PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. — There’s an elephant in the room, lording over the PGA Tour establishment, and it doesn’t carry a driver, a putter, a world ranking or have any FedEx Cup points.
In recent months, a surge of momentum — that can best be described as somewhat nebulous and behind the curtain — has gained steam in the form of the Premier Golf League, a new-world concept with reported formidable financial backing that could threaten to obliterate old-world professional golf as we know it.
We know professional men’s golf as essentially the PGA Tour and the European Tour. The Premier Golf League wants to trim the fat from the weekly tournaments, discard the lower- and middle-class players, and present a collection of the top players in the world for each of its events.
The league, which is reportedly backed by Saudi money, proposes to conduct 18 events consisting of 48-player fields for $10 million purses, with additional individual and team bonus monies. Instead of the traditional 72-hole tournament format, it would feature 54-hole, no-cut, individual stroke-play championships in all but the season-ending match-play event, with a team component to the entire schedule.
According to a cryptic statement released last month by the PGL, the tour will be “an individual and team league” and will have 12 teams of four players each vying for a world championship.
“If you want the world to watch, you have to showcase your best product week-in-week-out,” the statement read. “Golf doesn’t do that currently.”
The backers of the PGL have very much moved in the shadows, quietly speaking to some of the world’s top players — including Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson, Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson.
There have been unconfirmed rumors swirling at the Genesis Invitational this week that league officials have been at Riviera speaking to some top players. The Genesis, with 9 of the top 10 players in the world rankings and 19 of the top 25 in the field, has been fertile ground for the PGL people to roam.
Mickelson was the first to publicly comment on the PGL, using the words “curious” and “intriguing,” though not dishing any details because he claims not to know a lot yet.
Woods this week revealed he has been “personally approached” by PGL people.
“My team’s been aware of it and we’ve delved into the details of it and trying to figure it out just like everyone else,” he said. “There’s a lot of information that we’re still looking at and whether it’s reality or not.”
McIlroy delivered the most thoughtful comments.
“If you look at sports leagues in general, everything evolves and everything tries to get better and tries to cater to what the fans want,” McIlroy told The Post. “That’s what the PGL are trying to do. They’re trying to bring the top players together a little more often. I think that’s what people want to see more of in the game. It’s definitely a different time than what it was before.”
Unlike McIlroy, some players seem uncomfortable talking about the PGL’s potential infiltration of the PGA Tour. Justin Thomas, the fifth-ranked player in the world, wanted no part of talking about it when approached by The Post, saying, “We’ve heard about it and gotten our information about it,” while declining to elaborate.
Charles Howell III, ranked 67th in the world and one of the players who would be in jeopardy of being on the outside looking in at these PGL star-status fields, didn’t sound averse to the idea.
“The top players in the world are what drive the ship, and any time you get a group of the best players in the world together at one event, it’s obviously a premier event, very sellable,” Howell told The Post. “So, yes, I can see it could work.”
The hope of the PGL is to begin its tour in 2022 or 2023. It’s an aggressive plan that’s not without a number of potential pitfalls, including where the likes of Woods (44 years old) and Mickelson (49) will be in their respective careers in three years, and what golf courses these events will take place on.