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It's us or them: Inside Jay Monahan's speech to PGA Tour players

In wake of jaw-dropping riches dangled by Saudis to poach elite golfers – $100 million for Phil Mickelson? – Tour plays hardball

What started as a concept for a world golf tour and evolved into the proposed Premier Golf League has resurfaced, and it seemingly will not die.

In a story reported Tuesday by James Corrigan in London’s The Telegraph newspaper, a Saudi-backed group has raised the stakes significantly in its bid to rival the PGA Tour. According to Morning Read sources, Phil Mickelson has been offered $100 million to join the new tour. Other prominent golfers, including Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau, Henrik Stenson, Adam Scott and Rickie Fowler, have been offered $30 million to $50 million each to defect.

Clearly, what was reported in the United Kingdom was not new to PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan. In the annual player meeting Tuesday night before the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, N.C., Monahan gave his players a strong ultimatum.

According to sources who heard the speech, Monahan outlined for his players, many of whom are millionaires many times over, the benefits of remaining as Tour members. He reiterated his message from last year, when the Premier Golf League made an ill-fated attempt to raid the Tour of many of its marquee players: Any defection will result in immediate suspension and likely permanent expulsion from the PGA Tour.

To be clear, Monahan and his European Tour counterpart, Keith Pelley, see the Saudis’ actions as a direct attack on their respective business models and membership.

And in case the Saudis might have had any doubts about the resolve among leaders on the U.S. and European tours, Monahan has indicated that neither he nor Pelley will allow tour platforms or events to be used as a stage to promote or recruit for a competitive league. The PGA and European tours clearly have banded together to ward off the invaders.

Dating to last spring, Monahan has been keen to work with Pelley as they explored ways to align the two tours and create formal ties to strengthen the highest level of men’s professional golf. During those discussions, Monahan, who replaced the retired Tim Finchem in 2017, found that they were competing against deep-pocketed Saudis and their desire to invest in the European Tour as a way to implement their league concept.

The PGA Tour accelerated its strategic alliance with the European Tour, which included the U.S. tour taking a 15 percent interest in European Tour Productions. They also reached an agreement that, according to a source who heard Monahan in Tuesday’s player meeting, already is bearing great results.

The tours are working closely together on all aspects of their respective businesses, including media, sponsorship, content development and scheduling.  

In the long term, the two tours want to improve their financial value and maximize the global appeal and strengthen the tours and the sport, with no room for the Saudis or any other potential rival.

Monahan and, by proxy, Pelley are drawing a line in the sand, making it clear that the PGA and European tours will have nothing to do with the Saudi interlopers and will brand any player who defects as a traitor.

It’s hard to believe that any players could entertain the idea of leaving the PGA Tour. Most of the 2020-21 season’s tournament purses are worth $6 million or more, and at least 11 of the 50 events will offer $10 million or more in prize money. Next year, a nine-year, $700 million TV deal with NBC and CBS will launch and likely boost weekly prize money and the FedEx Cup bonus pool.

Meanwhile, sources say the Saudis have made no arrangements to establish tournaments, secure media agreements, engage with the major championships, obtain sponsorships or take any concrete steps toward successfully launching their concept.

Is it all about the money? Don’t the players have enough? Is playing for purses that sometimes top $10 million not sufficient?

The Saudis have made their move, and Jay Monahan and Keith Pelley have responded. Now it’s up to the players, with the Saudis putting an urgent deadline on their offer.

Does anyone believe that any touring pro who jumps ship will not be considered a traitor or backstabber by his fellow competitors?

Is it really worth it?

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