Golf: Idea of mega-bucks Premier Golf League gaining traction again, says media report

Premier Golf League investors are reaching out to agents again to see if the proposal has player interest.
Premier Golf League investors are reaching out to agents again to see if the proposal has player interest.PHOTO: AFP

LOS ANGELES (REUTERS) - An alternate professional golf tour, intent on attracting the top talent in the men's game with top-dollar guarantees, is once again gaining traction, ESPN reported on Tuesday (May 4).

The Premier Golf League first surfaced early in 2020, backed by investors from Saudi Arabia that would give multi-million dollar guarantees to top players for an 18-event season that would run from January-September.

But the idea seemed to lose steam as the Covid-19 pandemic arrived, and the concept was dealt another blow when Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy said he would not be interested in participating.

But an ESPN report said that Premier Golf League investors are reaching out to agents again to see if the proposal has player interest. The report said that players such as Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Phil Mickelson were being contacted, with a potential 2022 debut being considered.

"It's still alive, and players and agents are just listening to their pitch," an unnamed agent said, according to ESPN. "That's about it at this point. Just a lot of listening."

"The money is there," an agent told Golfweek. "I heard US$1 billion. This is real."

If launched, the Premier Golf League would hope to offer at least US$10 million (S$13.3 million) purses for each of its 18 events.

By comparison, this week's Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte, North Carolina, has an US$8.1 million purse. The 2021 Masters had an US$11.5 million purse, while the Players Championship in March had a purse of US$15 million.

The PGL will have 48 players in the field who are required to appear in all events. This then culminates in a season-ending team championship.

At issue for players is that their participation in the Premier Golf League could make them ineligible to play on the United States-based PGA Tour. Guaranteed money is not offered on the PGA Tour with players earning a paycheque based on results.

According to London's The Daily Telegraph, top players could be offered a US$30 million guarantee to participate in the new tour. The PGL aims to start in 2022 with a plan to dole out ownership stakes for 10-12 players who would captain four-man teams.

Still, some players remain sceptical about the proposed new competition.

Webb Simpson, who is in the field at Quail Hollow Club, told a pre-event media conference on Tuesday: "It's been an interesting couple of years with this other league. I don't really get into the details at all, I let my agent handle everything, but from the beginning it seemed like something that seems pretty far-fetched to actually happen."

When rumours about the PGL began to circulate last spring, Koepka, Jon Rahm and McIlroy were among the marquee players to reject the idea.

"I love the PGA Tour," Simpson said. "It's given me an incredible opportunity these last 12 years of my life.

"It's hard for me to believe that it's really going to happen and the guys will really jump ship and go to a completely different way of golf than we've always had."

Koepka said in March 2020 that he was against the notion of the PGL because it would undermine less proven players working their way up from lower circuits and that he would have "a hard time looking at guys and putting them out of a job".

The proposed league was believed to have been dealt a significant blow in November when the PGA Tour and European Tour announced a "strategic alliance"that will see the two collaborate on global scheduling and potentially be the first step toward establishing a world golf tour.

Last month, Golfweek reported the PGA Tour has also established a US$40 million Player Impact Programme as a bonus pool for its 10 most popular stars in an effort to stave off potential defections to the PGL.

Its design is to "recognise and reward players who positively move the needle"on fan and sponsor engagement, a Tour spokesman told Golfweek.

The US$40 million will be distributed among 10 players at the end of the year, with the most valuable getting US$8 million.

The Telegraph reported that a group of Saudi Arabian investors bankrolling the PGL has had a team of negotiators working the past few months in Florida, home to many of the sport's biggest stars.

McIlroy said last year that he was opposed to the requirement of playing all 18 events - though they would not clash with the four traditional Majors - saying he values his flexibility.

He later added: "I didn't really like where the money was coming from, either."

"I think there's too many unknowns and too many things they would have to figure out for this thing to actually work," Simpson said. "Are the best players in the world really going to go to this tour if only eight of the top 25 in the world ranking are going to go?

"I think most of these guys, they're financially set. They want to break records, they want to win. I just think too many thing like that are going to come up.

"I don't think throwing 'X' amount of money at guys is as appealing now as it maybe once was because of how great the opportunities we have on the PGA Tour.

I want to go after records, not a dollar. So we'll see what happens."