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Premier League represents possible threat to the PGA Tour

Rory McIlroy

(Photo by Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images)

If you plan on spending the weekend following your favorite golfers at the WGC-Mexico Championship, you should know there’s a plan afoot to introduce competition for the PGA TOUR.

Called the Premier Golf League, the venture is not new. Its organizers have been honing details for the last six years. But it’s really heating up. Right now, it’s being funded by World Golf Club, based in the United Kingdom, and the Raine Group, a global merchant bank.

It’s said to be the idea of a guy named Colin Neville, who apparently is good enough friends with Phil Mickelson that he played in a pro-am with him before the Saudi International.

Neville wasn’t the only prominent backer in the foursome. Andrew Gardiner, a director of Barclays Capital, and Majed Al-Sorour, CEO of the Saudi Golf Federation, were also in the group. And everyone was obviously filling Mickelson in about how the new league would work and how professional golfers would benefit financially from it.

The league would feature 12 four-man teams (48-player fields) who would play 18 mandatory events (10 in the United States) separate from the PGA Tour with $10 million purses and a season-ending championship.

The events would feature 54 holes, no cut and a shotgun start to fit what would be a five-hour broadcast window for television. It’s expected that the total prize money would be $240 million with as much as $50 million available to the top player.

It’s believed the league is hoping Tiger Woods would agree to be an equity partner or team owner. It’s pushing for a 2022 debut.

Over the last month, the media has been asking players what they think of the concept and some prominent names haven’t discounted the possibility of joining. But before the Mexico Championship began, Rory McIlroy became the first to speak out against it.

“I would like to be on the right side of history on this one,” McIlroy said.

What McIlroy seems to object to the most is the concept of not being able to pick and choose which events to play.

“The more I’ve thought about it, the more I don’t like it,” McIlroy said. “The one thing as a professional golfer in my position that I value is the fact that I have autonomy and freedom over everything I do. I pick and choose (where to play). …this is a perfect example.

“Some guys this week made the choice not to come to Mexico. If you go and play this other golf league, you’re not going to have that choice. I read a thing the other day where it said if you take the money they can tell you what to do. And I think that’s my thing, I’ve never been one for being told what to do, and I like to have that autonomy and freedom over my career, and I feel like I would give that up by going to play this other league.

“For me, I’m out. My position is I’m against it until there may come a day that I can’t be against it. If everyone else goes, I might not have a choice, but at this point, I don’t like what they’re proposing.”

PGA Golf

(Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images)

The PGA Tour is not laughing this threat off. Tour commissioner Jay Monahan sent out an email recently telling golfers they would lose PGA Tour membership if they participated in the start-up league. The Tour currently allows members to play in other circuits in exchange for committing to 15 of its events.

“I don’t really stand anywhere,” Dustin Johnson told The Associated Press. “Right now, I’m playing on the PGA Tour. But a lot would have to happen for that to change. Like Rory said, if there was a situation where I felt like I had to play, then I would. But for right now, I’m playing on the PGA Tour.”

According to Golfweek, the Premier League made a presentation at last week’s Genesis Open and Mickelson, Patrick Reed, Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka, Justin Rose and Johnson were there with their agents.

“My team’s been aware of it and we’ve delved into the details of it and trying to figure it out just like everyone else,” Woods said last week. “We’ve been down this road before with World Golf Championships and other events being started. There’s a lot of information that we’re still looking at and whether it’s reality or not, but just like everybody else, we’re looking into it.”

Like Woods said, veteran golfers are comparing the Premier League to the World Tour that Greg Norman tried to start in the 1990s.

“Right now, people are looking at it purely from a monetary standpoint, and I think there’s some others that are looking it … I would like to be on the right side of history with this one, sort of as Arnold [Palmer] was with the whole Greg Norman thing in the ’90s,” McIlroy said. “Again, I value a lot of other things over money, and that’s sort of my stance on it at this point.”

McIlroy did say he might be forced to reconsider if many of the game’s top players ultimately decide to jump. The Premier would not include the majors.

“I think it’s very split at the moment,” McIlroy said.