CHARLOTTE, N.C. – While much of the concept that promises a global tour with the game’s biggest stars remains shrouded in mystery, the battle lines between those who are open to the concept and those who have no interest are becoming clear.
Rory McIlroy, who was the first star player to stand against the Saudi Arabian-led effort to create a breakaway circuit last year, doubled down on Wednesday at the Wells Fargo Championship.
“People can see it for what it is, which is a money grab, which is fine if that's what you're playing golf for is to make as much money as possible. Totally fine, then go and do that if that's what makes you happy,” McIlroy said. “But I think the top players in the game, I'm just speaking my own personal beliefs, like I'm playing this game to try to cement my place in history and my legacy and to win major championships and to win the biggest tournaments in the world.”
On Tuesday at Quail Hollow Club, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan also left no room for ambiguity for those who might be considering a lucrative jump to the new circuit, which is currently called the Super League Golf, telling his members in a meeting that anyone who agrees to play the new tour will be suspended immediately and “likely” expelled from the PGA Tour, according to a player who attended the meeting.
That warning did little to dissuade Phil Mickelson, who has been named in various reports as one of the top players being targeted by the SLG with bonuses of $30 million or more.
“It’s interesting. I think it’s very interesting. What’s interesting is the players would be giving up control of their schedule and then compete against each other 14 times or 15 times or whatever the final number is,” Mickelson said following his pro-am at Quail Hollow.
Mickelson went on to explain that he has been contacted by representatives from the SLG but added that he doesn’t know when or if he will have to make a choice between the new circuit or the PGA Tour.
“We all make a lot of money and do very well and we control our own schedule and I don’t know if guys would be willing to do that,” Mickelson said. “I think it would be a selfless act. Even though their schedules are being appreciated financially, it would take a lot to give up control of that even though the entire sport would benefit.
“Even though the fans would love it and get to see the best guys play more often and there would be global events. Imagine all the best players having to go global what that would do for the game.”
Along with Mickelson, 50, world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau, Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson, Adam Scott, Rickie Fowler and Patrick Reed have all been targeted as a potential “franchise owner” by the SLG, which will feature F1-style teams with 15-18 events played each year.
One top-10 player who is currently not tied to the SGL is world No. 2 Justin Thomas, who made his thoughts on the breakaway league clear on Wednesday.
“I don't know where it's going to go because everybody feels differently and everybody's in different places in their career,” Thomas said. “For me, I personally am about being No. 1 in the world and winning as many majors as I can and winning as many tournaments as I can and doing historical things on the PGA Tour. If I was to go do that, then all those things go down the drain and I can't do that.”
The European Tour also clarified its stance on the SLG with chief executive Keith Pelley saying in a statement, “We are aligned with the PGA Tour in opposing, in the strongest possible terms, any proposal for an alternative golf league.”
Among the other members of the professional golf community that would be impacted by a potential breakaway tour, the Official World Golf Ranking declined to comment “on matters outside of the ranking."
“As I have made clear previously we have longstanding and deep relationships with the European Tour and the PGA Tour. We are fully supportive of them and indeed continue to provide significant financial backing to the European Tour’s efforts to develop the pathway for men’s professional golfers through the Challenge Tour,” R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers said in a statement.
USGA chief executive Mike Davis said in a statement: “The USGA is very proud of its long-standing partnership with the PGA Tour. We greatly appreciate everything the Tour does to create a global platform for the game’s elite players, which introduces millions of fans to the game worldwide.”
“The PGA Tour and European Tour have each served the global game of golf with honor and distinction," a statement from Augusta National read. "As it has for many decades, the Masters Tournament proudly supports both organizations in their pursuit to promote the game and world’s best players."
PGA of America CEO Seth Waugh left no ambiguity as to which side his association has chosen. “We are in full support of the PGA Tour and the European Tour regarding the current ecosystem of the professional game. We strongly believe the current structure is both highly functional and in the best long term interest of the game that our members work so hard to grow every day," he said in a statement.
"We will be putting the final touches on the strongest field in golf next Monday and look forward to showcasing the best in the world alongside the PGA ‘Team of 20’ that so proudly represent our 28,000 PGA professionals at Kiawah in two weeks."