They’re Not Quite Teed Off. Now.

It’s opening day for the 2024 PGA Tour, and amidst the splendor and the renewed optimism of the Hawaiian islands at 6:45 am HST (that’s lunchtime for you shivering in the ETZ climes about to be hit with a blizzard) a threesome of Xander Schauffele, Collin Morikawa and Korea’s Tom Kim will start off eleventh months of tournaments.  By ETZ sunset, Jordan Spieth will finally start his round, one that will extend right through prime time, just like the opportunists at ESPN had intended all along.  After all, on the first Thursday night without football since Fall, nothing is more appealing than the backdrop of Kapalua and the thought that someday, lo in the future, it’ll be warm enough for us mainlanders to be thinking about getting out on the links again, too.

Despite the allure of a $20 million purse for the Sentry at Kapalua, not every major name in golf will be present this weekend.  And last year, amidst the divisive backdrop of the PGA’s battle with upstart LIV Golf, plenty of those names didn’t show up to any PGA event.  It was war, and worst of all, some of the PGA’s remaining big names identified it as such.   None quite as vocally and vehemently as Rory McIlroy.

As USA TODAY’s Lorenzo Reyes explained:

McIlory, 34, had previously been an ardent defender of the PGA Tour and routinely criticized the players and executives who helped make LIV Golf a possibility.

Bankrolled by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, LIV Golf offered astronomical sums to a handful of the sport’s biggest names — including Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson — to poach them from the PGA Tour, which initially suspended the defectors.

Critics of LIV Golf have accused the Saudi government of using the franchise as a form of “sportswashing,” or a way to improve their nation’s reputation by hosting a prestigious sporting event, or financing a popular team or league.

Recently, the No. 3 player in the World Golf Ranking, Jon Rahm, announced that he was making the move to join LIV Golf, starting with the 2024 season, in a deal that is reported to be worth around $500 million.

But those who helped LIV Golf start up two years ago as a true upstart, with inventive elements such as team play, quicker pace and livelier backdrops than just peaceful and tranquil trees, on courses far less attractive than Kapalua’s, forced the PGA, which has handily rewarded true success but giving out relative peanuts for those who don’t fare quite as well, to rethink their approach.  Most notably, the deals that Rahm, Mickelson and Johnson, among others, have been able to work out guarantee a commensurate payday across the entire year.  And while it’s easy to claim these are millionaires only worthy of crocodile tears, think of this way:  A quarterback who throws three interceptions in a losing cause still makes his full salary.  Dynamic pricing doesn’t extend to the participants; only the fans.

And as for being more accepting of overseas countries who have questionable reputations, well, have you looked at college campuses these days?

So McIlory is now singing a different tune.  As Reyes’ narrative continued:

During an appearance on the “Stick to Football” podcast that published Wednesday, the four-time major champion said he regretted his comments that criticized the golfers who defected from the PGA Tour to join the Saudi-backed LIV tour over the past couple of years.  “I think, at this point, I was maybe a little judgmental of the guys who went to LIV Golf at the start, and I think it was a bit of a mistake on my part because I now realize that not everyone is in my position or in Tiger Woods’ position,” McIlroy said during the podcast.  “We all turn professional to make a living playing the sports that we do, and I think that’s what I realized over the last two years. I can’t judge people for making that decision.”

And they’ll all eventually be competing on the same courses, although we’re still not quite sure when and how. Reyes again:

After years of contention and posturing against each other, the PGA Tour, LIV Golf and the DP World Tour in June 2023 announced a partnership that would join all three leagues into a single operation. The organizations had set a Dec. 31 deadline for the specifics of the deal to be finalized, but it was not completed in that timeframe; on Sunday, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan sent players a memo that said “meaningful progress” had been made and that talks would continue.

Though, to be sure, Monahan is now taking orders from those with the pursestrings.  Meaningful progress may be a euphamism.  But if you’re a regular reader of this space, you probably already knew that.  When the partnership between the three tours was announced in June, we devoted this space to exactly that topic.  No less an authority on the true appeal of sports than former FOX Sports topper David Hill chided listeners to the MARCHAND AND OURAND podcast with astute observations like this.

As was noted then and is worth remembering in light of McIlroy’s revised outlook, money does talk, and we know what walks.

And, as if to reinforce that point, podcast co-host John Ourand himself has now moved on himself, from the relatively mundane world of FRONT OFFICE SPORTS to the far greener pastures of Matthew Baloney’s PUCK, where he will be authoring articles on the intersection of sports and media.  Baloney–er, Belloni–at least is willing to admit what he doesn’t know when it comes to sports (he could still use a little guidance in understanding research, IMO), and he couldn’t have found a better choice in Ourand, a veteran of many of the beats and wars that yours truly has had the chance to be tangentially attached to.  And now, he’s being commensurately compensated for it.

Just like pro golfers.

And snarks aside, Belloni’s money is just as welcome at banks and via Venmo as those from Monahan’s bosses.

I’m pretty sure I know what side of the coin–and there will be lots of them–that Ourand comes out on this issue.   I know where I stand and, if you had clicked on the link above, now, so do you.

And if you’re a golf fan, particularly as nightfall and sub-freezing temperatures descend tonight, you’re not gonna not check in on how Spieth and the rest of the field are faring, are you?

Happy 202-fore, golf lovers.


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