Tuesday, May 17

A Primer on the Saudi-Backed LIV Golf League, Including the Threat to the PGA Tour and the Phil Mickelson and Greg Norman Controversy

Embed from Getty Images

THIS IS FOR US, you and me, as I decided to write this piece to document the basics on this evolving golf story.

What is this new Saudi-backed golf league?
Sometimes called the Super Golf League and also known as LIV Golf, it's essentially a rival tour to the PGA Tour and the DP World Tour (European Tour).

How is it financed?
LIV Golf is backed by the Public Investment Fund, which is Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund.

How is Greg Norman involved?
Greg Norman is the CEO of  LIV Golf. He was named CEO in October 2021.

How is Phil Mickelson involved?
PGA Tour star and Hall of Famer Phil Mickelson has been an active and vocal proponent of LIV Golf. In late February some of Mickelson's comments stirred controversy (see below). He has taken a break from playing tournament golf, including the Masters and now the PGA Championship, which he won in 2021. He is one of three PGA champions in the last 75 years to not defend his title. Mickelson has also stayed out of the public eye.

How will the new league work?
The league plans an eight-event schedule called the LIV Golf Invitational Series beginning in June. The no-cut 54-hole tournaments are to be played in England, the United States, Saudi Arabia and Thailand. The fields will be 48 players and include a team and individual component. Total prize money for the series is in excess of $250 million.

Why is the PGA Tour threatened?
The PGA Tour doesn't want to lose any of the world's best players (who are also PGA Tour members) to a rival tour. It could/would impact a lot of things: its golf product and brand; its tournaments, sponsorships, network contracts and charitable work; and perhaps more.

Aren't the players independent contractors who can play anywhere?
Technically, yes.

However, the PGA Tour is a membership organization with tournament regulations. It has denied waiver requests by PGA Tour players who have asked for permission to play in LIV Golf's first event in England.

"We have notified those who have applied that their request has been declined in accordance with the PGA TOUR Tournament Regulations. As such, TOUR members are not authorized to participate in the Saudi Golf League's London event under our Regulations," said PGA Tour senior vice president Tyler Dennis in a memo to players. "As a membership organization, we believe this decision is in the best interest of the PGA TOUR and its players."

The PGA Tour has also threatened suspension and permanent bans for players who defect.

The DP World Tour, in a strategic alliance with the PGA Tour, has taken similar positions with its players.

What's the controversy about?
There's plenty, but here's a start.

The new league is funded and backed by the Saudi government and its crown prince, who are infamous for their human-rights record, including the 2018 murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who had openly criticized the crown prince.

In his comments that surfaced before his exile, Phil Mickelson admitted as much. Golf writer and Mickelson biographer Alan Shipnuck reported the following in February:

[Phil] didn’t pretend to be excited about hitching his fortunes to Saudi Arabia, admitting the SGL was nothing more than what he called "sportswashing" by a brutally repressive regime.

"They're scary motherf---ers to get involved with," he said. "We know they killed [Washington Post reporter and U.S. resident Jamal] Khashoggi and have a horrible record on human rights. They execute people over there for being gay. Knowing all of this, why would I even consider it? Because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour operates. They've been able to get by with manipulative, coercive, strong-arm tactics because we, the players, had no recourse. As nice a guy as [PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan] comes across as, unless you have leverage, he won't do what's right. And the Saudi money has finally given us that leverage. I'm not sure I even want [the SGL] to succeed, but just the idea of it is allowing us to get things done with the [PGA] Tour."

More recently, when asked about the Saudis' human rights record and Khashoggi, Greg Norman said, "We've all made mistakes." LIV Golf later issued a statement saying that everyone agrees the Khashoggi killing was "reprehensible," including Greg Norman.

There has been strong public reaction to Mickelson's and Norman's various comments, many finding their words and stances offensive and openly wondering about their motivations related to the new league.

Is it for the good of golf and about providing players more opportunities, or is it simply a new and bigger money grab?

Monday, May 16

2022 PGA Championship Preview: Tiger Showing Up, Phil Sitting Out, and the World's Best Players Vying for the Wanamaker Trophy

Embed from Getty Images

THE 2022 PGA CHAMPIONSHIP begins on Thursday at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In January 2021 the PGA moved its 2022 championship to Southern Hills from Trump Bedminster in New Jersey.

Purse: $12 million
Winner's share: $2 million +
Trophy: Wanamaker Trophy, named for Rodman Wanamaker, who started PGA of America and PGA Championship
2021 champion: Phil Mickelson
Scoring record: 264 by Brooks Koepka in 2018 at Bellerive CC
How to watch: Televised all four days on ESPN and CBS. Streaming via ESPN and CBS Sports apps.

Designed by Perry Maxwell and opening in the late 1930s, Southern Hills has hosted seven men's majors: four PGA Championships and three U.S. Opens. The course was tuned up in 2018 by course architects Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner. They removed trees, decreased rough near greens, increased bunkers and restored the width of fairways.

The par-70 layout will play over 7500 yards, about 300 yards longer than in 2007 when Tiger Woods won his fourth PGA Championship. There are only two par 5s, both in excess of 630 yards.

The PGA Championship always has a strong field. This year's field of 156 players includes 17 PGA champions, 34 major winners, three Ryder Cup captains, 70 points-earning players, and about 20 PGA club pros who qualified in the PGA Professional Championship in April.

The PGA Championship moved to May in 2019, the year Brooks Koepka successfully defended his title. It has worked well. The PGA was formerly played in August, the last and least popular of the four majors. The weather was hot to unbearably hot, and, despite its great field, the championship did not garner nearly as much interest. The crowded golf calendar helped move the PGA to earlier in the year, creating more interest, and the better weather opens up more venue opportunities.

2021 champion Phil Mickleson will not play, only the third PGA champion in 75 years to not defend his title. The other two were Tiger Woods in 2008 and Ben Hogan in 1949, both due to injuries.

Phil also skipped the Masters, and has not competed on the PGA Tour since late February when his controversial comments surfaced about LIV Golf (a Saudi-backed golf series) and the PGA Tour, where he has won 45 times and earned millions.

Tiger is at Southern Hills, "a lot stronger," he said. Woods, 46, made the cut at the Masters, a tremendous achievement considering that it was his first start since a 2021 automobile accident that resulted in serious injuries, including nearly losing his right leg. At Augusta he played well early in tough conditions but struggled on the weekend, especially with the putter.

Much of the field, including these guys:
World No. 1 and Masters champion Scottie Scheffler
Jon Rahm, 2021 U.S. Open champion
Justin Thomas, 2017 PGA champion
Brooks Koepka, 2018 and 2019 PGA champion
Rory McIlroy, two-time PGA champion
Colin Morikawa, 2020 PGA champion
Jordan Spieth, three-time major winner looking for first PGA title
Dustin Johnson, two-time major winner looking for first PGA title

A few more, all looking for a first major victory:
Patrick Cantlay
Xander Schauffele
Viktor Hovland

Americans have won the last six PGA Championships.

Monday, May 9

WGA News: 315 Student Caddies Awarded Full College Scholarships

Embed from Getty Images

GLENVIEW, IL – This year, a record 315 students from across the country have been awarded the Evans Scholarship, a prestigious full housing and tuition college grant offered to golf caddies. The full scholarship is valued at an estimated $120,000 over four years.

Currently, a record 1,070 caddies are enrolled at 21 universities across the nation as Evans Scholars, and more than 11,500 caddies have graduated as Evans Scholars since the program was founded by famed Chicago amateur golfer Charles "Chick" Evans Jr.

Each caddie has a unique story that reflects the scholarship's four selection criteria: a strong caddie record, excellent academics, demonstrated financial need and outstanding character. 

Recipients were interviewed at one of more than 20 selection meetings across the country, from November through March. They will begin college as Evans Scholars this fall, attending one of 22 leading universities across the nation. The Evans Scholarship is valued at more than $120,000 over four years. 

"These young men and women are part of an exceptional incoming class of New Scholars from around the nation," said WGA Chairman Joe Desch.

The Western Golf Association has supported the Chick Evans Scholarship Program through the Evans Scholars Foundation since 1930. Known as one of golf's favorite charities, it is the nation's largest scholarship program for caddies.

Scholarship funds come mostly from contributions by nearly 35,000 supporters across the country, who are members of the Evans Scholars Par Club program. Evans Scholars alumni donate more than $17 million annually, and all proceeds from the PGA Tour's BMW Championship are donated to the Evans Scholars Foundation. In 2022, the BMW Championship will be held at Wilmington Country Club in Wilmington, Delaware, from Aug. 16-21.

Friday, April 29

The Del Monte Golf Course in Monterey Is Turning 125

A 1909 ladies tournament with caddies.
THE DEL MONTE GOLF COURSE (at Pebble Beach Resorts) will celebrate 125 years of golf on its unique premises on Sunday, May 1.

Del Monte opened in 1897, and helped popularize a game that was new to Americans at the beginning of the 20th century. That game called golf took off in the following decades.

Del Monte has been around for it all. It's the oldest golf course in continuous operation west of the Mississippi River. It's also the birthplace of the California State Amateur.

Today, the classic layout still challenges golfers with its old-school greens.

Monday, April 11

The Masters: Scottie Scheffler Adds Green Jacket to His Growing Resume

Embed from Getty Images

UNFORTUNATELY I DID NOT SEE THE END of the Masters. But I did see how leader Scottie Scheffler was handling final-round pressure (very well). And I did see much of Rory McIlroy's charge that culminated in a brilliant 64 and runner-up finish.

A good friend invited me to his birthday party. It was one of those milestone birthdays. I did not want to miss any of it. But I do admit that I checked the Masters app on my phone several times until Scheffler closed it out and donned the Green Jacket.

Scheffler, who finished at 10 under to win by three strokes, has won four times in six starts and was already World No. 1 before he rolled down Magnolia Lane.

Of course, I'm impressed by all his shots, especially his short game, but I'm just as impressed with his demeanor and composure. Judging from his facial expressions, it's hard to tell if he pull-hooked a drive or two (like he did early on) or wedged in for a birdie (generating a small fist pump).

Is the new 25-year-old Masters champion as impervious as he looks?

Obviously, winning the Masters is not your garden variety PGA Tour victory. Being on a hot streak coming into Masters week helps, but it doesn't guarantee a Green Jacket. It's a long, sad list of semi greats who never got it done, like Ernie Els and Tom Weiskopf, to name two.

Scheffler almost made it look easy, winning from the front, carrying the pressure of the lead over a long stretch of the tournament.

And yet there was a lot more to it for Scheffler, as SI Morning Read reported.

You would never know that the guy’s stomach was a pretzel for two days, or that when he woke up, "I cried like a baby this morning. I was so stressed out. I didn't know what to do."

He said he told Meredith: "I don't think I'm ready for this kind of stuff."

She said: "Who are you to say that you're not ready?"

Meredith was right to question him. Her husband was ready and more than able.

Saturday, April 9

The Masters: Scottie Scheffler Leads, Augusta National Is the Star

Embed from Getty Images

SCOTTIE SCHEFFLER IS LEADING THE MASTERS by a bunch in the third round. But Augusta National Golf Club is winning.

The average score in round three is 75, to this point. It's cold, in the fifties. It's breezy. Every shot, it seems, is hard to judge for the best players in the world. Putts of nearly every length are hard to hole. (Tiger Woods four-putted the 5th hole after a pretty good start.)

I'm enjoying the show, sipping hot chocolate on my couch.

Today is moving day, as they say. And some, if not much, of that movement is backwards.

The weather will be better on Sunday. The high will be in the seventies.

Tuesday, February 22

Phil Mickelson's Mutiny Fails; He Apologizes and Will Take Time Off

I ONLY KNOW WHAT I READ in the golf media, so trying to follow and understand Phil Mickelson's recent comments about the evil PGA TOUR and his crusade to save the day by joining forces with a Saudi-backed mega-money league has been perplexing, to say the least.

Yes, even for Phil, who, perhaps too often, is "fire, aim, ready" when it comes to his public and reported statements.

Phil's enormous popularity and contributions to the game have created enormous capital with a lot of folks that matter, including fans, sponsors and others. At times, a portion of that capital has been devoured by small scandals and "Phil being Phil" in weird or unseemly ways. (But then he does stuff like win the PGA Championship at age 51 and charms us all over again.)

However, this time wasn't about gambling, or throwing U.S. Ryder Cup Captain Tom Watson under the team bus before you could say "press conference," or putting a moving golf ball at the U.S. Open.

It looked to me like Phil was leading a mutiny, or at least he thought he was.

By Sunday, if Phil was still counting heads, he must have realized it was over. Player after big-name player, many of whom might be seen as Lefty's buddies, pledged allegiance to the flag of Ponte Vedra.

Now I guess "Captain" Phil is going down with the ship.

"Although it doesn't look this way now given my recent comments, my actions throughout this process have always been with the best interest of golf, my peers, sponsors, and fans. There is the problem of off record comments being shared out of context and without my consent, but the bigger issue is that I used words I sincerely regret that do not reflect my true feelings or intentions. It was reckless, I offended people, and I am deeply sorry for my choice of words. I'm beyond disappointed and will make every effort to self-reflect and learn from this.

"Golf desperately needs change, and real change is always preceded by disruption. I have always known that criticism would come with exploring anything new. I still chose to put myself at the forefront of this to inspire change, taking the hits publicly to do the work behind the scenes.

"My experience with LIV Golf Investments has been very positive. I apologize for anything I said that was taken out of context. The specific people I have worked with are visionaries and have only been supportive. More importantly they passionately love golf and share my drive to make the game better. They have a clear plan to create an updated and positive experience for everyone including players, sponsors, networks, and fans.

"I have incredible partners, and these relationships mean so much more to me than a contract. Many have been my most influential mentors and I consider all to be lifelong friends. The last thing I would ever want to do is compromise them or their business in any way, and I have given all of them the option to pause or end the relationship as I understand it might be necessary given the current circumstances. I believe in these people and companies and will always be here for them with or without a contract.

"I have made a lot of mistakes in my life and many have been shared with the public. My intent was never to hurt anyone and I'm so sorry to the people I have negatively impacted. This has always been about supporting the players and the game and I appreciate all the people who have given me the benefit of the doubt.

"Despite my belief that some changes have already been made within the overall discourse, I know I need to be accountable. For the past 31 years I have lived a very public life and I have strived to live up to my own expectations, be the role model the fans deserve, and be someone that inspires others. I've worked to compete at the highest level, been available to media, represent my sponsors with integrity, engage with volunteers and sign every autograph for my incredible fans. I have experienced many successful and rewarding moments that I will always cherish, but I have often failed myself and others too. The past 10 years I have felt the pressure and stress slowly affecting me at a deeper level. I know I have not been my best and desperately need some time away to prioritize the ones I love most and work on being the man I want to be."

Apologies these days always seem to lean heavily on things taken "out of context," which Phil says more than once in the above apology.

Sorry, but I don't buy it.

His apology is a plea for forgiveness and mercy. Remember fun Phil, sign-every-autograph Phil, major-winner Phil.

The time away?

A really good idea. And perhaps also his penance to the PGA TOUR for his recent folly.

Tuesday, January 11

A Goodbye to a Father and a Golfer

I LOST A FATHER AND GOLF LOST an enthusiastic player and fan on November 30. James "Ralph" Sagebiel was 94 when he died.

L to R: Kent, Dad (88) and me.
One of dad's goals was to play golf when he turned 90, but he took a bad fall that hospitalized him at 89 and never played again. It did not dampen his enthusiasm for the game. He replayed a lot of rounds in his mind and through conversations as he lived his last five years in assisted living.

A longtime sports lover who played basketball and softball as a young man, dad took up the game relatively late. He was invited to play with borrowed clubs in his mid 30s and caught the golf bug. A Methodist minister in the 1960s, he'd play free on public courses in Southern Indiana on Mondays, his day off.

Later, when we moved to California and dad changed his career to education, he played a lot more golf, especially in the summers when school was out. I started playing, too, and through my teen and adult years we spent countless hours together on golf courses.

At dad's memorial service in December, my older brother, Kent, captured our father quite well -- especially through a golf lens -- during the time we both shared remembrances.

Here's what Kent said:

"Dad loved playing golf and was good at it. He was still playing at 89.

"But in his early 80s he lost his golf game. It simply disappeared. He couldn't hit the ball in the air to save his life. He'd just dribble it down the fairway.

"This didn't go on for a few weeks or a couple of months. It went on for a year, then another, and then a third year.

"It was painful to watch. A lot of golfers would have hung up their spikes and quit. Not dad. He never cussed, never complained, never threw a club.

"He just kept playing the game he loved, often with the people he loved. He rooted for them, complimenting their shots and games. For him, the glass was half full.

"Then one day I saw him hit one in the air, and then another and another. The California sun began to shine again on dad's golf game.

"Dad lived his life like he played golf. He never gave up. The glass was always half full. And he never stopped playing.

"I'm going to really miss dad. But I'm going to keep playing, because that's what he taught me and that's what he would want us all to do. And I know in my heart that he is still playing and that we'll all play together again."