Where was Tiger’s voice?
Where was Lefty’s?
Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson have been the PGA Tour’s leading men for nearly a quarter of a century now, dynamic “influencers” who shaped the Tour’s direction more than any other players in that span.
That’s all but over.
They abdicated those leadership roles when they were needed most.
They went silent, or maybe silently rogue, with the Premier Golf League making its hardest push to overthrow the PGA Tour as home to the world’s best players.
Tiger and Lefty didn’t step up with the existential threat to their tour growing more serious.
If anything, they stepped back.
Tiger and Lefty watched with PGL leaders intensifying their recruiting efforts, as the league met almost weekly with the game’s best players over these last two months. They waited with the renegade plans building so much momentum that PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan’s hand was forced to threaten banishment of players who committed to the league.
As the game’s towering stars, Woods and Mickelson sent messages to the rest of the player ranks with their curiosity allowing the threat to grow.
“We’re looking into it,” Woods said a month ago at the Genesis Invitational.
That’s the last he has said about it publicly.
Mickelson called the idea “intriguing” and met with the PGL’s key figures at the Saudi International in January. His interest appears to be continuing, maybe even growing. He intimated two weeks ago that the PGL’s plans offered “leverage,” at the very least, making us all wonder what that might mean for stars like him wanting to force change within the PGA Tour ranks.
We don’t really know what Mickelson meant as he continues to wait in the wings.
He stepped up in the vacuum in a strong show of support for the PGA Tour.
Now, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm are stepping up, too.
McIlroy, Koepka and Rahm aren’t just the top three players in the Official World Golf Ranking today. They are now the PGA Tour’s most important influencers. They’ve assumed command as leaders within the player ranks.
“I’m out,” McIlroy said of the PGL’s plans during the WGC-Mexico Championship last month.
McIlroy said he valued the autonomy the PGA Tour offered its independent contractors. More than that, he took a moral stand, questioning the Saudi Investment Fund as part of the PGL backing.
“I really didn’t like where the money was coming from, and I wanted to be the first one to speak out against it,” he said at the Arnold Palmer Invitational two weeks ago.
At The Players Championship last week, Monahan expressed his gratefulness for McIlroy’s support.
“I thought that was a moment of leadership,” Monahan said.
Koepka investigated the PGL, but he joined McIlroy Sunday in stepping up, too.
“I am out of the PGL,” Koepka told The Associated Press. “I plan on playing the PGA Tour the rest of my life.”
Koepka expressed a gratefulness for what the PGA Tour has given him, and a concern that other aspiring players will have the same opportunities he has enjoyed.
“I don’t forget where I’ve come from,” Koepka said.
Rahm expressed the same loyalty on Sunday.
“The PGA Tour has done such a great job with what we have, and I’m really thankful for what they’ve done,” Rahm told Golfweek.
Maybe Woods and Mickelson are staying put, too.
Maybe Tiger and Lefty ultimately commit to the PGL and give it the legs it needs to make its start. Maybe Woods works a deal to allow him limited starts. If they do that, Woods and Mickelson will reaffirm their roles as leaders, just not as PGA Tour leaders.
They may be remembered for being bold enough and brave enough to launch what proves to be a new, better way for golf.
Or, they may be remembered for orchestrating the ruin of the PGA Tour, helping a renegade tour that may never really fulfill its mission. They may be remembered for leaving the game in a worse place when they leave it.
Woods has done more to build the PGA Tour’s popularity and bottom line than any other player in history. That should never be forgotten.
McIlroy said he didn’t want to be on the wrong side of history when the dust settles on the Premier Golf League. So, he’s leading the way by deciding to back the PGA Tour, voicing his loyalty to its values.
We’re still waiting to see if Woods and Mickelson follow him, or if they lead tour golf in a new direction.