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KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. – It was inevitable that PGA of America CEO Seth Waugh would be asked his thoughts on the potential for a breakaway league disrupting what he calls “the golf ecosystem.”
Waugh, not surprisingly, was ready for such question and he had a lot to say. Let’s skip ahead to the key point. For the first time, one of golf’s governing bodies that runs one of golf’s majors said publicly that any defectors will not be welcome.
“If someone wants to play on a Ryder Cup for the U.S., they’re going to need to be a member of the PGA of America, and they get that membership through being a member of the Tour,” Waugh said. “I believe the Europeans feel the same way, and so I don’t know that we can be more clear kind of than that. We don’t see that changing.”
But money talks and England’s Lee Westwood expressed why the concept of a Super League or Premier League still is being discussed. Asked if it would be hard to turn down $50 million to jump ship from competing on the PGA and European Tours, Westwood said, “For me, at nearly 50, it’s a no-brainer, isn’t it?”
Asked how much of a deterrent it would be to be banned from the other professional tours and the majors, he said, “That’s something you have to take into account. When all these things come along it’s a balancing act, isn’t it? You’ve got to throw the balls in the air and juggle them for a while and see what comes up. You have to get all the facts together, first of all. I can see it from both sides, but I haven’t really gone into depth in it, no.”
Waugh didn’t mention whether he had spoken to Westwood, but said he had talked to several players and looked them in the eyes and delivered a pointed message: “Be careful what you wish for, because short-term gain feels good for a little while, but long-term gain is what makes lives.”
Waugh comes from the world of high finance and he understands why a renegade league would come along.
“I actually think it’s healthy. You either disrupt or you get disrupted. That’s what this is,” he said. “You know, should it be a hostile takeover of the game? I think is way too far. They’ve created this conversation, which by the way isn’t new. It’s been around since 2014 in different forms, has created change. It’s created an alliance of the European Tour and the PGA Tour, which we think is really healthy for the game.
“Change is happening, and I think it’s healthy change. Is it enough? I’m not sure yet. I struggle with what they’re solving for. The game is not in crisis. The game has never been better from a participation standpoint. I think the players have never been better served than they are right now.
“You’re going to have a great life if you can get here.”
Waugh didn’t see the upside of slaying the current golden goose for a different, unknown one with potentially unethical backers.
“There has to be an exit. There has to be a profit. There has to be shareholders. There has to be a lot of things that change that dynamic of not-for-profits doing the right thing and always thinking about the game first, and their players,” he said.
Of the involvement of backers from Saudi Arabia, Waugh didn’t hold back. When asked if the players should be mindful where the money is coming from, Waugh said, “I think very mindful. I think enough said. But I think very mindful,” he said, adding, “Money is money, right, and so money needs to have a return and have all those things that are associated with it, but some money is better than other money.”