Professional golf was never broken. The PGA Tour was stale, bloated, and full of institutional weaknesses that made it vulnerable for disruption. That’s occurred. But it’s extreme to suggest anything was “broken.”
The world of pro golf now? It certainly feels disturbed, maybe even non compos mentis, in its pursuit of “unrealized values” and potential. For the latest exhibit, we look to the incredible talent of Wyndham Clark, winner of the shortened 54-hole Pebble Beach Pro-Am. After the win, Doug Ferguson asked Clark if there’d been any offseason dalliance with LIV.
“I definitely met with LIV and went through those discussions,” he said. “I wanted to see what they could bring to the table. I ultimately declined going to LIV because I felt like I still have a lot of things left in the tank on the PGA Tour and I wanted to chase records, I wanted to chase world ranking. My dream is to try to be one of the top players in the world if not the top player. I just grew up always imagining winning PGA Tour events. I chose my legacy over LIV and that’s really what it came down to. I don’t know what the future holds with my career and what the PGA Tour and LIV are going to do, but at least for this season I am 100 percent set on the PGA Tour and I want to try to get to as high in the world as I possibly can.”
This is some refreshing candor, perhaps too refreshing for LIV’s taste. Is LIV the place to go when there’s nothing “left in the tank” for Tour players, no more childhood dreams to chase? It’s also amusing that Clark follows up some admirable, big-picture thoughts on what he wants for his career with a potential sell-by date of 12/31/24 for these concerns.
If Joaquín Niemann’s post-win comments about a lack of major exemptions are to be taken at face value, his process went a little different than Clark’s. At the very least he apparently made assumptions Clark did not. Clark elaborated on how he spent the offseason deciding between playing golf in one place for incredible amounts of money or playing golf in another place for incredible amounts of money.
“I wanted to make sure I did all the right things and called the right people, get the right information, understand what both tours are doing, what I should do.” he added. “I honestly have to give a huge hats off to Adam Scott, Patrick Cantlay and Jordan Spieth because they have put so much effort — and Tiger Woods, sorry, and Tiger Woods, please put that in there. [made it!]. They put so much effort in making sure that the PGA Tour is going to make the right moves to continue to try to be the best tour. And they also really gave me some great advice and some counsel. I didn’t want them to sway me in a certain way, but I definitely wanted their counsel and I just wanted to honor them and the amount of time and work and effort they have put into this agreement now with SSG and where the Tour is going.”
Clark is an immensely talented golfer. He seems thoughtful and intelligent. It would not be surprising to see him become the No. 1 player in the world some day. But he is a one-time major winner whose best major finish, prior to that win, was a T-76. He was playing the Puntacana Championship a couple months before winning the U.S. Open.
Again, this isn’t really about Clark. He provided some illustrative quotes. He’s clearly figured something out in his game over the last 12 months, and his potential is significant. There are also many one-time major winners, even multiple-time major winners, whose presence would not have caused one ripple relative to the cruise ship that has been pro golf’s charted course through history. But are we really at a moment in pro golf where Tiger F. Woods, Jordan Spieth, Adam Scott, and others are down on a figurative knee begging their less-accomplished peers to deign to consider playing for, among many many other carrots, $20 million purses in no-cut events? With another league drawing negligible interest and ratings (and, per Clark, not offering an opportunity to build a “legacy”) willing to pay even more, guaranteed? Whether the leagues are united or apart, are pro golf and all of its characters really worth this much fuss? The game may not be broken, but it all feels a little out of whack.
This piece originally appeared in the Fried Egg Golf newsletter. Subscribe for free and receive golf news and insight every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.