The threat of the controversial Saudi-backed Super Golf League could be a blessing in disguise for PGA Tour players, says Jordan Spieth.
The prospective breakaway circuit continues to make a splash, with those at the helm determined to usher in a new wave of golf entertainment for players and fans alike. Headlined by next month’s Saudi International, LIV Golf Investments, a start-up company run by Greg Norman and backed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), has agreed to plough over $200 million into ten new annual Asian Tour events over the course of the next decade.
Such big-money moves have already been able to lure some of the game’s biggest stars to the Saudi tournament, which first hit the European Tour schedule in 2019. Now sanctioned by the Asian Tour, the likes of Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau were recently granted conflicting-event releases to appear in the 2022 edition, only on the basis that they play in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in future.
But while the Saudis involvement in golf has received widespread condemnation from numerous high-profile figures, Spieth believes there is an upside for PGA Tour members.
“Well, I think certainly it's a threat to the PGA Tour,” he confirmed. “I think as a player overall it will benefit in that I think that the changes that have come from the PGA Tour have been modernised in a way that may or may not have come about if it weren't there.
“So I think for us players, I think that so far it's been something that has kind of helped the tour sit and say, hey, where can we look to satisfy our membership and potentially make some changes going forward where there's some similarities potentially to a league like that, but while maintaining the integrity, the 501(C)(6) category that the PGA Tour has.
“And I think that going forward, I mean, I guess we'll have to see, but for me to sit here - I can only say from my point of view I think that it's been beneficial to the players to have competition, and I think the tour would say that they probably feel that they're in a better position going forward by having to sit back and kind of take a look at things and make some changes.”
One such change was the introduction of the Player Impact Program (PIP), which was designed to reward the game's top-ten needle-movers based on their popularity on Google and within the media spheres - both social and traditional.
It was unveiled by the PGA Tour in April 2021 in direct response to the ongoing threat to its dominance by the Premier Golf League and Super Golf League. In total, $40m was split between the ten players deemed worthy as per the tour's 'Impact Score' algorithm, with Phil Mickelson believed to have taken top spot, earning a nice $8m bonus in the process.
In addition, a mammoth boost to PGA Tour prize purses for this season was recently announced, up from $367m to $427m, which includes an additional $10 into the PIP fund. While it's sure to help keep the majority of its prize assets happy, fighting fire with fire in the money stakes has also drawn criticism from some who believe any additional funding would be better spent supporting golf at a grassroots level.
Another change, which comes into effect for the first time this week in Hawaii, relates to the controversial green-reading books. The PGA Tour took the decision to ban them as of January 1, instead mandating a new Local Rule that restricts players and caddies to a "Committee Approved" yardage book that displays only general information with regards to slopes and other features.
And despite being a previous user of the highly detailed green maps, Spieth is relishing the prospect of returning to a more feel-based approach.
"We've never had them at Augusta, and I seem to find myself in a really good space on the greens there, really feeling putts," Spieth added. "I'm one that's used it because why wouldn't you use 'em? More for a reference point and a lot of times more for speed than trying to dial in an AimPoint situation or a line, so I'm perfectly fine with the changes.
"To me, putting you have to read it right, you have to put a stroke on it and you have to hit it with the right speed. I thought with the green-reading materials it took one of those three skills away from it and I think that it's a skill that I would say is an advantage of mine and, so I'm excited to see what it can mean as far as strokes gained compared to the field on the greens."
Spieth is one of 38 making his first start of the new year at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which is available only to players who won on the PGA Tour in 2021.
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A lifelong golf fan, Andy graduated in 2019 with a degree in Sports Journalism and got his first role in the industry as the Instruction Editor for National Club Golfer. From there, he went on to enjoy a spell freelancing for Stats Perform producing football reports, and then for RacingNews365 covering Formula 1. However, he couldn't turn down the opportunity to get back into the sport he grew up watching and playing and now covers a mixture of equipment, instruction and news for Golf Monthly's website and print title.
Andy took up the game at the age of seven and even harboured ambitions of a career in the professional ranks for a spell. That didn’t pan out, but he still enjoys his weekend golf at Royal Troon and holds a scratch handicap. As a side note, he's made five holes-in-one and could quite possibly be Retief Goosen’s biggest fan.
As well as the above, some of Andy's work has featured on websites such as goal.com, dailyrecord.co.uk, and theopen.com.
What's in Andy's bag?
Driver: Callaway Mavrik Sub-Zero (9°)
3-wood: TaylorMade Stealth 2 Plus (15°)
Driving iron: Titleist U500 (17°)
Irons: Callaway Apex Pro '19 (4-PW)
Wedges: Titleist Vokey SM9 (50°, 54° and 58°)
Putter: TaylorMade Spider X
Ball: TaylorMade TP5x
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