On Sunday 10 April, world number one golfer Scottie Scheffler cemented his place in the history of the sport as he became the latest icon to win the coveted Masters, arguably golf’s premier competition.
The American finished ten under at the stunning Augusta National, leaving a late surging Rory McIlroy and compatriot Cameron Smith trailing.
As is custom, he was handed the iconic green jacket and will no doubt be celebrating long into the month.
For golf, the Masters is a truly figurehead tournament. It’s as recognisable as it is tricky to play, and its long history and tradition is one of world sports’ most enduring.
And so, for the last few weeks or so, in the build up to and the delivery of it, the golfing world has been united.
But so far in 2022, that’s scarcely been the case.
Earlier this year, veteran star Greg Norman was unveiled as the figurehead of a Saudi-backed $300million investment from LIV Golf Investments into the Asian Tour, something he described as "only the beginning", with the former world No 1 also expected to become the commissioner of a new breakaway Super Golf League (SGL).
While some – including the Aramco Team Series – have been announced, the entire landscape of tournaments and formats is still being created, though reportedly over $1.5billion has been made available to attract the highest quality field the sport has ever seen.
Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Bryson DeChambeau, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Brooks Koepka, Collin Morikawa, Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson, however, are among those who have pledged allegiance to the PGA, but others look set to join and the financial package remains attractive to young talent.
The deadline for PGA players to request release for the first Aramco event was the 25th April, while those on the DP World Tour must apply for release by 10th May.
Phil Mickelson, meanwhile, found himself in the eye of a public relations storm after announcing his intention to join, before backtracking, and then finally requesting release from the PGA Tour for the first Aramco event.
Elsewhere, new Name Image Likeness rules in college sport and the NCAA is creating division within the US amateur game, while tradition and outdated custom are leading some to call for rapid reform across the sport.
Political jostling is nothing new in sport, however.
For years, the professional game has found itself at the behest of geopolitics, nation-making, and social influences, and as we continue apace through a period of intense globalisation, the fragmentation of global sport is likely to increase exponentially. Ultimately, governing bodies will find it harder and harder to maintain control.
But what’s often forgotten, however, is the impact that can have on the welfare of the athletes that lie at the very heart of it all.
Golf – as with many other sports – sits at a crossroads, and the forces that will dictate the next steps of the game takes are likely to impact on the careers of those at both the start and end of their careers.
As column inches on the topics grow, and views become more divisive, veterans of the game are in the firing line for sponsorship opportunities, media deals and even their own mental health, while young golfers’ burgeoning career paths are now littered with complex and layered hurdles that are not easily navigated alone.
A young star might – for example – have to tackle life-changing earning potential, traditional prestige and respect, and even complicated ethical questions when ultimately, all they want to do is play at the highest possible level.
The PGA Tour is no longer the sole course of travel, but alternate routes carry both risk and reward in equally unknown measure.
And while more competitions and opportunities will be a benefit to many golfers, it’s important to be cognisant of the potential impact to contractual complexity.
We’ve already seen – and written about at length – the impact that a fragmented T20 competition landscape in cricket has had on the ‘freelance’ player, as they bounce from short term agreement to short term agreement. With injury and form both at the behest of fate, the risk profile increases. Golf now faces a similar situation.
Of course, the coming months remain crucial – and regardless of the sport’s political landscape, players must ensure they – and their advisors – remain considerate of how these changes impact their insurance protection and long-term financial planning.
At Miller, we’re proud to support athletes across the entire sporting spectrum. Our in-depth campaign with Sport Industry Group on player welfare continues, and we’re here to help athletes navigate every potential challenge – much like Scottie at this year’s sun-baked Augusta.