Column: PGA Tour has history, staying power

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Jun. 11—This should be a joyous time for golf.

The Masters Tournament crowned a magnificent new champion in Scottie Scheffler. The PGA Championship validated Justin Thomas as one of the game's best with his second major title. And we're on the verge of U.S. Open week, and it's being held at a place where one of the game's seminal moments occurred.

Instead, the last couple of weeks have been dominated by news of a rival golf league that is fronted by Greg Norman and funded by Saudi Arabia. LIV Golf — the Roman numerals stand for 54, which is how many holes the tournaments are — began Thursday with its inaugural event in London.

Forget all the buzz words and how it's a different type of tournament; LIV is purely a money grab with enormous sums being paid up front to some of the big names and the weekly tournament purses the richest in the game's history. We won't even get into the ethics of this; some have accused the Saudis of "sportswashing" to cover up alleged human rights violations.

Phil Mickelson, a three-time Masters champion and fanner of flames about the rival league earlier this year, emerged from a self-imposed hiatus to take the money being offered. No one was surprised.

Dustin Johnson, a South Carolina native and 2020 Masters champion, is the most relevant golfer to join the new tour. Some people were surprised, particularly after he denounced the startup league earlier this year. Money talks, and Johnson listened.

A handful of PGA Tour regulars, including former Augusta State star and 2018 Masters champion Patrick Reed, are leaving for the startup. Bryson DeChambeau, Louis Oosthuizen, Sergio Garcia, Charl Schwartzel and Graeme McDowell — all major champions — are also playing in the new league. The general reaction was don't let the door hit you in the you-know-where. Bye, bye.

Golfers are essentially independent contractors. The best tour in the world is the PGA Tour. And it has rules for those who are skilled enough to play there. One is that they require releases to play on a competing tour. PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan was very clear from the beginning; no releases would be granted to play on the LIV, particularly since most of the events are being played in the U.S.

If you owned a McDonald's and some of your employees wanted to moonlight at the Burger King across the street, would you allow that? Probably not.

So shortly after the LIV began play Thursday, the PGA Tour announced that those who hadn't already resigned their membership would be suspended from playing on any of its tours. The New York Times and Wall Street Journal ran front-page articles on the rival tour and Monahan's reaction. It's not clear yet if the exiled golfers will have a path to return to the PGA Tour.

As a golfer and someone who has covered golf for more than three decades, people have been asking my opinion. It's pretty simple: I believe in free enterprise, but with actions come consequences. Outside of a handful of stars, the average golf fan won't recognize many of the players. Right now, the PGA Tour offers a superior product.

What people really want to know is how this will affect participation in the majors, especially the Masters. Augusta National Golf Club officials have been mum, but the USGA is letting the LIV players participate in the U.S. Open. I suspect the Masters will honor lifetime invitations for former champions, but most LIV players will have a hard time qualifying because their events don't offer Official World Golf Ranking points. Winning PGA Tour events, being in the top 50 in the world ranking and playing well in the majors are the traditional paths to Augusta.

The spotlight in golf moves to the U.S. Open this week. It's our national championship, and the oldest major in the United States. The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., outside Boston, is the venue. It's where Francis Ouimet, a young American amateur, won a three-way playoff against British stars Harry Vardon and Ted Ray in 1913. It inspired a book and a movie of the same name: "The Greatest Game Ever Played."

The LIV isn't likely to run out of money, but it's hard to see it sustaining interest in the long term. Five events will be held in the U.S., but you'll have to stream it to watch. None of the traditional sports networks are carrying it.

Building a following is crucial to success, and it's hard to see LIV maintaining that after the initial curiosity wears off. And there's the relevancy factor; in the grand scheme of things, does winning a 54-hole event with a weak field really mean anything?

A hundred years from now, I don't think anyone will be writing books or producing movies about the winners of these events. Let's reserve that for golf's truly special moments, like Ouimet at The Country Club.

Thanks for reading.