Of course, McIlroy won’t be within the same hemisphere when the event starts in Sydney next week. He’s readying for the launch of his new simulated made-for-television weeknight league with Tiger Woods.
But it was only a decade ago the Northern Irishman came to Australia to win our national championship. He broke out of a slump which was derailing his career. The same goes for Jordan Spieth, who emerged as a majors-winning machine after sunning himself in Sydney.
But money talks. And there’s so much of it in men’s professional golf right now the world’s best are demanding huge appearance fees just to tee it up.
According to sources not authorised to speak publicly about negotiations, one good European player had an initial asking price of $500,000 to play in Australia over the next fortnight. Just to appear. It’s money the local game struggles to muster, priced out of an inflated market and fighting for relevance at world golf’s top table, distorted by the Saudi cash pit and a reactionary PGA Tour.
The folly of it all is LIV Golf’s worst player, Sihwan Kim, earned more than half-a-million dollars in just three LIV events to start the year. He shot 23-over, 19-over and 13-over … in 54-hole events.
This week, Smith will again headline the Australian PGA. It’s the best field the event has had for years. There are 10 players inside the world’s top 100. The local contingent of Adam Scott, Min Woo Lee, Cameron Davis, Lucas Herbert and Marc Leishman are all home. Ryder Cup hero Robert MacIntyre and defending Australian Open champion Adrian Meronk have also entered.
But the days of bringing a McIlroy, Spieth, Jon Rahm or Justin Thomas down have long gone with the financial reality of Australia’s place in the world.
It’s not just money. It’s a tough time to get Americans to travel due to Thanksgiving, but for those pressing the case, the potential of a new entity from the mooted merger of the PGA Tour and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, which runs LIV Golf, brings hope.
“Jack [Nicklaus] and Arnie [Palmer] used to do it years ago in the halcyon days before it got too commercial,” PGA of Australia chief executive Gavin Kirkman says. “They’d say, ‘we’re going to Australia to help the tour down there’. Down would come all these great players.
“Everyone thinks we need more prize money and global commercial partners. If the tours and new entities coming through could support us by getting players down here, we can commercialise it then. We’ve got partners down here, but they’re asking, ‘who’s playing?’ The stronger the field the stronger the commercial investment.”
The most interesting attendees at Royal Queensland this week are Greg Norman’s LIV Golf duo Joaquin Niemann and Mito Pereira, superb Chilean players who need to earn world rankings points because of LIV’s blackout. They have to be in the top 50 at the end of the year to qualify for the 2024 majors.
Maybe one day they’ll be back as part of a unified sport for a truly global Australian Open, possibly with PGA Tour backing.
“It’s not going to be overnight,” Kirkman says. “We want to be on that rota or a regular tour stop. We’re looking more promising now than ever. In our meetings earlier this year, they [PGA Tour and DP World Tour] know what we’re looking for as part of the south-east Asian strategy and swing. We’re more than happy they’re talking about our events.”
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