Golf

Tour Confidential: The future of the PGA Tour, Tiger and Charlie Woods Part IV

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Tiger and Charlie Woods finished T5 at the PNC Championship.
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Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors as they break down the hottest topics in the sport, and join the conversation by tweeting us at @golf_com. This week, we discuss the future of the PGA Tour and Tiger and Charlie Woods’ performance at the PNC Championship.
1. As the Dec. 31 deadline for the PGA Tour/PIF/DP World Tour merger looms, there’s still much uncertainty on what the future of the PGA Tour, and pro golf, will look like. And, after LIV Golf snagged Jon Rahm from the PGA Tour, the PIF seems to be in the driver’s seat. Look into your crystal ball and predict what might be the most likely outcome from this potential merger.
Jessica Marksbury, senior editor (@jess_marksbury): With a big name like Rahm now playing for the other team, LIV seems here to stay — at least for the time being! One thing I expect to see from the merger is a defined pathway back for Tour defectors. I also think there have to be some joint tournaments in the future, right?
Alan Bastable, executive editor (@alan_bastable): I think some kind of deal will be inked by the stated deadline or soon thereafter. LIV, as the Rahm signing reminded us, has too much juice/capital for the Tour not to agree to some kind of truce. Also, no one — the Tour, the players and most of all the fans — want to see things continuing on their current trajectory, with men’s pro golf essentially cannibalizing itself. It’s time to find some middle ground and let the best players in the world compete against one another more than four times a year. Ultimately, I think we land in a place where LIV players get world ranking points (with LIV agreeing to a format change), and as Jess said, with at least some degree of fluidity between the two tours. That feels like the only way forward.  
Marksbury: Yes, Alan. Definitely feel like world-ranking points have to be a priority for LIV.
Sean Zak, senior editor (@Sean_Zak): Best guesstimate is a Definitive Agreement of investment is finalized in January. LIV Golf launches the same week as a Signature Event at Pebble. Everyone will be happy, knowing that Jon Rahm could be back competing against them in 2025. LIV Golf runs through 2024 and after that serves as part of a team golf series, embedded within the greater Tour schedule moving forward. 
2. ESPN reported on Friday that a multibillion-dollar deal between the PGA Tour and the Strategic Sports Group, which consists of well-known billionaire team owners, is imminent, which would infuse more than $3 billion into the Tour. Let’s get to the nuts and bolts of this: If this deal or a similar one goes through with an entity not named the Saudi PIF, what does that mean exactly for the Tour and its future?
Bastable: As mentioned, I think the PIF deal will go forward and, who knows, maybe even a third investor also comes in, which means the Tour will be absolutely flush with cash. The surge of investment will mean the Tour and its new board-room partners will have big decisions to make about how to best spend and reinvest those dollars. Already swelling purses and bonuses and other revenue streams seem likely to further swell, though the Tour’s biggest challenge will be re-engaging fans. Over the past couple of years, the endless hand-wringing over players getting their financial due has been a huge turnoff. Moving forward, every decision the Tour and its new partners make should be made with fans top of mind. 
Marksbury: It’s a good time to be a pro golfer, that’s for sure! More partners equals more billions, and as Alan mentioned, more eye-popping sums for the world’s best players. But in the event a deal goes through without the PIF, I think it makes things even more precarious. The Jon Rahm signing made it clear that even LIV’s staunchest opponents can still be bought, and waging a financial battle will not end well for the Tour. But with Tiger Woods’ involvement on the PGA Tour policy board, it’s also clear that the players will have more of a voice than they did previously, so whatever Tour decisions are made, they’ll at least be presented with a more unified front than what we’ve seen thus far.  
Zak: If the PIF isn’t involved, then don’t expect team golf to exist much on the PGA Tour. That’s one of three things the PIF brings: team golf, billions of dollars, and some of the best golfers in the world. Without that, the Tour’s future looks worse. The sport’s future looks divided. The pathways to greater investment change for the women’s game. It is a major domino that would trickle down in ways we can’t even quite imagine. I’d guess the policy board realizes that. 
3. In the aftermath of the Jon Rahm-to-LIV Golf news, Jordan Spieth told the Associated Press: “I don’t think for him it was the money. I believe he saw two places that neither one was in a great situation right now, and he said, ‘May as well have the money.’” Do you agree with Spieth?
Bastable: Uh, well, of course, the money was the tipping point, but I think what Spieth was driving at was that other factors were at work, and that Rahm didn’t go just for the money. Clearly, Rahm wasn’t thrilled with the state of the Tour and presumably also was still sour, as were so many of his peers, about the secrecy of the June 6 Tour-LIV pact. I think the toughest pill for Rahm to swallow will be LIV’s format, which he is on the record as saying is inadequate. But as mentioned above, I could see changes coming to LIV in that regard so Rahm’s quandary might be short-lived.
Marksbury: With the merger looming, I think Rahm saw a way to cash in in a massive way, while still feeling confident that he could likely eventually return to the Tour one day if he wanted. His major exemptions are secure for years to come, so he probably didn’t feel he had really anything to lose by jumping.
Zak: People might forget when you said something, but they don’t forget what you said. And more than anyone not named McIlroy, Woods, or maybe Horschel, Rahm was steadfast in his disinterest with LIV Golf. That he was so comfortable flipping on his recent opinions was a reminder on how opinions change. To me, it’s not about agreeing with Spieth or not. It’s about Rahm telling himself, It’s okay that I’ve done the opposite of what I’ve said. I don’t think people will forget that. 
4. There were rumors that Tony Finau would be among the players to join Rahm at LIV Golf, but Finau seemed to put those to rest when he posted on Instagram that he was excited for his 10th season on Tour and hashtagged it #imnotleaving. Can big names like Finau sway others to stay on the PGA Tour, or did Rahm leaving essentially tell the golfing world that no one is safe?
Bastable: Rahm’s departure was a reminder that it’s silly to try to make predictions about where any player might land.  
Marksbury: Remember all the oaths of loyalty to the Tour from players like Dustin Johnson in 2022? So much for that! Tony may indeed have no plans to leave, but Rahm’s about-face on LIV is definite proof that we never know what is happening behind the scenes, or what may ultimately sway a player. 
Zak: I’m guessing there will be some long conversations over the holidays, between players and their families. I think the difference is that not many of Tour faithful are as uniquely LIV-adjacent as Rahm was, considering his relationship with Phil Mickelson and Sergio Garcia … and his relationship with a mega-millions contract. I just don’t see any other massive pieces changing sides.
5. Tiger Woods and son Charlie teamed up at the PNC Championship, finishing T5 out of 20 at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club in Orlando, Fla. (The team of Bernhard and Jason Langer won.) Anything we can glean from Tiger’s game in a hit-and-giggle event like this? And what were your thoughts on Charlie’s game in his fourth appearance?
Bastable:  Ehh…tough to draw any searing conclusions from cart golf — the biggest questions around Woods these days revolve around his ability to walk 72 holes — but still, it’s nice to see him make two starts in three weeks, even if an E-Z-GO is involved. And Charlie? Like many elite junior players in 2023, dude has serious speed! That much was clear when on a 320-yard par-4, he drove it through the green. Like his old man, he’s fun to watch play. 
Marksbury: Agree with Alan — not sure what this week really tells us about Tiger’s prospects, other than the fact that he finished the rounds and appears to be in good physical form, which is huge! I recently revisited his injury timeline for a story, and I am still astounded by what his body has been through over the last two decades. And as for Charlie, his swing is beautiful, and he crushes it. He’s 14, playing in front of a global audience from 6,500 yards, with some pretty enviable swagger. It’s awesome to see.         
Zak: Woods doesn’t seem to be grinding yet on anything but the PGA Tour negotiations. He didn’t hit many great shots. But he said he’s knocking off rust. I think there’s quite a bit of rust, but he has quite a few days before the Genesis Invitational. 
As for Charlie, he genuinely hits the [expletive] out of the ball. He was just as long as Justin Thomas on many of their drives. But we know the game is much more than that. For a 14-year-old, he’s really good. But there are thousands of really good 14-year-olds. I’m excited to watch his progression though!
6. While Tiger and Charlie steal most of the headlines for this event, what other duo caught your eye?
Bastable: Tough not to appreciate the Langers stepping on the gas Sunday. Bernhard, who is 66 going on 26, is the awe of his Champions tour peers, and now his son, Jason, 23, will be the envy, back in the office, of his investment-banking pals. It was also fun to see Sam Woods, on the bag for her father, in action. Sam keeps a relatively low profile in the public eye — the last time we saw her was in 2022, when she gave a moving speech at her father’s World Golf Hall of Fame induction — so was cool to see her mixing it up with her dad and little bro.
Marksbury: I think I’m now a Stricker family stan. Steve won the Charles Schwab Cup title without even playing in the final tournament — that’s how well his PGA Tour Champions season went this year. Steve’s wife, Nicki, qualified for this year’s U.S. Senior Women’s Am, his elder daughter, Bobbi, competes on the Epson tour, and his younger daughter, Izzi, is heading to Wisconsin to play college golf next fall. I mean, WHAT A FAMILY. Steve and Izzi also played great this week, finishing right in the middle of the pack. Aspirational! 
Zak: Jess, I’M THE WISCONSIN GUY. I really enjoyed the youthful spring of 12-year-old Will McGee and his mother Annika Sorenstam. They walked up the 18th hand-in-hand as Will said he hoped to enjoy the moment. They shared a happy-tears interview with NBC afterward. Good vibes only. Fun to watch.

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