Don’t know what to see this weekend? I also!
There’s this LIV thing that everyone’s talking about, starting 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 is the Irish Open, six time zones away, with three places in the Open Championship at stake.
Of course, you can see all three, if there are 25 hours in your day. But do you even want? What does a victory in any of these events really mean, especially while the others are being held elsewhere, on different styles of turf, against different levels of competition?
After months of announcements, press releases, and teasing letters, we’ve finally reached a weekend that affirms the need for a true world tour: three tournaments, all at once, all with different meanings, all organized by different organizations. The sum of everything seems dangerously less than the individual parts.
Among the good things: Rory McIlroy sees a way.
“I’ve always advocated for something where tours work more together where we create some kind of world tour model,” McIlroy said last week in Conneticut “Or the ATP (Association of Professional Tennis Players) model, where different events are held in different areas of the world, but all are governed under the same umbrella.”
It’s an intriguing idea and feels very significant when pushed by perhaps the greatest golfer on the planet. In tennis there are the big ultra-important championships, with a lot of layers underneath that are vital for the die-hard fan. Moving down from the main ones, each layer has more events and less value. Play well in the ATP 500 events, you will surely play in the ATP 1000 events, which are bigger and better. It’s a lot like golf: Play well in the fall, and you’re sure to earn a spot at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
The ATP Tour McIlory referred to thrives on the 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 assigned to the winners. It’s the equivalent of the PGA Tour’s new structure, with the eight “elevated” events proposed by Jay Monahan last week, surpassing the value of events like this week’s John Deere Classic. But it’s weeks like this when McIlroy’s tennis tour comparison fails. In tennis there is no equivalent in the DP World Tour, which becomes more important in July and autumn. And there is no equivalent to LIV Golf, which is buying relevance at a rate no one could have imagined.
One can imagine McIlroy seeing a lot of Wimbledon in the next two weeks as he takes a break before St. Andrews. I could capture the story of Maxime Cressy, who is playing Wimbledon for the first time after crossing the qualifying threshold in January, when he advanced to the final of the Melbourne Summer Set, an ATP 250 event. It was one of two ATP 250 events that week. , and results as high as that have earned him a place in the ATP 500 and 1000 events ever since. From a distance, it’s not always clear which event is the most important, but the value held in each is obvious. In golf, we have little idea. The winner of this week’s Irish Open, the best course in the world, has little direct significance for entering the PGA Tour. Clearly, the connective tissues need to be strengthened.
And they will get stronger, as evidenced by the additional investment announced this week between the PGA Tour and the DP World Tour. It just won’t happen at the same erratic pace LIV Golf is moving, which is why feelings are hurt and legitimate competition has grown. Would it have helped Jay Monahan to reunite with Saudi Golf at some point in the last three years? Probably. They’ve forced it, even if nothing on the PGA Tour can really be done quickly. We’ll be talking about the new FedEx Cup Playoffs for another 13 months before they actually happen. Thirteen months ago we were discussing Phil Mickelson’s crowning achievement, winning the 2021 PGA Championship. That was a PR lifetime ago. LIV Golf is nimble, to say the least.
For this week, we have the kind of fractured system that we will have to get used to. In late July, it will feel even more obvious, when LIV’s next event has an even stronger field and even hosts an event in the same time zone as the PGA Tour. It can feel even more like European football, which has the English Premier League and the Bundesliga in Germany and La Liga in Spain and Ligue 1 in France. (Ironically, in all of those leagues, older veterans will take huge sums of money to play for a worse team or less established league.)
Taken together, those leagues mean that the best players in the world don’t play against each other all the time. On Sunday mornings, Americans need multiple televisions to follow all the action, or risk missing some of it entirely. It’s fractured in a different way, where many of the best players play in one league, but many others are spread across the continent. The best footballers this August will probably be in England, but they could also be in Italy. Or in Spain, Germany or France. Where are the best golfers in the world playing this week? Could be Portland or Kilkenny. But perhaps the biggest prize is in Silvis, Illinois? You should have a clue. It should be obvious.
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