“Money wins.” Those were the words of the often very funny, but occasionally sanctimonious Wall Street Journal sports columnist, Jason Gay. Gay was commenting on the announced merger of the PGA Tour with the upstart LIV, and in his defense, his lament about “money” was uniform among sportswriters. They get things backwards.
To see why, think professional football. Thank goodness it’s all about the money. Since it is, it’s no longer legal in the sport for individuals to blindside receivers coming across the middle. Leg whips and horse collars are banned too. Quarterbacks, generally the most valuable players on any football field, are coddled the most via rules and highly-paid protectors of their blind sides. Why? Because they’re the highest paid players on the field.
Since the NFL is increasingly about the money, player compensation and their treatment grows grander by the day. Not only do teams employ strength and nutrition coaches in order to enhance their investments in players, they also employ sleep coaches. They do because it’s all about the money.
Golf is no different. To see why, ask yourself why Tiger Woods is so beloved on the PGA Tour despite a reputation for surliness. The answer is simple, or should be. Woods’s immense popularity with the fans vastly increased corporate sponsor interest in the sport, and this predictably resulted in soaring tournament prize money. Woods was and is beloved because even when he was seemingly unbeatable, it was quite a bit more lucrative to lose to Woods than to win without him. Importantly, it wasn’t just his fellow professionals that Woods enriched.
As a consequence of skyrocketing tournament purses, the game itself grew more broadly. While the typical golf club pro or instructor of old generally used to earn money by teaching elderly duffers or bratty young kids how to play, the lucrative nature of golf predictably resulted in more and more tour professionals hiring swing coaches, putting coaches, personal trainers (have you seen the physique of the typical golf professional of late?), nutritionists, and yes, psychiatrists. While caddies were formerly most known for their colorful names, the money in golf has turned “caddie” into a lucrative aspiration for golf savants. Put another way, exponentially more people are now able to make a career out of something they love (golf) since “vital few” talents like Woods attracted so much money to the sport.
Fast forward to the present, and the Saudi Arabia-backed LIV built a professional tour in short order by writing enormous checks to some of the biggest names and best players in golf. More on where the money came from in a moment, but for now it cannot be stressed enough how good these checks were for golf. For one, competition always and everywhere lifts all boats. Competition from outside the PGA forced the PGA to get serious about keeping PGA players within the PGA. In that case, one guesses PGA players at least privately disdained Phil Mickelson, Brooks Koepka, Bryson De Chambeau and others as much as they disdain Tiger Woods. Meaning not at all. Thanks to LIV making it about the money, professional golfers got big raises. So did an ever-growing industry around the sport. See above.
Is all this tainted because the money comes from Saudi Arabia? No. But isn’t the regime “sports-washing” itself? Let’s hope. If Saudi Arabia is “sports-washing” itself, that’s the surest admission from Saudi Arabia that its human rights past and present is deplorable. Since it’s about the money, and it is, hopefully the merger brings elicits a better Saudi Arabia.
Back to Gay and those in his the sportswriter space presently bathing comfortably in their own sanctimony, money winning connotes something bad to them. Yet they get to write about sports. For a living! Because Americans devour sports pages to this day. In which case they better hope it’s never not about the money…