During a rambling podcast last weekend, Andy Gardiner, the man behind the curtain of the Premier Golf League, lifted the veil – however slightly – on what had been until a few weeks ago an urban legend.
Rumors of a global tour offering vast amounts of money had persisted for years until reports began to surface last month, outlining the 18-event schedule and team concept. Among the topics Gardiner covered in the Rick Shiels Golf Show was one telling comment that the league’s chief executive officer expects a decision from players regarding the new league in a “handful of weeks.”
An informal poll of the game’s top players last week at the WGC-Mexico Championship suggests Gardiner’s prediction of a tipping point among players is correct.
Rory McIlroy, who became the first to take a stance on the PGL when he announced in Mexico that he was “out,” estimated that players are currently split on the concept, and that also seems correct.
Among those polled, about half were with McIlroy.
“It depends what you want in life. If you look at it, a blank piece of paper, 18 events a year, a bunch of cash, it’s a great life and if you’re playing well and you’re one of the best players in the world you’ll have a great time. You’re not playing a lot and you’re playing for a lot of money,” said world No. 12 Tommy Fleetwood. “I’d say it’s not for me. I want to play majors. I want to play on the Tour. Rory made a fantastic point. He likes being able to do what he wants and make his own schedule.”
Billy Horschel was of the same mindset. “I think Rory is right. I just think the PGA Tour offers so many more opportunities for players,” he said.
But Horschel, a new member of the PGA Tour's Player Advisory Council, also added a third element to the current dynamic. Even those who have no interest in jumping ship, the PGL concept has sparked a conversation about the direction of the Tour.
“I have no desire [to play on the PGL]. What [Tour commissioner Jay Monahan] has done is great. He understands that the Tour in its current form isn’t viable in the future,” Horschel said. “Changes are going to have to be made. What changes? I don’t know. The business model is great, it’s what we do with the players and the product. We may have to make some tweaks to the product to continue to be able to garner the money that we want.”
Although Horschel declined to go into specifics, many of the game’s elite seem drawn to the idea of fewer events (there are 49 tournaments on the current Tour schedule) and fewer players in each event (120-player fields appear to be the consensus). Some have also discussed a Tour-driven appearance fee program to compensate the game’s stars, a concept that has always been rejected by the Tour.
What exactly that Utopian Tour would look like remains to be seen, but Gardiner and his PGL concept, which he said started as “a flight of fancy,” has struck a nerve.
There are also those who appear to be on the other side of the PGL divide. Those like Phil Mickelson, who said he is “intrigued” by the PGL and even played in a pro-am earlier this year in Saudi Arabia with Gardiner, who was described as a London financier, and others associated with the new league.
No one has officially announced a loyalty to the PGL, but there are those who are, at the least, interested in seeing how the process plays out.
“No, I don’t [have a decision], but that’s not because I’m a fence sitter," said world No. 6 Adam Scott. "I do really believe that a world-type tour is the future, absolutely. But it’s not easy to just put that together. There are a lot of obstacles that need to be overcome, like getting the support of the players for a start.
“Selfishly, for me there is some appeal. I might have the opportunity to park myself up in Australia for a little bit, if I’m being selfish. From the bits I like it seems like they are offering an offseason. That’s very limited at the moment the way we play our schedule. There are bits I like, for sure.”
Others, such as world No. 18 Louis Oosthuizen, are still waiting to have a full understanding of what the PGL is proposing.
“If someone speaks to me about it, it’s probably just a matter of seeing what it is, but it’s going to be difficult to not do what I’ve been doing my whole career between the European Tour and PGA Tour. Honestly, I have no idea,” Oosthuizen said. “I can’t see it happening if the top guys don’t play. No one really knows exactly what’s going on.”
World No. 5 Dustin Johnson said the concept “sounds interesting” and third-ranked Brooks Koepka didn’t exactly draw a hard line when he was asked about the PGL on Wednesday at the Honda Classic. “I'm just gonna play where the best players play. ... I want to play against the best,” Koepka said, before adding, “I know you’re going to write this the wrong way, but it doesn’t matter if somebody gave me $200 million tomorrow. It’s not going to change my life.”
The PGL has polarized the top players in a way that hasn’t happened in decades, but the one thing everyone, including Gardiner, can agree on is that this issue is quickly reaching a tipping point, whatever that might be.
“It’s out there now more than it’s ever been out there before. There’s been murmurs for years, but now it’s out there and the Premier Golf League has put themselves in a position where it’s going to happen or it’s going to not happen,” Scott said. “It’s going to happen or it’s going to not happen in the next few weeks, at least in getting the players support.”