Fred Couples knows the obstacles facing the Premier Golf League


Fred Couples has an idea of how this feels.

Back in 2002, Couples was among those involved with what was going to become the Majors Champions Tour. They had talked a TV contract with Fox and were pushing forward with the idea of creating a tour for pros ages 37 to 55 who had won major championships.

Then it never got off the ground.

Now there’s discussion of another new tour, the Premier Golf League, with a team concept and millions of dollars in purses, and with Phil Mickelson talking about it publicly and even playing with some of its backers.

After the tour’s stop at Torrey Pines in San Diego, Jay Monahan, the PGA Tour commissioner, sent a memo to players that was obtained by The Associated Press. In the memo, Monahan talked of the Tour’s strength, reminded players of the releases needed to play other tours and also noted that the tour would not be working with the Premier Golf League.

“If the Team Golf Concept or another iteration of this structure becomes a reality in 2022 or at any time before or after, our members will have to decide whether they want to continue to be a member of the PGA Tour or play on a new series,” the memo read, according to The AP.

And that’s all it took for Couples to share his thoughts on the chances of the Premier Golf League coming into existence.

“I saw Jay Monahan’s quote. That’s how long I follow it,” Couples said Thursday from The Classics at Lely Resort, where the two-time Chubb Classic champion was practicing for this week.

“You play there, you don’t play on the Tour,” he said in summarizing Monahan’s sentiments. “Your choice. You want to win one of these things or you want to win the L.A. Open?

“So that’s what I was reading.”

With the discussion of the Premier Golf League, Greg Norman’s idea for a world tour that was also, according to Norman, derailed by the tour in 1994 (only for the World Golf Championships to come into being a few years later) has been brought up.

The Majors Champions Tour also got close to becoming reality. At least it had something close to a TV contract, as compared to the Premier Golf League at this stage.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Couples had talked to Terry Jastrow, who had been a senior producer of golf at ABC for 20 years, about drawing up a proposal and also trying to get a TV deal. Jastrow met with Fox, which termed the proposal “interesting.”

The tour was slated to play traditional courses such as Merion, Winged Foot and Oakmont, with a guarantee per player of $500,000 – again, this was in 2002.

At that time, players who would’ve been eligible included names like Couples, Norman, Bernhard Langer, Nick Price, Nick Faldo, Curtis Strange, Mark O’Meara, Tom Lehman, Corey Pavin and Paul Azinger.

“I was talking to them,” Langer said Tuesday. “Again, it’s in competition with the existing tour. Those guys, so if you take top 50 in the world or whatever, 10 might fall out because they want to have the young talent come up. So where do those 10 go? You’re not exempt anywhere, so where do you go? You’re done. The tours didn’t like it basically, I think. You’re dealing in direct competition unless they’re involved.”

“I just don’t think it’s viable,” said Jack Nicklaus, whom Jastrow contacted, back in 2002. “I just don’t think financially they can make it. I don’t think they’ll ever get the golf courses. I don’t think the tour would ever let it happen. I don’t think the guys would leave. There’s just so many things that have to happen, I just don’t think it’s possible.”

On Thursday, the other part of the equation Couples and Lehman pointed to regarding why the Premier Golf League will have a hard time is the health of the current Tour, which has a $9.3 million purse this week in Los Angeles and is on the verge of a new TV deal with a reported 60-percent increase over the previous one, according to Sports Business Journal.

“I really don’t know very much about it,” Lehman said Thursday of the Premier Golf League. “I think professional golf has a good thing going, so I would hate to see something come along that just ruins it. And I’m not saying that something new would ruin it, I’m just saying be careful.”

“So, what are these guys going to pay?” Couples said, referring to the Premier Golf League, which has a reported Saudi Arabian financial backing. “Who cares? … These guys are making a bundle. If they make another million and a half or two, God bless them. But when you cannot play the PGA Tour, but play that?

“… The PGA Tour ain’t going away, last I checked on it.”

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