AUSTIN, Texas — With all the discussion and animosity that’s surrounded the PGA Tour-LIV Golf battle over the last 18 months, Austin resident and 1996 PGA Champion Mark Brooks wants to make sure he’s clear about one thing: he’s not against either of the current golf leagues. But he insists he is squarely in the corner of a group that hasn’t been collectively represented — at least properly, in his eyes — through golf’s civil war.
“I’m pro-player,” Brooks said this week. “I’ve always been in the corner of the players. There have been so many words thrown around. To use some classic terms, there have been a lot of turf wars, just people trying to protect themselves and their own turf. But I’m not sure the players, overall, have been heard from.”
Brooks offers an interesting perspective on the current squabble. His 803 starts are the most by any player in PGA Tour history, so he’s well-versed in Tour life and the organization’s management style. But while he did win seven times on Tour, including the major victory at Louisville’s Valhalla Golf Club, he also often hovered outside the top 50, meaning he’d be omitted from the current list of designated events.
What Brooks sees in the current landscape is a shift from the Tour’s authoritarian style to a few top players holding all the cards. None of this is surprising, he said. But it could have been avoided.
“Look, the Tour has always been pretty heavy-handed in a lot of ways. They kept the schedule really full from January through November for the last 45 or 50 years, even knowing they’d lose to the NFL and college football each fall, just to make sure another entity didn’t come in and form a seasonal tour,” he said. “They didn’t want anyone else swooping in.”
That is why Brooks was part of a movement to pull players together back in the 1990s. The Tour Players Association, of which Brooks was the treasurer, wasn’t a union, per se, but was hoping to bring players together to collectively bargain. It ultimately disbanded, but the idea was to get numerous voices in the room.
And now, with the Tour using an us-or-them approach with LIV Golf, Brooks thinks the majority of players have lost their say, with a few of the world’s top producers holding all the power.
Unlike other sports, which all have labor unions, golfers have technically maintained independent contractor status, and thus haven’t worked together.
“This is why we tried to put the players association together, for the very reasons that are happening now,” Brooks said. “We’ve seen a mini-coup on the PGA Tour, where 10 percent of the players are making the decisions. There were lots of players not invited into that room.
“They have alienated a lot of people. There are a lot of unhappy sponsors, tournament directors and half the players are confused or worried about their future.”
Brooks thinks the reactionary approach taken by the PGA Tour, with commissioner Jay Monahan ceding power to a group led by Rory McIlroy and others, has led to decisions that will ultimately hurt more players than it will help. It doesn’t impact him any longer. He’s now knee-deep in a number of other projects, including his 803 Golf hospitality project that welcomes guests to the University of Texas Golf Club.
But, Brooks said, the current system with a PGA Tour players advisory council offers little more than placation for those players outside the top 15 in the world rankings.
This could have been averted, however, if the association would have remained intact.
“A players association, in my opinion, could have shot down LIV Golf in an adult, cohesive manner. Guys wouldn’t bust the union. Are all unions great? No. But their premise is to protect the worker,” he said. “And what you have now is a few people protecting themselves and a number of others without any real say.”