Could LIV Golf’s threat have been averted by a union? Former PGA champion Mark Brooks thinks so

AUSTIN, Texas – With all the debate and animosity that has surrounded the PGA Tour-LIV golf battle for the past 18 months, Austin-based 1996 PGA champion Mark Brooks wants to be clear about one thing: he is against any of the current golf leagues. But he insists he stands squarely in the corner of a group that hasn’t been collectively — rightly, in his eyes — represented by golf’s civil war.

“I’m a pro player,” Brooks said this week. “I’ve always been in the players’ corner. So many words have been thrown around. To use some classic terms, there were a lot of turf wars, just people trying to protect themselves and their own turf. But I’m not sure anything has been heard from the players overall.”

Brooks offers an interesting perspective on the current dispute. His 803 starts is the most of any player in PGA Tour history, so he is intimately familiar with tour life and the organization’s management style. But while he won seven times on the tour, including the big win at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, he also often hovered outside the top 50, meaning he was left off 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.

“You see, the Tour has always been pretty tough in a lot of ways. They kept the schedule really packed for the past 45 or 50 years from January through November, even though they knew they were going to lose to the NFL and college football every fall just to make sure no other unit came in and formed a seasonal tour . he said. “They didn’t want anyone else to barge in.”

That’s why Brooks was part of a movement in the 1990s that brought gamers together. The Tour Players Association, of which Brooks was treasurer, was not a union per se, but hoped to bring players together for collective bargaining. It eventually broke up, but the idea was to get numerous voices into the room.

Mark Brooks takes a picture during the 1996 Bob Hope Chrysler Classic in Palm Desert, California. Mandatory Credit: JD Cuban /Allsport

And now that the tour is taking a we-or-them approach with LIV Golf, Brooks believes the majority of players have lost their say, while some of the world’s top producers hold all the power.

Unlike other sports, all of which have unions, golfers have technically maintained independent contractor status and therefore have not cooperated.

“That’s why we’ve been trying to bring 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 make the decisions. There were many players who were not invited to this room.

“You alienated a lot of people. There are many dissatisfied sponsors, tournament directors and half the players are confused or worried about their future.”

Brooks believes the PGA Tour’s reactionary approach, 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 help. It no longer affects him. He’s now knee deep in a number of other projects including his hospitality project 803 Golf that welcomes guests to the University of Texas Golf Club.

But, Brooks said, the current system of a PGA Tour Players’ Council offers little more than appeasement for players outside the top 15 in the world rankings.

However, this could have been prevented if the dressing had remained intact.

“In my opinion, a players’ association could have shot down LIV Golf in a mature, coherent manner. Guys wouldn’t break the union. Are All Unions Great? No. But their premise is to protect the worker,” he said. “And what you have now is a bunch of people protecting themselves and a bunch of others without really saying anything.”

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek

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