As LIV Golf continues to build its collection of golfers by attempting to raid current talent from the PGA Tour, they quietly made a move over the weekend that may have gone a bit unnoticed but could have the most long-last implications of anything that's happened in the last two months. They went after the future.
had already announced his intent to return to Stillwater, Oklahoma, for a super senior year (an additional year of eligibility granted amid COVID-19), but the LIV contract number clearly ballooned to the point that he was forced to change his mind.in the World Amateur Golf Rankings, Eugenio Lopez-Chacarra out of Oklahoma State, who will make his professional debut in its Portland event later this week. Chacarra
Here's a portion of his most recent Instagram post explaining the decision.
In April, I announced that I wanted to play another year at Oklahoma State and I was excited to continue playing for Coach Bratton and Coach Darr and with all of my teammates. However, I recently received an opportunity I could not turn down. It is one of those trains that pass once in a lifetime.
Chacarra is not wrong about the once-in-a-lifetime part. Though the figure is unknown, Chacarra almost certainly got a contract tantamount to what Texas star and fellow Big 12 first-teamer Pierceson Coody was reportedly offered. Coody described his salvo from LIV Golf as "a multi-million-dollar offer."
Setting aside whatever your opinions of the Saudi Arabian-backed LIV Golf, this development represents a massive problem for the PGA Tour as it relates to a future pipeline of the best golf talent in the world.
Currently, the PGA Tour has a narrow path into its ecosystem in which a four-year college player must finish in the top five in the designated PGA TourU standings to earn automatic status into its minor league system, the Korn Ferry Tour. The routes for those who finish outside the top five are even more constrictive.
LIV Golf, on the other hand, can simply sign superstar collegiate talents, whether they have completed four years of college or not, to multi-year contracts. Those prospects will either directly move into their top league or perhaps first get a few starts on the Asian Tour. What do you think the average 22-year-old is going to do when they have a seven-figure deal slid across the desk to him?
The PGA Tour is unable to guarantee contracts, of course, because it is a 501(c)6 organization. This makes it the perfect league for compensation based on meritocracy but perhaps not so perfect for securing future talent. While the meritocracy portion of golf (even as it relates to money) is certainly romantic and what you may hope world one day resembles, it might not matter if LIV Golf ends that mechanism for compensation in the future.
"[Scottie Scheffler's] journey is that of a true meritocracy," PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said recently. "If you're good enough, you will rise to the top; and if you don't continue to earn that top spot, someone else as hungry and as talented is right there to take your place. Again, that's the unique beauty of what the tour has and always will offer to fans. It's damn good and it's worth fighting for."
The question is not whether that's a fight worth having but whether future golfers will feel the same way if economics are inequitable.
It runs deeper than that, too. Consider Coody, an apparent future star. He won the Live and Work in Maine Open last week to move to No. 31 on the Korn Ferry Tour money list. The top 25 on that list each year get some status on the following season's PGA Tour.
You know what would be fun this week on the PGA Tour? Seeing Coody play in the John Deere Classic, which has a field lacking notable stars and could use a shot in the arm from a young, exciting talent.
You know who's disincentivized to do so? Coody, who now has to figure out how many of the final eight Korn Ferry Tour events he needs to play to earn enough points to enter the top 25 and earn his card going into next year's PGA Tour season. Golfers don't receive Korn Ferry Tour points at PGA Tour events, which means he's not incentivized to play in the big leagues.
If this sounds familiar, it happened with another famous Texas golfer nearly a decade ago.
Jordan Spieth was trying to put together the jigsaw puzzle of making it out on the PGA Tour back in his rookie year of 2013. He'd just notched a top 10 on the Korn Ferry Tour (then the Web.com Tour) and had to make the weighty decision of whether he should chase points in Chile on the Korn Ferry Tour or play on a sponsor exemption in Puerto Rico on the PGA Tour.
Spieth's career was set on the correct course in a clubhouse in Colombia. After finishing T7 at the Web.com Tour's season-opening event in Panama, Spieth followed with a fourth-place showing in Colombia. His finish earned him a start in the following week's event in Chile and only about $4,000 short of earning status for the remainder of the season.
One problem. He also had an invitation to the PGA Tour's Puerto Rico Open. It was the first invitation he'd been given, back on New Year's Eve. Spieth weighed his options inside the Golf Club de Bogota's clubhouse.
"John Peterson was in there, some of the tour officials were in there, saying, 'Hey man, this is the smart thing to do. You need to go down to Chile and get your (Web.com Tour) card,'" Spieth says.
Spieth wanted to honor his commitment to the Puerto Rico Open, though. He also had about a dozen friends and family coming to the island to watch him play. Its tropical locale, and the fact that it coincided with Spring Break made it the ideal destination.
Spieth was already an All-American, Big 12 Player of the Year, two-time U.S. Junior Amateur champion and one of the biggest stars in college and amateur golf at the time, and here he is trying to navigate the labyrinth of professional golf to make it into the top league.
Some might say that's the beauty of a meritocracy. Others might bemoan that it's a point of vulnerability on the PGA Tour that is about to get ravaged by a rival league.
No other professional sports league discourages its young future stars from rising to the top. Imagine the Memphis Grizzlies drafting Ja Morant a few years ago and stashing him in the G-League. This would never happen, but imagine it did. And then imagine the Grizzlies trying to call Morant up to pump some excitement into their fan base with the league office discouraging them from doing so. That's a difficult way to run an organization.
Many have pointed to Major League Baseball, which does in fact stash many of its stars in the minor leagues. The difference in MLB is the best of those players, much like LIV golfers, are compensated handsomely as they enter into the meat grinder of pro sports. PGA Tour players are not compensated at all, and while they are able to secure sponsorships in a variety of ways that other athletes are not because of the specific nature of golf marketing, it's difficult for the tour to claim "anybody can make it" when the reality is that you must be heavily funded just to begin the journey.
Then there's the question of what to do with players like Akshay Bhatia, who turned pro as a teenager after a decorated amateur career that included a Walker Cup and a rise into the top five in the World Amateur Golf Rankings. In a pre-LIV Golf world, it seemed relatively reasonable that somebody like that would be forced to grind on mini tours and Monday qualifiers to find his way. Now, though? It's easy to see golfers like Bhatia getting scooped up by LIV for guaranteed money and status on the Asian Tour if not a position in the big tournaments.
LIV has put a ton of doubt in three concepts: pro golfers as independent contractors, the PGA Tour as a 503(c)6 and meritocracy as a mechanism for compensation. Even if LIV didn't exist, there's a world in which a different start-up could create a facsimile of what LIV is doing sans the sportswashing by Saudi Arabia. This is what start-ups do.
LIV has its own problems with young talent. It's extremely difficult to cultivate young stars devoid of context, and these 54-hole shotgun start events remain devoid of context. Perhaps some of its newly signed talent -- Chacarra or last year's U.S. Amateur winner, James Piot -- could qualify and contend in majors to draw in some attention and some hype, but that's a rare accomplishment for a 22-year-old and something that might not happen for several years. There's also the question of whether LIV golfers can stay sharp enough to compete at major championships.
As always, it comes back to the OWGR points, for which LIV has applied. If they are approved, successful LIV players will be able to mix it up in majors.
Going forward, the PGA Tour could shed its nonprofit status, and it could invest in future talent. That's not how things have ever been done on the tour before, but it might be what the future requires.
The path Coody took -- turning down guaranteed money and trying his hand in a ruthless league like the Korn Ferry Tour -- is not the path of least resistance and might not be the one the majority of golfers take in the future. The PGA Tour must ensure it adjusts before too many young stars flip to LIV as they leave college. Otherwise, at some point, the tide may turn and it may be too difficult to turn it back.