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It was the iconic American basketball coach John Wooden who once said: “You are not a failure until you start blaming others for your mistakes.”

Charley Hoffman awakens this morning as a failure.

Following the second round of the Waste Management Phoenix Open, the four-time PGA Tour winner emptied a jerrycan onto the dumpster fire that is the tour’s relationship with some of its member players.

In a no-punches-pulled social media post, the 45-year-old complained about a second penalty stroke he incurred when he found water on the par-5 13th at TPC Scottsdale. After he took a penalty drop, Hoffman’s ball rolled back into the water, for which he was assessed another one-shot penalty.

“I was under the impression that the USGA had changed that rule,” he wrote. “I was wrong.”

He then proceeded to take aim at PGA Tour rules officials “for putting out a terrible penalty area line where this could even happen”, adding: “You wonder why guys are wanting to jump ship and go play on another tour. Players need transparency, protection and consistency.”

Bryson DeChambeau replied to say he agrees “wholeheartedly”. Phil Mickelson, who appears to have assumed the role of Antagonist-in-Chief, and who last week slaughtered the tour for its “obnoxious greed”, added: “I feel ya.”

But hold on a second.

This cabal of bleeding hearts appears to have overlooked something rather significant.

Hoffman admitted he didn’t know the rule. That’s on him. It’s his responsibility to know the rules by which he plays. That’s absolutely basic stuff. It was also his fault that he hit the ball in the water in the first place, but let’s move on.

The real issue here is not the what but the why. Why are PGA Tour players suddenly feeling not just confident but compelled to criticise the circuit? A circuit, lest anybody forget, that is the richest in the game by some distance and which has made the majority of its members rich beyond most people’s wildest dreams (526 millionaires and counting).

The answer, we can reasonably conclude, is jingling within the deep pockets of Saudi Arabia.

It is an open secret in golf that the ‘Kingdom’ has designs on revolutionising the professional game by creating a new breakaway circuit bankrolled by its Public Investment Fund (PIF). 

Created in 1971, PIF is one of the largest sovereign wealth funds in the world, with total estimated assets of more than $500 billion. For context, that’s more than 4,000 times the on-course career earnings of Tiger Woods.

Some of the investments include a $498.5m stake in Disney; a $713.7m stake in Boeing; a $522m stake in Facebook; a $827.7m stake in BP; and a $2.7bn stake in Uber. Last April, PIF was part of a consortium that bought Newcastle United Football Club in a deal reported to be worth £300m.

Creating a new product to rival the PGA Tour and DP World Tour is clearly beyond neither its wit nor its wealth. 

Talk of a so-called ‘Saudi Super League’ has been rife for the past couple of years, the wheels of which appear to have been greased through the Greg Norman-fronted LIV Golf Investments. This new body recently announced plans significant expansion plans for the Asian Tour, regarded by many as the opening salvo in professional golf’s power struggle.

Complicating matters, of course, is Saudi Arabia’s human rights record and concerns that the regime is using golf as a vehicle for ‘sportswashing’.

At the centre of all this are the game’s top players. According to reports, most, if not all, of the game’s top players have been approached with a view to them joining the breakaway circuit, with juicy carrots dangled in front of them. Yesterday, it was claimed that Bryson DeChambeau has been offered $240million to jump ship.

What does this have to do with Hoffman’s comments? Absolutely everything.

The game’s top players – say what you like about Hoffman, he’s the 92nd best golfer on the planet – have never had it so good. In one ear, they’ve got a new circuit with almost unfathomable wealth whispering sweet nothings. In the other, they’ve got their existing tour which is inventing new and ridiculous ways of putting more and more millions in their bank accounts. It’s obscene.

The new kids on the block, though, appear to be winning several of them over. 

Mickelson’s participation now seems inevitable; it’s questionable whether or not DeChambeau will still be involved with the PGA Tour in ten years’ time; and as for Hoffman? His status, too, is uncertain but he appears to be following Phil’s laughably ignorant “play the victim” lead.

I’m so, so sorry, PGA Tour, but you’re not leaving me much choice.

Sport might wash but this pathetic gaslighting doesn’t.

Take the Saudi money, don’t take the Saudi money – I honestly don’t care. Just don’t discredit an organisation that has been exceptionally good to you in order to justify your decision.

Watching some of the PGA Tour’s top players now bite the hand that has fed them so well for so long, it’s hard not to feel disappointed, disgusted, incredulous, you name it.

Nobody is saying the tour is above criticism but, frankly, these don’t feel like legitimate complaints. Phil Mickelson has taken issue with the amount of money the PGA Tour pays; it’s currently the most lucrative tour in the game. Charley Hoffman now has blasted it over the rules, which it doesn’t make and which, presumably, will be enforced on whatever this breakaway venture ends up being.

These aren’t credible protests. They’re poorly executed attempts at sabotaging the tour’s reputation to vindicate a decision they know will be unpopular. Unpopular because of Saudi Arabia’s reputation. Unpopular because it’s, patently, a move motivated by money.

What is most insulting is that they appear to believe the public – that’s you – are too blinded by their “celebrity” to see through their deliberately disingenuous B.S. They think you are too dumb, frankly, to understand that they are choosing to dodge the question.

“Tell me everything that’s good about this new tour.” 

“No, let me tell you everything that’s bad about the PGA Tour.”

It’s called justification by subversion and it’s a pillar of salt.

The PGA Tour, for all its shortcomings, deserves better and so do you.

Just own it, guys.

Make your bed, lie in it.

Is that too much to ask?

author headshot

Michael McEwan is the Deputy Editor of bunkered and has been part of the team since 2004. In that time, he has interviewed almost every major figure within the sport, from Jack Nicklaus, to Rory McIlroy, to Donald Trump. The host of the multi award-winning bunkered Podcast and a member of Balfron Golfing Society, Michael is the author of three books and is the 2023 PPA Scotland 'Writer of the Year' and 'Columnist of the Year'. Dislikes white belts, yellow balls and iron headcovers. Likes being drawn out of the media ballot to play Augusta National.

Deputy Editor

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