1 essential next-step Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson agree on

Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson aren’t going to agree on much these days, but there is one crucial thing on which they align.

The post 1 essential next-step Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson agree on appeared first on Golf.

Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson aren’t going to agree on much these days, but there is one crucial thing on which they align.

The post 1 essential next-step Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson agree on appeared first on Golf.

While it may seem like Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson have found some common ground these days, they’re not exactly skipping hand in hand down the road together, either. 

McIlroy made one appearance — on a football podcast no less, reflecting on Manchester United more than the Masters — and said that he could see a future in which LIV Golf could be massaged and tucked neatly into a section of the greater global golfing calendar. He said he was too harsh on some of the players who initially committed in the summer of 2022. He did not name names. 

Mickelson, on the other hand, sent one Tweet to his followers asking for social media civility — quite the ask, these days! — and made one appearance on a sports show, calling it a “big move” by McIlroy to change his tune, if ever so slightly. That, in itself, may have been a “big move” by Mickelson. But it is hardly a meet-in-the-middle. 

This feels worth noting because Mickelson and McIlroy are approaching the two-year anniversary of establishing their opposing stances on where pro golf is headed, and where it needs to go. They reached that moment by being very different people, and have repeatedly shown their differences in the two years that followed. Do they suddenly agree on most things in the pro game? Absolutely not. But there is one thing they absolutely agree on: a need for the best players to play in the same places at the same time. Ironically, they’ve been saying that from opposite sides of the planet. 

McIlroy’s remarks came first this week, at the Dubai Invitational, where he is kicking off his calendar year as a “favor” to his friend, Abdullah Al Naboodah, an Emirati businessman and one of the directors of the DP World Tour. He spoke with reporters Tuesday, outlining the idea that, in his perfect world, the 70 or 100 best players in the world should play on a truly global tour: one that spends much time in the U.S., appealing to the dominant fan and sponsorship market, but also one that is keen to “elevate some of the other tournaments around the world: You know, trying to, Middle East, Continental Europe, U.K. and Ireland, the Far East, whether it be Japan, Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia, South Africa.”

That vision may just be a “dream scenario,” but with McIlroy as one of the loudest voices in the sport and one of its most important figures, it bears wondering how that new world golfing order might look. One natural follow-up was: “To go to the far-flung corners of the world that you’re talking about, would players need to be contracted to play a certain number of tour events in this new world tour idea?”

To which McIlroy said: “When you look at different sports and the media landscape and how much these media companies are paying for sporting events. I think you have to be able to guarantee them the product that they are paying for.

“So in my opinion, yeah, I would say that people would have to be contracted and sign up to a certain number of events every year; that the sponsors and media partners know that the guys they want to be there are going to be.”

Such talk may induce eye rolls, given much of the last 24 months has shown that getting 100, 70, 50, or even just 20 Tour pros to agree on something is a task that borders on impossible, not to mention the conflicts that arise via other stakeholders like historic events, venues, host countries, etc. This aspect of pro golf’s future may indeed put the “dream” in McIlroy’s “dream scenario,” but it was the impetus for 23 Tour members to get together in Delaware in 2022 to carve out the meaning of an Elevated Events system. In August 2022, it was decided that a select few events on the PGA Tour schedule would see major boosts in tournament purses, but they would importantly also see all of the best players show up. And when they were sworn into existence for 2023, the events were initially decreed as mandatory. Later on it became clear that top players could skip one event, and anything more than that would mean they could be in danger of losing bonus money.

Phil Mickelson pictured at the LIV Golf Invitational at Trump National Doral Miami on Oct. 21, 2023, in Doral, Fla.

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Today, the Tour has landed on a close cousin of that system, called Signature Events. The purses are biggest, the FedEx Cup points system rewards players for showing up, and ultimately these events are great prep for the major championships. But are players contracted to play? Absolutely not.

Then there’s LIV Golf. About 8,000 miles away from the Dubai Invitational, in South Florida, Phil Mickelson has spent the week at a LIV Golf promotional shoot, a multi-day affair where LIV players and teams spend time with media and create commercials and marketing material that will get used throughout the year. You’ll see plenty of this content on social media, YouTube, even LIV’s own broadcast. As part of this media week, Mickelson made an appearance on the Pat McAfee show, where he began his segment with a two-minute explanation of why top golfers have failed fans by having unpredictable schedules.

“When you are a player in the NFL or baseball, you are an employee of that team, and that team controls your schedule,” Mickelson said. “When [they] go play, as a fan you know who you’re going to watch play. In golf, you see every week people are committing to the tournament so that the fans have an idea of who might be there rather than knowing who’s going to be there. That model is starting to change.

“If you’re a sponsor, if you’re investing into the game of golf or into an event, you want to know who’s going to be there. That’s the attraction. That’s the product that you’re trying to bring. You want to know what it is you’re buying.”

It’s a fair point. Mickelson hosted the Tour’s AmEx event for a number of years, a tournament caught in mid-January limbo between the season’s start and the mega-millions events in Pebble Beach and Los Angeles. The AmEx, for example, will do the best it can to bring a number of big names to Palm Springs, but its field will likely always be a bit limited and unpredictable. 

“By controlling their schedule,” Mickelson continued, “[the NFL] is able to do that because you have the Jacksonville Jaguars play the Buffalo Bills in London and you know who’s going to play. In golf, we haven’t had that ability to do that, which is why our attempt to bring World Golf Championships throughout the world have been unsuccessful globally, but okay in the U.S. 

“If I’m a fan, I want to see the best players play against each other. And as a top player throughout my career, I want to play against the best players more often, and our schedules would never match up outside of the majors. I would play what was good for me and it was never really directed. Now LIV is creating 14 events where you know who’s going to play, who’s going to be there. The [PGA] Tour is starting to do that as well now with elevated events, which is great. If you’re a fan of the PGA Tour, you know that these top guys from the Tour are going to play there.”

It’s convenient for Mickelson to cite LIV Golf as a progressive change agent After all, he did sign a contract with them worth a reported $200 million, and has been the poster child of the league since its launch. But while LIV has caused chaos in some regards, it has done that one thing undeniably well: locking in a set of players for 14 events a year. Whether or not LIV’s system works as proof of concept for McIlroy’s dream scenario — that’s a debate that Rory, Phil, you and I might be able to have forever. 

“I think in the big picture,” Mickelson concluded, “when all of this disruption and change irons out and settles through, we’re going to have a product that’s going to be better for the fans because you’ll know who’s going to be there, and you’ll have a product that’s easier to buy if you’re a sponsor because you know who’s going to be there.”

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