February 16, 2024 8:00am

Pathway Back to the PGA Tour

With no further movement on the proposed “framework agreement” between the PGA Tour and the Public Investment Fund and the one-way talent drain to LIV Golf continuing with the rival tour’s offseason additions of Jon Rahm, Tyrrell Hatton, Adrian Meronk and top collegian Caleb Surratt, golf at the highest level remains divided.

Photo of Scott Michaux
By Scott Michaux
Golf Correspondent

With no further movement on the proposed “framework agreement” between the PGA Tour and the Public Investment Fund and the one-way talent drain to LIV Golf continuing with the rival tour’s offseason additions of Jon Rahm, Tyrrell Hatton, Adrian Meronk and top collegian Caleb Surratt, golf at the highest level remains divided.

Bridging that divide is proving to be no easy task.

The PGA Tour’s leading stars are at odds about how to unify the game again by building some kind of pathway back for suspended LIV defectors. Rory McIlroy, once the staunchest spokesman against the breakaway tour, now says “let them come back” without any punishment or consequences.

Marquee peers Scottie Scheffler, Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler say players who remained loyal and stayed would “have a hard time” just allowing a free return. “There should be a pathway back for them, but they definitely shouldn’t be able to come back without any sort of contribution to the tour,” said Scheffler.

Tiger Woods, a member of the PGA Tour Policy Board, said there is no easy or immediate solution.

“We're looking into all the different models for pathways back,” Woods said. “What that looks like – what the impact is for the players who have stayed and who have not left and how we make our product better going forward – there is no answer to that right now.”

The respondents to this month’s golf Power Poll reflect that tricky dynamic of wanting the best players competing together again but not being entirely sure how to get that done. A resounding 88.6 percent of those polled say there should be a pathway back to the PGA Tour for LIV golfers who want to return, while a strong 80.5 percent believe there should be consequences for being allowed to come back.

“I support a way both tours will have best players in the world 75 percent of the time,” said Kevin Drum, a marketing and consulting strategist. “I don’t exactly know how to do that but together they should figure it out.”

What form those consequences should entail, however, is where things get complicated. Presented with five options, our pollsters were pretty evenly split on four different strategies for being allowed back on PGA Tour. Thirty of the 115 respondents to the third question think the answer can simply be financial, since the reason for leaving was all about money anyway. Twenty-eight think returnees should face mandatory requirements to support non-signature events. Another 24 respondents each support that returnees should either be barred for some period from competing in signature and FedEx Cup playoff events or have to regain tour status by requalifying.

“LIV is not going away, and there will probably never be any common ground where all will agree about the consequences of ‘coming back.’ But there should be some,” said Janina Jacobs, a multi-media consultant for The A Position. “Perhaps figure out how long each player was gone from the PGA Tour and that is the time they must spend playing non-signature events or not be eligible for FedEx points.”

Here's a breakdown of this month’s Power Poll results and thoughts on what should be done to facilitate unification:

One thing most people seem to agree on is that golf needs ALL of its best players competing together again for the good of the professional game.

“Let's just agree that LIV Golf is not going away. I want to see the best golfers competing against each other on the best courses,” said Steve Habel, publisher of GolfDaily.com. “Patch it up –move on. Enjoy the wealth top-level professional golf allows you. Think of the fans first.”

Said Herb Gould, veteran Chicago-area journalist: “Not sure exactly how they go about it, but the PGA Tour needs to have the best players. Warring sports leagues have never been a good long-term idea. And while LIV and the PGA no longer are at war, it never should have come to this.”

“It’s clear the PGA (Tour) is better when (Jon) Rahm, (Brooks) Koepka, (Dustin) Johnson, et al, are playing week to week,” said Front Page Golf editor Ed Travis. “The problem is the anger, bitterness and frustration both sides have and that has to be addressed for any future arrangement to be viable.”

Speaking for the minority, retired NBC Sports historian Anthony W. Parker thinks there’s no real chance of true peace. “With the amount of animosity on both sides there would be little or no trust between the opposing groups,” he said. “Some, I believe, should not be allowed back to the PGA (Tour) and certainly would not be welcomed by the tour players. The tension would disrupt if not destroy the game.”

Golf course architect Tom Doak thinks similarly: “The PGA Tour is like the U.S. government – you can be allies or enemies with them, but they won’t consider true partners, they insist on being the dominant entity. So it’s hard to see how reunification will happen, short of the Saudis deciding it’s a better investment to pull the plug on LIV and sponsor the Tour instead. The talk about ground rules for reunification is just a distraction from the reality that there is no deal happening.”

Sports Illustrated writer Gary Van Sickle is among the majority that says there are no free return passes. “You don’t leave Hertz for a better-paying job at Avis and expect Hertz to let you keep working there on weekends,” he said. “It’s just business. To return, assuming a scenario in which LIV players want to return, maybe a LIV player has to pay a ‘penalty’ of playing in 10 to 12 non-elevated events or Fall events to be repatriated. That would be a win for those events while still providing LIV players a return pathway.”

While the concept of simply applying financial penalties for defectors to return eked out the most votes, the combined notions of having returnees not be eligible to compete in signature/playoff events or mandatory minimum support for non-signature events accounted for a cumulative 45.2 percent of our poll votes.

“Definitely any path back should involve players having to play in a minimum number of events that normally don't attract top fields,” said Gregg Dewalt, editor of Alabama Golf News.

“Fines are useless given the rewards LIV provided,” said Dan Reardon, golf editor at KMOX-AM. “Access is the most practical timed penalty.”

“I selected ‘Limitation period for competing in signature and/or FedEx Cup playoff events’ … but I would have selected all five options if allowed to,” said freelance writer Gary K. McCormick. “(Any) fines should take the form of donations to the charities supported by non ‘signature’ events; either that or a requirement that they return their LIV money to the PIF before entering the process of regaining full Tour status. Those players who have been the most disruptive, and critical of the PGA Tour (I’m talking about you, Phil Mickelson) should not be allowed back at all.”

Said Bob Denney, PGA of America historian: “If the PGA Tour is to truly achieve stability, it needs to develop a transition system for LIV golfers to return, and one that the tour membership accepts. What concerns beyond that is the future of non-signature … events. How do those events survive? There has to be a requirement to have periodic top players make appearances to bolster those events and their respective charitable endeavors.”

Bill Hobson, host of Michigan Golf Live, presented a hybrid concept: Let LIV players compete in certain PGA Tour events and earn Official World Golf Ranking points but be ineligible to receive prize money until their “winnings” pay off some yet-to-be-determined penalty price.

“A requirement to compete in ‘lower tier’ events would help fuel those tournaments,” Hobson said. “The players would have a pathway to competing in majors (by earning OWGR points), and they wouldn't be removing prize money from established PGA (Tour) players who never left for the LIV fool’s gold.”

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About Power Poll: Power Poll asks questions of significant key players in American sports today. It's member list draws on people from media, team management, and league management. It is not a scientific survey, but the results afford a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of those who know most about the sport.

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