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Generational divide: Proposed super league split between age and expectations

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LOS ANGELES – The super league lines have never been so clear.

Joaquin Niemann may sprint away with a record-setting victory on Sunday at the Genesis Invitational, but there aren’t enough birdies in the hard-swinging Chilean’s bag to change the conversation away from the Saudi-backed super league.

World No. 1 Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy reiterated their loyalty - or in the Spaniard’s case, his “fealty" - to the PGA Tour this week. Meanwhile, Phil Mickelson appeared to burn all the bridges with an interview on the website that curiously scorched both the Tour and the Saudis, who are funding the rival circuit. And quietly those with an eye toward bolting the Tour for the super league riches are becoming easier to spot.

“I think the schedule they're proposing is very appealing to probably most golfers,” said Adam Scott, who added that he hasn’t made any decision regarding the super league. “Depending what your goals are in golf, I think the schedule is very appealing. From that side of things, I would consider doing that, for sure. From a lifestyle side of things, yes.”

While it continues to be important to point out that no one has publicly announced they will play the super league, the rumor mill is filled with players who appear to be leaning in that direction.

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Except for Bryson DeChambeau, most of those players are in their 40s. Scott is 41; Ian Poulter is 46; Henrik Stenson is 45; Lee Westwood is 48; Mickelson is 51. All of these players have been connected to the super league through various reports.

Despite the rumors of eight- and even nine-figure contracts, the divide on Tour is starting to feel more like a generational gap, not a wealth gap.

As the last week has taught us, the question is far more nuanced than that. For Scott, it’s a lifestyle choice; for McIlroy and Rahm, it’s a sense of history and their place within it; and for those of the youngest generation, it’s a question of legacy. Scott acknowledged as much on Friday at Riviera Country Club.

“I’m not judging anyone. I think the young guys are in a good spot. The Viktor Hovlands and Jon Rahms, their careers are just taking off and why would you do anything to upset that apple cart? Their legacies are just starting out,” Scott told SkySports. “Everyone is in a different position and can see things differently.”

Perhaps the best example of this is Will Zalatoris, 25, who felt compelled this week to set the record straight.

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“I think it’s pretty evident my allegiance is with the PGA Tour,” Zalatoris said. “I grew up wanting to play on the PGA Tour, I want my legacy to be here and now that all the top players have decided to be here, I think it kind of speaks for itself.”

Zalatoris said he has been contacted by officials from Golf Saudi about playing the Saudi International, now an Asian Tour event that was played opposite the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, but not about the super league.

“It sounds like a lot of guys are interested who are in their early 40s or late 30s,” he said. “The example I gave is, I was approached to play in the Saudi International and, quite frankly, prior to these two events, I haven’t won out here, I haven’t had a good year. I could have lost my card and been back on [the Korn Ferry Tour]. Even though it was enticing, it made no sense for me to do it.”

Until he tied for sixth at last month’s American Express and finished runner-up at the Farmers Insurance Open, Zalatoris wasn’t off to a blazing start in his second full season on Tour and he was mired at 83rd on the FedExCup points list. Although it’s still early as a non-winner, there are no guarantees beyond this season for a player with Zalatoris’ status.

There’s also the financial reality of a 25-year-old second-year Tour player. Unlike McIlroy and Rahm, who have won majors and are well past independently wealthy, Zalatoris is a relative newcomer who broke onto the Tour thanks to a runner-up finish at the ’21 Masters, on his way to winning the Tour’s Rookie of the Year Award.

Prior to last season, Zalatoris had earned about $500,000 in two seasons on the Korn Ferry Tour since turning pro in 2018 (he has since earned $4.9 million on Tour). Compared to the players who are being wooed by the super league, it leads to a much different conversation about financial security. Yet, Zalatoris said his attitude toward the breakaway league wouldn’t be any different had the conversation occurred three years ago.

“It wouldn’t have [changed his mind] because the biggest thing I want to do in my career is win a major,” he said. “I’ve wanted to win on the PGA Tour. That’s where my heart has always been and will be.”

As a member of the Player Advisory Council, Zalatoris has access to information that others might not, like the Tour’s current financial profile and the long-term earnings forecast. During Tuesday’s PAC meeting, Zalatoris said Tour officials were asked about the forecasted earnings. “They said, ‘We’ve never not beaten our forecast,’” he said.

Zalatoris, like most on both sides of the super league divide, acknowledged that competition is a good thing and he also conceded there’s room for improvement on Tour.

“I see where some guys are coming from," he said, "but the strength of the Tour is the best it’s ever been and it’s only going to get better."