LPGA pursues power struggle against PGA Tour with Rory McIlroy’s help

The latest power struggle between PGA Tour and LPGA has already appeared to produce no winner as Rory McIlroy has pointed out that it has not been made clear to him who will be sanctioned if the Tour’s plans go ahead.

The leading PGA Tour events have published official agendas on the Tour website and have already announced their policy of fining a player £10,000 should he breach the policy of posing for pictures with sponsor branding after they deal with images from their sponsors. McIlroy has yet to be sanctioned for doing just that at the Bellerive Country Club during the weekend before the US PGA Championship but neither have WGC events – but has only done so once for it earlier this year. This is a huge difference and demonstrates the power imbalance between a leading tournament sponsored by companies such as Budweiser, Coca-Cola, MasterCard, and Sony versus the lesser-funded competition, which have limited funds to invest in marketing but cannot afford even a £10,000 fine.

The PGA Tour has refused to make its policy known and further emphasised that it is making a general statement to all players.

While this could be seen as an attempt to keep some of the opposition at bay, McIlroy said this week: “There’s a lot of power on the side of the big brands and I think they have been able to tell the golf community exactly where they stand, what it means. The PGA Tour are in a bit of a difficult position because it’s like: ‘Don’t mess with us. We have to maintain our revenue stream and that’s the game of golf.’

“So basically, the big brands are basically telling PGA Tour Tour players they’re not the players they would like to see and they want to take control of their likeness and marketing and that’s what is happening. I think it’s a bit of a power struggle.”

The collapse of this debate can be traced back to the US PGA Tour’s decision in May to penalise Justin Thomas, in the final round of the PGA Championship, for breach of its dress code – specifically, that of an open shirt. This led to complaints from some sponsors at being dragged into the debate.

A member of the PGA Tour board of directors, Steve Stricker, admitted Thomas should have paid a fine but questioned the need for “fines to be written on the first page of policies.”

This illustrated the injustice McIlroy pointed out. “We have our image on our tee shots, we have sponsorship logos on our clothes, we want to have fun on the course, we want to be able to enjoy our days and enjoy their tournaments. The sport would be much simpler if both of the tours could find a way to deal with what I think was their own broken policy. There is no reason to have fines being written in policy.”

As for tournament sponsors, there is also a danger of golf’s razzmatazz taking a back seat as it is suggested that they will decide whether to spend on advertising in the future should they continue to feel they are being marginalised.

That could deter the likes of Zurich, which spent £3.8m in 2015 and has many tournaments across the world, from continuing to sponsor one of the big three tours. But there is an acknowledgment that these issues can be sorted out, quickly, as long as there is no knee-jerk reaction. “It is not possible to have everything on one platform,” said Myron Skipper, Zurich’s chief executive officer. “I think we’ve got to work with the PGA Tour and then come to an agreement. There are other things going on with the European Tour, which are also different, and we also have to make sure we don’t get caught up in any debates on one platform.”

LPGA officials hope the Tour’s rules of engagement regarding sponsors will be cleared up before the end of the year.

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