Phil Mickelson says the threat of competition from a proposed rival golf league has already made life better for PGA Tour players with increased prize money and the introduction of a season-long incentive program.
Mickelson, speaking during a news conference on Wednesday before this week’s Saudi International, said the possibility of a Saudi-backed tour, believed to be called the Super Golf League, has caused the PGA Tour to take action.
“I think everybody is looking at it and seeing parts of it that can really help and benefit their situation, their life, their career, and then there’s parts of it that they’re probably concerned with,” Mickelson said. “I’m appreciative of the fact that there is competition, and that leverage has allowed for a much better environment on the PGA Tour.”
Because of the threat of a potential rival league, Mickelson said, the PGA Tour increased the FedEx Cup bonus pool to $75 million, introduced a $50 million Player Impact Program and raised the purse of the Players Championship to $20 million.
“I’m appreciative of the competition, and what my hopes are is that the biggest thing, which are media rights and the way the players have been used for so long, I hope that that changes through the competitive opportunity, as well,” Mickelson said.
Mickelson, 51, the defending PGA Championship winner, wouldn’t directly answer whether he has been approached about joining the potential golf circuit being fronted by Greg Norman, although it is believed he is among several players from the PGA Tour and DP World Tour (formerly the European Tour) who have.
“I think every player has been contacted,” Mickelson said. “I don’t think there’s a player that hasn’t been. … I’m just saying that pretty much every player that is in the top 100, I would say in the world ranking, has been contacted at some point, absolutely.”
Australia’s Cameron Smith, who is ranked No. 11 in the world, said on Wednesday that he hasn’t been approached yet.
England’s Lee Westwood, who is also playing in the Saudi International, wouldn’t answer specific questions about the proposed tour because he said he had signed a non-disclosure agreement with organizers.
On Tuesday, it was announced that Saudi-funded golf tournaments will be played in Britain and the Middle East as part of a new 10-event series on the Asian Tour. Norman said future events will also take place in the U.S.
“Well, the players of the other tours see the Asian Tour as a threat now, don’t they, because of the huge investment,” Westwood said. “It’s kind of like a game of poker, really, where the European Tour and the PGA Tour have had the biggest hand, and now there’s somebody else come to the table with more chips, so everybody is on their guard and very defensive and are clearly seeing the Asian Tour as a threat. Nobody can deny that. There wouldn’t have been all this trouble with releases and things like that if that wasn’t the case.
“Yeah, I can see why they feel threatened, but at the same time, the PGA Tour and the European Tour have gone into areas I suppose in the Asian Tour’s path over the years and never had any problem playing tournaments all over Asia and the Middle East, which I think has probably cost Asia, as well. Now that the Asian Tour has this backing, it appears to me like they’re just doing what the PGA Tour and the European Tour have been doing the last 25 years.”
Dustin Johnson, the defending Saudi International champion, said he liked the concept of the proposed breakaway league, which would include some sort of team format, guaranteed appearance fees and $10 million purses.
“I think it’s a really good concept,” Johnson said. “I think it makes it a little more interesting for the fans and for the players. Yeah, I like the concept.”
Would Johnson, the No. 5 player in the world, be tempted to jump? “We’ll see,” Johnson said.