Column: A new tour without Tiger is no tour at all

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Jay Monahan was at Torrey Pines for the annual players meeting, most of it pertaining to the potential of a financial windfall for top players.

Five days later, after so much chatter and speculation, the possibility had moved close enough to reality that the PGA Tour commissioner felt compelled to return. After all, Tiger Woods was five shots behind. Monahan thought he should be there if Woods were to set the record with career win No. 83.

As for the rumors of a new golf tour targeting the top 48 players?

Odds of that happening might be a bit longer.

The concept of a world tour — the latest name is “Premier Golf League” — has been around for the better part of six years. Talk was renewed late last year when the British-based World Golf Group began making the rounds in the Bahamas and Australia, this time with an influx of capital from various sources, primarily Saudi Arabia.

Its idea is to invigorate golf by putting together 12 four-man teams that would be required to play 18 events — 10 of them in the U.S. — that feature 54 holes, no cut and a shotgun start to fit a five-hour broadcast window. Total prize money would be $240 million, and the top player could earn as much as $50 million.

More pertinent were a few missing details.

Is there a broadcast partner? Corporate sponsors? Any commitments from players?

And the biggest question of all: Does it have Tiger Woods?

Because without Woods, it doesn’t stand a chance.

Publicly, the PGA Tour and European Tour said they would not comment on any tour, real or imagined, except their own.

Monahan, however, found it worthy enough to send his players a memo late Monday afternoon for those who weren’t at Torrey Pines, or those who had never heard of the concept until a question was raised at the end of the meeting.

In the memo, obtained by The Associated Press, Monahan says no one from World Golf Group has contacted the PGA Tour. The tour’s information is from players who were, and from golf industry partners.

Monahan mentioned the PGA Tour’s financial strength and stability through longtime sponsorship and television deals that it will honor, and he reminded players of the releases required to play other tours. And then he made it clear the PGA Tour would not be working with Premier Golf League, as the group suggested was its intent.

“If the Team Golf Concept or another iteration of this structure becomes a reality in 2022 or at any time before or after, our members will have to decide whether they want to continue to be a member of the PGA Tour or play on a new series,” the memo said.

Talk about risk and reward.

The PGA Tour is wrapping up negotiations on a new broadcast rights deal that Sports Business Journal pegged at a 60% increase. One player was asked what came out of the meeting. He smiled and said, “How much money we’re going to be making.”

Another player, speaking on condition of anonymity because it was a private meeting, said the tour outlined estimates on increased purses and bonus pools and projected the top performing player would soon be bringing in upward of $40 million.

Phil Mickelson was contacted and said he was intrigued but needed more information before he could comment further. Mickelson, who staged a $9 million winner-take-all match with Woods in Las Vegas in late 2018, is playing the Saudi International this week.

Rory McIlroy said the group first approached him in 2014. He didn’t sound interested, talking about his traditional view of the tour, what it has meant to him and how much he would hate to lose a heritage built up over decades.

Don’t expect to see McIlroy involved. Just don’t get the idea he’s opposed to change.

“I love the PGA Tour,” he said. “But these guys have exploited a couple of holes in the system, the way golf at the highest level is nowadays and how it’s sort of transitioned from a competition tour to entertainment, right? It’s on TV. It’s people coming out to watch. It’s definitely a different time than what it was before.”

More telling was McIlroy ending his observation by suggesting the tour could do a better job rewarding the players people want to watch.

“I’m still quite a traditionalist, so to have that much of an upheaval in the game I don’t think is the right step forward,” McIlroy said. “But I think, as I said, it might be a catalyst for some changes on this tour that can help it grow and move forward -- you know, reward the top players the way they should be, I guess.”

Stars always have driven golf, and there’s no better example than Woods. He helped make everyone rich.

That’s one of the points the World Golf Group argued in a five-page manifesto: “The best — the true global stars — subsidize the rest.”

“The League will re-balance the economics,” it said. “The best player needs to compete, but not against 150 other guys every week — 47 will suffice.”

Who are the top 48?

And where does that leave everyone else, especially with so much influx of young talent with more to follow?

Among many challenges facing Premier Golf League is the robust health of the PGA Tour — increasing prize money, stable sponsorship, a new broadcast deal. That might make it tough for any player to risk membership, and to risk the appearance of turning its back on the tour that helped make them famous.