to add to the concerns of those running the game.