Rory McIlroy returned to the site of his first PGA Tour victory and made it clear Wednesday that he is more interested in creating his place in history than chasing Saudi-backed money in a proposed super league.
Justin Thomas wasn’t far behind in that line of thinking.
The topic occupying most of the chatter at Quail Hollow Club ahead of the Wells Fargo Championship is renewed efforts by a “Super League Golf” to attract top players for a concept of team golf played around the world for massive riches.
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The Daily Telegraph in London reported the league is prepared to offer fees ranging from $30 million to $50 million to marquee players, including Dustin Johnson and Justin Rose, to join a new circuit that would begin playing as early as September 2022.
“He has listened to their presentation, like all the other top players. No commitment whatsoever,” Johnson’s manager, David Winkle, said in a text.
The Telegraph said Phil Mickelson, who at age 50 is No. 115 in the world ranking, is being offered twice that much as the “de facto leader of the rebels.”
McIlroy, who turned 32 on Tuesday, was the first player to publicly oppose the new league more than a year ago. He has been elected chairman of the Player Advisory Council, meaning he will be the first foreign-born player to join the PGA Tour’s board of directors.
McIlroy referenced the failed attempt to create a European Super League in football, in which 12 clubs were founding members. The backlash was so strong that nine clubs — including all six from England — announced they would withdraw.
“People can see it for what is, which is a money grab, which is fine if that’s what you’re playing golf for is to make as much money as possible,” McIlroy said. “Totally fine. Then go and do that if that’s what makes you happy. But I think the top players in the game — I’m just speaking my own personal beliefs — I’m playing this game to try to cement my place in history and my legacy and to win major championships and to win the biggest tournaments in the world.
“I’m very much against it. I don’t see why anyone would be for it.”
The topic became the focus of chatter at Quail Hollow Club, where the Wells Fargo Championship begins on Thursday with another strong field. The players had a previously scheduled mandatory meeting on Tuesday night with Commissioner Jay Monahan.
According to several players who attended the meeting, Monahan reiterated what he told players more than a year ago when the proposed super league — then known as the Premier Golf League — made its first pitch: Players who join will be suspended from the PGA Tour and could be banned permanently.
Still unclear is how this would affect the world ranking or invitation to the majors, even a spot in the Ryder Cup, because it is not known if any player has agreed to the money.
Thomas said he was unaware if the league invited him to join — if so, his manager hasn’t told him.
“I don’t know where it’s going to go because everybody feels differently and everybody’s in different places in their career,” Thomas said. “For me, I personally am about being No. 1 in the world and winning as many majors as I can and winning as many tournaments as I can and doing historical things on the PGA Tour.
“I feel like the next 10 years of my career could really be my prime and I want to take advantage of it here.”
Money has been at the forefront of discussions since Hideki Matsuyama left Augusta National with his Masters green jacket. The tour finally informed players two weeks ago of a ” Player Impact Program” worth $40 million that would be distributed to the top 10 players who move the needle in golf, based on metrics related to fan engagement.
The super league is aimed at rewarding the top players. Still, a $40 million bonus pool is miniscule compared with the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, with assets of some $350 billion, a source of super league funding.
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The Telegraph said the Raine Group is no longer part of the super league. However, key golf agents have said in recent months that super league organizers have set up shop in South Florida while wooing players.
“It’s a complicated issue, but I just don’t see at this point how it can get going,” McIlroy said. “And the possibility that people, if they do go in that direction, can’t play in the biggest tournaments in the game? The game of golf … is so about history. We still talk about Gene Sarazen and Walter Hagen and Ben Hogan and all those guys because that’s what this game is. It’s steeped in history and the legacies that these guys have.
“If you move further away from that, you’re basically losing the essence of what competitive golf is.”