Schupak: ‘Free agency’ in golf is not everything Greg Norman dreamed it would be

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“Free agency is finally coming to golf,” Greg Norman proclaimed at the debut of LIV Golf last month.

“I feel so happy for the fact that we’ve brought free agency to the game of golf,” he said on another occasion.

To hear Pat Perez, one of the LIV signees, tell it, he’s been rescued from being an indentured servant with the PGA Tour – albeit one who earned more than $28 million during his career.

“I missed my son’s birth last year. August 18, I get a call my wife’s going into labor. I’m in Jersey. I’m getting ready to start the FedEx playoffs. I’m 116 on the list. I can’t leave. I can’t miss it. I can’t get back. I can’t get there and back without spending 150 grand on a private flight. I’m not doing that. So I had to suck on it and I had to miss my son’s birth,” Perez said. “And, you know, fortunately, I made the cut and I moved up my status by playing all right, but it still sucked.”

Only thing is Perez didn’t actually have to miss the birth of his son. He chose to play the Northern Trust. He already had wrapped up his Tour card for the next season by finishing in the top 125. If he wanted to qualify for the BMW Championship the following week (top 70) or Tour Championship (top 30), he would have needed to continue on because he hadn’t played well enough that season to guarantee his spot. Tour veteran Billy Horschel took exception to what Perez had to say.

“PGA Tour says 15 events minimum, all you have to do is play 15 events and you keep your card in those 15 events then that’s fine. If you want to play better or you want to play more so you get a chance to win the FedExCup, so be it. So be it. No one has made you play that first Playoff event to go miss family obligations. No one has,” Horschel said. “Yes, we are independent contractors; we do sign a contract with the PGA Tour to meet certain requirements of the PGA Tour. But we have the opportunity to make our schedule.”

Horschel noted that by the time he played this week at the Genesis Scottish Open and the British Open next week, he will have been gone for five consecutive weeks from his family.

“I made that decision to not see my wife and kids for five weeks. Am I crying about it? No,” he said. “I understand. I’m living my dream trying to play golf professionally and support my family financially.”

Here’s the thing: Perez was an independent contractor; now he’s an employee. This is not an employer you want to piss off. He’s signed a contract to play in all eight LIV Golf events. Next year, that number has been announced to increase to 14. Has Norman really achieved this 30-plus-year-old dream of his?

The PGA Tour and the Europe-based DP World Tour both declined requests from members for releases to compete in LIV events and have since punished players who have violated its tour regulations. In one of the rich ironies, the same players who have said they want to play less have gone to court so they can play more on the DP World Tour. (By the way, I love the nickname for them – ‘The Sour 16.’)

“We want to coexist” with “all the current ecosystems within the game of golf, and we want to do that with the PGA Tour,” Norman told Fox News last month. How exactly would that look in his fantasy world? “I would say support the players … and give their members the opportunity to have other places to go,” he said. “They’re independent contractors. They have every right to do that.”

2022 JP McManus Pro-Am
2022 JP McManus Pro-Am

Graeme McDowell watches his drive at the 10th tee during the 2022 JP McManus Pro-Am at Adare Manor in Limerick, Ireland. (Photo: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)

Except Norman’s circuit prevented Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell from playing in the Horizon Irish Open. Apparently, this notion of his doesn’t work both ways.

The circumstances of Graeme McDowell, who signed with LIV Golf, indicate that Norman isn’t allowing players to freely go and play elsewhere. McDowell, who had agreed to play the Horizon Irish Open, a tournament he had played the past 20 years anyway, in order to get a waiver to compete in the Saudi International in February. But he reneged on the deal because it conflicted with last week’s LIV event in Portland.

“I tried to be fair and I tried to be open with them and put all my cards on the table. Of course, I was very disappointed that the second event fell against the Irish Open. I would have loved to have been there last week,” McDowell told the Irish Independent. “The only thing I can say is I have to be all-in. I’m 43 and 380th in the world. My value to these guys is only so much. I have to try to commit the best I can to the LIV Tour, and that meant not obviously being able to play last week.”

He added: “Listen, I’d love to be back at the Irish Open next year and like I say I can only apologize to the Irish golf fans that I wasn’t there last week. And like I say, unfortunately, I had pretty good reasons for it regards what I have to commit to with the LIV Tour. I have to be all-in with those events. I can’t just dip my toe in.”

And here’s the rub. The same guys who have complained about how hard they had it on the PGA Tour no longer have the luxury of picking their schedule. They have been bought and paid for quite handsomely, and now have to show up when and where they are told (here’s hoping none of the wives of American players go into labor during the two-week swing to Bangkok and Jeddah).

Had McDowell still been an independent contractor, do you think he would’ve missed his homeland’s national open? When he was growing up, do you think he dreamed of winning the Irish Open or a 54-hole shotgun start in Portland?

Free agency in golf – before long it may have some players wanting to fire their agents Freddie Freeman style.

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