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‘Free agency’ in golf isn’t what Greg Norman said it would be

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“Free agency is finally coming to golf,” Greg Norman proclaimed at the LIV Golf debut last month.

“I feel so happy about the fact that we have brought free agency to golf,” he said on another occasion.

To hear Pat Perez, one of the LIV signatories, tell it, he has been rescued from being a servant of the PGA Tour, even though he earned more than $28 million during his career.

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“I missed my son’s birth last year. August 18, I get a call that my wife is in labor. I’m in Jersey. I’m getting ready to start the FedEx playoffs. I am 116 on the list. I can’t leave I can’t miss it I can’t go back I can’t go back and forth without spending $150,000 on a private flight. I’m not doing that. So I had to breastfeed and I had to miss the birth of my son,” Pérez said. “And, you know, luckily, I made the cut and changed status playing well, but I still sucked.”

The only thing is that Perez did not actually have to miss the birth of his son. He chose to play the Northern Trust. He had already closed his Tour card for next season by finishing in the top 125. If he wanted to qualify for the BMW Championship the following week (top 70) or the Tour Championship (top 30), he would have had to continue. because he hadn’t played well enough that season to guarantee his place. Tour veteran Billy Horschel took issue with what Perez said.

“The PGA Tour says a minimum of 15 events, all you have to do is play 15 events and keep your card in those 15 events, then that’s fine. If you want to play better or want to play more for a chance to win the FedExCup, so be it. So be it. No one has made you play that first Playoff event to skip family obligations. No one has done it,” Horschel said. “Yes, we are independent contractors; we enter into a contract with the PGA Tour to meet certain PGA Tour requirements. But we have the opportunity to make our schedule.”

Horschel noted that by the time he plays this week at the Genesis Scottish Open and the British Open next week, he will have been away from his family for five consecutive weeks.

“I made the decision not to see my wife and children for five weeks. Am I crying about it? No,” she said. “I understand. I’m living my dream trying to play golf professionally and financially support my family.”

Here’s the thing: Perez was an independent contractor; he now he is an employee. This is not an employer you want to piss off. He has signed a contract to play in all eight LIV Golf events. Next year, that number has been announced to rise to 14. Has Norman really achieved this 30+ year dream of his?

Both the PGA Tour and the Europe-based DP World Tour turned down requests to release members to compete in LIV events and have since punished players who have violated tour rules. In one of the rich ironies, the same players who have said they want to play less have taken to the pitch so they can play more on the DP World Tour. (By the way, I love the nickname for them: ‘The Sour 16’).

“We want to co-exist” with “all of the current ecosystems within the game of golf, and we want to co-exist with the PGA Tour,” Norman told Fox News last month. What exactly would that look like in his fantasy world? “I would say support the players … and give your members the opportunity to have other places to go,” he said. “They are independent contractors. They have every right to do that.”

JP McManus 2022 Pro-Am

Graeme McDowell watches his drive off the 10th tee during the 2022 JP McManus Pro-Am at Adare Manor in Limerick, Ireland. (Photo: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)

Except the Norman circuit prevented Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell from playing in the Horizon Irish Open. Apparently this notion of yours doesn’t work both ways.

The circumstances of Graeme McDowell, who signed with LIV Golf, indicate that Norman does not allow players to go and play freely elsewhere. McDowell, who had agreed to play the Horizon Irish Open, a tournament he had played for the last 20 years anyway, to gain an exemption to compete at the Saudi International in February. But he reneged on the deal because it conflicted with last week’s LIV event in Portland.

“I tried to be fair and I tried to be open with them and put all my cards on the table. Of course, I was very disappointed that the second event fell against the Irish Open. I would have loved to have been there last week,” McDowell told the Irish Independent. “The only thing I can say is that I have to be all-in. I am 43 years old and I am 380 in the world. My value to these guys is a lot. I have to try and commit as best I can to the LIV Tour, and that obviously meant not being able to play last week.

He added: “Listen, I would love to be back at the Irish Open next year and, as I say, I can only apologize to the Irish golf fans for not being there last week. And as I say, unfortunately, I had very good reasons for it in regards to what I have to commit to with the LIV Tour. I have to be all-in with those events. I can’t just dip my toe in.”

And here is the problem. The same guys who have complained about how hard they’ve had it on the PGA Tour no longer have the luxury of choosing their schedule. They’ve been bought and paid for handsomely, and now have to show up when and where they’re told (here’s hoping none of the American players’ wives go into labor during the two-week trip to Bangkok and Jeddah).

If McDowell had still been an independent contractor, do you think he would have missed out on the National Open in his homeland? When he was a kid, do you think he dreamed of winning the Irish Open or a 54-hole start in Portland?

Free agency in golf: Before long, some players may want to fire their agents Freddie Freeman-style.

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