Unsure of what to watch this weekend? Me too!
There’s that LIV thing everyone is talking about, kicking off in Portland with Brooks and Bryson and Phil and DJ. There’s the John Deere Classic, with its weakest field in two decades, but a Masters berth on the line. Then there’s the Irish Open, six time zones away, with three spots in the Open Championship up for grabs.
Of course, you can watch all three, if there are 25 hours in your day. But do you even want to? What does it mean to be involved in any of these events?
After months of announcements, press releases and jesting letters, we have finally arrived at a weekend that affirms the need for a true world tour: three tournaments, all occurring at once The sum of it all seems perilously less than the individual parts.
Among the good things: Rory McIlroy sees a path.
“I’ve always advocated for something where the tours work more closely together where we create some sort of world tour model,” McIlroy said last week in Connecticut. “From the ATP model (Association of Tennis Professionals), where there are different events in the world but they’re all governed under one umbrella.”
It’s an intriguing idea, and feels like a most important golfer on the planet. In tennis there are the ultra important major championships, with a slew of layers beneath that vital to the die-hard fan. Moving downward from the majors, each layer has more events and less value. Play well in ATP 500 events, you’re bound to play at the ATP 1000 events, which is bigger and better. Sounds a lot like golf: play well in the fall, you’re bound to earn a spot at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
The ATP Tour that McIlory referenced thrives off connective tissue between its levels; tissue that is obvious, and easy to understand. The names of those levels – ATP 1000, ATP 500, ATP 250 – simply refer to the number of world ranking points allotted to the winners. It’s the PGA Tour’s new structure, with the eight “elevated” events proposed by Jay Monahan last week, which tower over the value of events like this week’s John Deere Classic. But it’s weeks like this where McIlroy’s tennis tour comparison drops off. In tennis there is no DP World Tour equivalent, which takes on greater importance in July and the fall. And there is no LIV Golf equivalent, which is buying relevancy at a pace no one could have imagined.
McIlroy watching a lot of Wimbledon these next two weeks as he takes a break before St. Andrews. He might catch the story of Maxime Cressy, who is playing Wimbledon for the first time after crossing the qualification threshold back in January, when he advanced to the finals of the Melbourne Summer Set, the ATP 250 event. It was one of two ATP 250 events that week, and high finishes like that earned them placement in ATP 500 and 1000 events since. From afar, it is not always clear which event is most important, but the value retained at each is obvious. In golf, we have a little clue. The winner of this week’s Irish Open, the best field in the world, holds little direct meaning for entry to the PGA Tour. Clearly, the connective tissues need to get stronger.
And they will get stronger, as evidenced by further investment announced this week between the PGA Tour and the DP World Tour. LIV Golf is moving at, which is why it has grown up. Would it have helped Jay Monahan take a meeting with Saudi Golf at some point in the last three years? Probably. They’ve forced his hand, even if nothing at the PGA Tour can really be done swiftly. We’ll be talking about the new FedEx Cup Playoffs for 13 more months before they actually happen. Thirteen months ago we were talking about Phil Mickelson’s greatest ever achievement, winning the 2021 PGA Championship. That was a public relations lifetime ago. LIV Golf is nimble, if nothing else.
For this week, we’ve got the kind of fractured system we’ve got to get used to. In late July, it’ll feel even more obvious, when the PGA Tour is an even stronger field and even stages an event in the same time zone. It may feel even more like the European Premier League and the Bundesliga in Germany and the Ligue 1 in France. (Ironically, in all those leagues, aged-out veterans will take huge sums of money to play on a worse team or in a less-established league.)
Altogether, those imply that the best players in the world don’t play against each other all the time. On Sunday mornings, Americans need multiple TVs to follow all the action, or risk protecting some of it entirely. It’s broken in a different kind of way, where a lot of the best players play in one league, but many others are spread out across the continent. The best footballers this August will probably be in England, but also could be in Italy. Or in Spain, Germany, or France. Where are the best golfers in the world playing this week? It could be Portland, or Kilkenny. But perhaps the greatest prize is in Silvis, Illinois? You should have a clue. It should be obvious.
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