What is happening in professional golf these days troubles and saddens Utah native Daniel Summerhays, the former BYU golf All-American who earned nearly $9 million in PGA Tour winnings before stepping away from full-time playing in 2020.
“It hurts my heart to see all these great players go in different directions,” Summerhays told the Deseret News on Sunday, a few hours after fellow Utahn Tony Finau placed second to Rory McIlroy in the RBC Canadian Open, one of the most entertaining and star-studded PGA Tour events in recent memory.
However, Summerhays says in the long run that he believes “competition can make a product better” and the PGA Tour will come out of the “challenge” from LIV Golf a better organization and tour because of it.
“Even though I don’t really like to see some of the best players in the world split up in different venues, I truly believe that the PGA Tour will be a better product for the players, fans and sponsors because of the (competition).” — Former PGA Tour regular Daniel Summerhays
“Even though I don’t really like to see some of the best players in the world split up in different venues, I truly believe that the PGA Tour will be a better product for the players, fans and sponsors because of the (competition),” Summerhays said. “I believe the competitive nature of the (new rivalry) will bring out the best, if that makes sense.”
Of course, Summerhays, 38, was referring to the controversy that has dominated professional golf the past several months: An upstart pro golf circuit being bankrolled by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund and officially called the LIV Golf International Series has lured several big-name golfers away from the PGA Tour, which has been the highest level of pro golf for almost a century.
Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed, Pat Perez, Kevin Na, Sergio Garcia, Louis Oosthuizen and Bryson DeChambeau have joined, or will join soon, among others. Two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson is rumored to be considering it as well.
Johnson, 37, No. 15 in the official World Golf Rankings, reportedly received $125 million from the LIV to leave the PGA Tour and play in eight events a year over the course of the next four years. He is the highest-ranked player to date to have made the move.
Mickelson, despite being 51 years old, will reportedly receive $200 million to make the break to LIV Golf, which is drawing considerable criticism because of the alleged widespread human rights violations committed by the Saudi Arabian government. Mickelson defended his decision again Monday in a U.S. Open news conference in Brookline, Massachusetts.
“It allows me to have more balance in my life. It allows me to do things that are off the golf course that I’ve always wanted to do,” he said. “I prioritize those that are important to me, people that are important to me going forward. This allows me to have more time with them and be more present.”
Despite the schism, the aforementioned stars will play in the U.S. Open this week at The Country Club near Boston, because the U.S. Open is sponsored by the United States Golf Association and not the PGA Tour. It should be an interesting, tense get-together, especially after PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan went on the CBS telecast of the RBC Canadian Open on Sunday and described the Saudi-funded league as a “series of exhibition matches” and accused it of spending billions of dollars on players without getting a return on its investment.
PGA Tour officials say LIV Golf is an attempt at “sportswashing” by the Saudi Arabian government to launder its reputation through golf.
“I would ask any player that has left, or any player that would ever consider leaving: ‘Have you ever had to apologize for being a member of the PGA Tour?’” Monahan said, three days after suspending the 17 PGA Tour members who competed in the inaugural event that was won by Charl Schwartzel at the Centurion Club outside London. Schwartzel banked a whopping $4.75 million for the win.
Meanwhile, McIlroy and third-place finisher Justin Thomas also took shots at LIV Golf, and specifically commissioner Greg Norman, who has 20 PGA Tour wins.
“This is a day I will remember for a long, long time,” McIlroy said. “Twenty-first PGA Tour win, one more than someone else (Norman). That gave me a little bit extra incentive today and I am happy to get it done.”
Utah’s Finau, who earned $948,000 for the runner-up finish, was apparently not asked about LIV Golf by reporters in Toronto after his best tournament of the 2021-22 season. Summerhays’ brother, Boyd, is Finau’s swing coach, but Daniel Summerhays said he has “no idea” what kind of stance Finau has taken on the new golf league.
“I haven’t talked to him about it at all,” Daniel Summerhays said.
Finau recently told Sports Illustrated’s Bob Harig that he has been contacted by LIV Golf, pretty much repeating what he told Golf Monthly last January.
“Competition is always going to be there at any level of any sport,” Finau told SI. “Now we are seeing that in golf. Whether this is a good or bad thing is going to be up to (personal) opinion. But having competition is a natural thing. It is a positive thing. There’s a lot of talk about it.
“It is something that me and my team continue to look at and what it looks like for us,” Finau continued. “It is a natural thing to have competition in sports and that’s what we’re seeing now with LIV Golf.”
Summerhays, who became a volunteer assistant coach for BYU’s men’s golf team in January but is undecided whether he will continue that role next year, said that McIlroy and Thomas are understandably more upset with the new league than he is because he hasn’t been on tour for several years. Still, he sees lots of problems with LIV Golf.
“When you have a fixed field every week, and there is no play in, or play out, it isn’t great,” Summerhays said. “I mean, you had guys last week (in LIV) shooting 30 over par almost. And you don’t have to compete for your spot every single week. I think the quality of golf could deteriorate.”
Summerhays believes the PGA Tour will continue to be the premier golf tour in the world.
“The PGA Tour produces the best players in the world because it is so competitive week to week to week, and it is a meritocracy, not a monopoly,” he said. “I think they have got that edge because they know that the cream actually will rise on the PGA Tour, instead of maybe on the LIV Tour, which is just kind of a little traveling group of exhibition matches, (which) is the way that Jay Monahan said it today.”
Would Summerhays consider joining LIV Golf if this happened six years ago, when he was in the prime of his tour career?
“I would have to think about it,” he said. “Financially, it sure sounds nice to really not have to worry about anything ever again, really, honestly, if you played well and signed a guaranteed contract. But at the same time, there is that little bit of drive in you that says you don’t want it easy, necessarily.”
Summerhays, who was third in the PGA Championship and tied for eighth in the U.S. Open in 2016, said he remains a big believer in the PGA Tour’s charitable efforts and hopes that never changes as purses and fields are scrutinized like never before.
“The PGA Tour does a lot in every community it goes into,” he said. “I don’t know the exact numbers, but I read something a couple years back that the PGA Tour has donated more to charity than all other professional sports combined. That’s a big deal.
“The tour has gone over $2 billion in charitable giving,” he continued. “I think sometimes people forget it is a nonprofit and does a lot of good. That’s kind of the purpose of it, and it is an incredible model. So it would be hard to leave.”
Professional golfers Daniel Summerhays and Tony Finau shake hands prior to playing a scramble Saturday, June 13, 2015, at Nibley Park Golf Course in Salt Lake City. Summerhays played with his son Jack and Finau played with Grace Summerhays, daughter of Boyd Summerhays.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News