Andy Gardiner insists he’s not jealous.
But you wouldn’t blame him if he was. On Thursday, a new vision of men’s professional golf began trickling into the masses. Fifty-four holes. The gun begins. Parallel team competition. Microphones are everywhere, letting you get inside. This was Gardiner’s vision come true.
“It is strange that there is a sense of pride,” he says. “I am talking about something I wrote. I can only see someone else and I hope they present it in an inappropriate way.”
Gardiner is sitting in his office in London. Eric Clapton decorates the wall next to it. (He says: “My oldest and longest-standing love of music”). Film poster hanging behind: pale rider. Gardiner asks if you’ve seen him. I gotta look it up: It’s a ’80s Western movie starring Clint Eastwood, a ghost-like cowboy who appears out of nowhere to save a small California mining town. I wonder if Gardiner sees some cowboys on his current project.
He won’t be on the floor at this week’s LIV event at nearby Centurion Club; There were a few people who attended who had no interest in bumping into them. But his people will study his successes and his failures. Gardiner will pay close attention, since he is the CEO of Different Possible golf league – an association that, to date, consists of zero players. But now that the bigger threat is a reality, taking over the big-name pros, Gardiner believes there’s something he can do on the PGA Tour:
You can prove that this makes Gardiner the most optimistic man in sport. He wrote his first plan to revolutionize professional golf in 2010. He had his first conversations with the players in 2013. He turned it into a full-time project in 2018. The Saudis have been part of the plan for a while, he says. But then each group went their separate ways. The Saudi group reached its intended destination first. Thursday’s tee opening marked the start of the LIV, a separate golf league that already features Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau, well, you’ve seen the names now. Gardiner has been at this for a decade, maybe more. However, there are no players. You may have already read about Gardiner and the Premier Golf League. You may have written it off as dead in the water. But despite all of the above, Gardiner says he has no envy about LIV’s position.
“Nothing at all,” he says. “LIV’s activities do not reduce the chances of implementing our proposals. I see them actually maybe enhancing those opportunities. We’ll see.”
PGL . vision
we will see. Gardiner, a 49-year-old former corporate finance attorney, has gone this far by selling his vision of PGL to people like me, who see a brilliant idea and back math, listen to the reasoning behind his $10 billion estimate and think , You know, that makes a lot of sense.
His proposal has a lot in common with the LIV Series: 18 events, 12 teams, the PGL Team Championship with a $20 million prize money on the line. The biggest difference is in the financial structure. When LIV is owned and financed by the Saudi Public Investment Fund, the proposed PGL (estimated at approximately $10 billion in equity) will be a new for-profit company owned by the players and validated by the PGA Tour. Fifty percent will go to the PGA Tour professionals, while Korn Ferry and the DP World Tour professionals will split an additional 10 percent. The rest will go to business partners, managers, investors and the PGL Foundation.
His argument is not made on moral grounds. Much scrutiny of the LIV model has been the controversial source of its funding, but Gardiner dismisses this as a point of differentiation.
“I think this is purely economic,” he says. “Early in Covid, we were confined to the house. And I had this eureka moment thinking who should own this. They are the players and, in the end, the fans too.”
Gardiner’s vision includes listing PGL on the Nasdaq, giving fans the opportunity to buy. But in the early days it would motivate players to join the game by preloading their stock payments: nearly $2 million up front for PGA Tour members voting, $300,000 for Korn Ferry Tour members. (They eventually distributed $6 billion in stock over 10 years, in theory.)
Another major difference comes from team building. While LIV teams have so far been “led” by a single player and drafted each week, the entire company remains owned by the league’s investors and thus the Public Investment Fund. Under PGL’s proposal, each team would become a franchise. Gardiner has been in touch with potential team owners and anticipates that in the event of a PGA Tour purchase, there will be a major bidding war for one of the 12 coveted spots. He says a conservative estimate would put each franchise at $500 million.
If any of the above numbers sound weird, that’s okay. one key phrase – MUST BUY THE PGA TOUR Huge question mark. But Gardiner’s vision is a lens through which we can see the current state of the PGA Tour.
Big problem on the PGA Tour
The first dominos fell Thursday morning, when several PGA Tour players – including Johnson and Mickelson – hit the first shots of their LIV careers. The Tour responded by imposing sanctions on these players, and suspending them indefinitely. It is not clear that it will have a significant impact. The tour is basically the class of professionals who have already quit. After all, it’s the players who left the sound in peace with never being put back under the FedEx Cup banner.
“Obviously at this time it’s hard to talk about what the consequences will be, but for now, I’ve resigned my membership from the tour,” Dustin Johnson said realistically on Tuesday. “I’m going to play here now, and that’s the plan.”
More players are expected to leave the PGA Tour for the LIV, chasing the kinds of deals Johnson and DeChambeau signed, whose negotiations came together quickly and included nine-figure sums that the Saudis appeared to be coming out of nowhere. This type of financing is hard to compete with. Scratch it – it’s impossible to compete with.
It is worth focusing on this point. The Saudi-backed LIV League exists because it has the money to exist. This chain has managed to overpay a number of famous tour professionals because they have the funds to do so without, as we can tell, any expectation of financial return. Without this funding, none of this would happen. until with That funding, LIV’s position was precarious as recently as February, when Mickelson’s comments – and the league – sent him into hiding. This seems like a long time ago.
This is the number one problem for the PGA Tour: some of its famous players are leaving, and there is no way to compete with the money that is being given to them.
Gardiner says her other problem is the watered-down schedule that features too many events, dividing fans’ attention and underestimating the overall product.
“The problem is that a field with 11 of the top 50 fields is considered ‘strong,’ which is roughly the makeup of this week’s RBC Canadian Open,” he says. “Whereas if you follow the logic of every other major sport in the world, your field strength will be 50 of the best 50 because that’s the best product that can be produced.”
the proposed solution
“I think the potential for golf fans to tune in to see the top 50 games played 18 times is incredibly strong,” Gardiner says.
His vision will include incorporating PGL into the current PGA Tour schedule. Some of the current events will be elevated, as they combine their history, legacy and knowledge in a new way, the flow of money and attention. Other events will be held around the world. Half a dozen will remain in the same cycle each year, while the others will take turns. Gardiner says the cycles and countries will pay for the next round, just as they pay tens of millions for Formula 1 races to come to town.
The PGL events as well as the majors will make up a robust schedule of 22 events; The top pros can play additional events if they so choose, but fans will know which events will involve the largest fields.
If that sounds like a huge departure from the current model, that’s the point, says Gardiner.
“I’ve been reading Twitter, which is something I don’t tend to do on a regular basis, but I find myself drawn to it because you also get feedback from fans about the format and the idea,” he says. “Some people say, ‘Oh, team stuff is bad and it’s all a load of rubbish,’ but they are in the minority. I think there are a lot more true fans of the sport than they are willing to say, ‘Okay, let’s take a look at it.'”
“The next three days of LIV are going to speed up that conversation. When they play in America it will be another gear shift. Is the field getting stronger, in all likelihood? Yes. And now they will be in the backyard for the PGA Tour.”
Change is difficult, especially without accelerators such as blank checks. Gardiner knows that all too well. He still couldn’t get a meeting with PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan, despite years of lobbying to do so. A round-up of commissioned evaluation of PGL’s plan has cast doubt on its financial statements. But Gardiner says the reviewers never spoke to him and didn’t have a sound understanding of his input.
At first his focus was on impressing the best dogs. It has turned. He’s talking to every round player he can get right now. Get enough cowboys and the tour will be obliged to evaluate the plan more thoroughly. Once that door opens, Gardiner says, he doesn’t think it can be closed.
He’s noticed a drastic change in recent weeks: customers communicate with him, not the other way around.
“I’ve had so many calls from people in the last 24 or 48 hours just basically saying, ‘What are they up to?’ Why don’t they talk to you? These are meaningful people within the game. “It has gotten to a point where it becomes confusing as to why we shouldn’t have this conversation,” Gardiner says.
In his opinion, three models are currently in operation.
There’s the PGA Tour model, which says “doesn’t offer everything that golf can offer fans, sponsors, and broadcasters.” Now that the tour has shown its weakness, her future suddenly looks less certain.
“We’ve seen that it’s not infallible,” Gardiner says. “The genie is out of the bottle. Change has happened.”
Next, you have the LIV model, which involves large amounts of money being paid out to a relatively small number of players. These players won’t get any ownership stake, so they owe the credit to those who fund the league. But in Gardiner’s mind, LIV “demonstrates a look that is well done, and is the best we think golf can be.”
This leaves the proposed PGL model, which follows a similar format but gives ownership to players and a handful of other stakeholders.
“If you come to the conclusion that the status quo will not prevail, and that this change has taken place, is happening and will continue to occur, then the question becomes who owns it?” Gardiner asks. We believe that this should be decided by the members. We’re not far from having the critical mass needed to have that conversation. We are not far away now.”
It’s possible that the PGA Tour has something up its sleeve, another playable card that will purposefully change the narrative around its departing players. It’s possible that they hope to supplement the status quo with Fall Series huge money add-ons, PIP Awards, and building on its legacy and TV product. But after years of rumours, LIV’s arrival makes clear that the status quo for the Tour isn’t necessarily a safe place. What now?
Gardiner may not be Clint Eastwood. But he rides into town, hoping there will be a second life to see him after all.