Martin Laird insists PGA Tour deal with PIF isn't 'make or break' for golf

Scot reckons US circuit will ‘still be strong in ten years’ if ongoing bid for game to be unified fails

Martin Laird, a four-time PGA Tour winner, joked that he’s unlikely to have any “sway or power” in the decision but, nonetheless, the Scot offered an interesting opinion about whether a unified game involving LIV Golf was a necessity for the sport going forward.

Speaking as he prepared to tee up in this week’s 50th anniversary of The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Florida, Laird offered the perspective of a seasoned campaigner on the US circuit about ongoing talks involving the PGA Tour, DP World Tour and Saudi Arabia ‘s Public Investment Fund.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“I mean, I think that’s the healthiest, yes,” said the 41-year-old, speaking to The Scotsman in Ponte Vedra Beach, of a widely-held view that the best thing for the game going forward is a unified landscape that sees the top players from the traditional tours playing against the LIV Golf players on stages other than the four majors.

Martin Laird in action during the Puerto Rico Open at Grand Reserve Golf Club in Rio Grande, Puerto Rico. Picture: Andy Lyons/Getty Images.Martin Laird in action during the Puerto Rico Open at Grand Reserve Golf Club in Rio Grande, Puerto Rico. Picture: Andy Lyons/Getty Images.
Martin Laird in action during the Puerto Rico Open at Grand Reserve Golf Club in Rio Grande, Puerto Rico. Picture: Andy Lyons/Getty Images.

“But does it have to be? No. I don’t think golf is going to disappear and all the fans are going to stop watching. Is it maybe a better position where all the top players are playing against each other more regularly? Yeah. But I don’t think it’s a make or break. I think either way, the PGA Tour is still going to be strong in ten years.”

Speaking on Tuesday, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan insisted that negotiations with PIF are “accelerating” and said a deal with the Saudi wealth fund would be the “best outcome” for the game, which has already attracted a huge investment from Strategic Sports Group.

“I think it helps that there’s so many good young players and so much talent,” added Laird as he continued to explain why he believes the game isn’t necessarily at a crossroads. “If this was maybe 30 years ago and ten of the top 20 players in the world left, that would be a different story.

“People are always asking me ‘you’ve been out there a while, so what’s the biggest difference?’ Hands down, it’s strength in depth. I mean, every single person who has a full card out here is really freaking good. Globally, there are so many good players. It wasn’t as though players were bad in the past but, let’s say 20 years ago, I don’t think every player in the field could win. Whereas now everyone can do that and you see it. Just look at the guys who have won this year. Nick Dunlap, who won The American Express as an amateur, for example. There’s so many good 20-25 year olds right now, it’s unbelievable. The talent is there. It’s just torn a bit where all the talent is playing.”

Laird, who is flying the Saltire with Bob MacIntyre in this week’s milestone edition of the PGA Tour’s flagship event, let out a laugh when he was asked about some of the shenanigans that have been going on in the sport over the past couple of years after it being a relatively peaceful environment prior to that.

“I follow along obviously. I’m interested and it obviously affects me being out here. But I kind of just watch it from afar,” he said, smiling, which is probably about right when you are talking about someone who has never been on social media. “I’m going to have no sway or power in any decision in golf and I’m okay with that, so no-one needs to hear my opinion (laughing).

“I’ll just watch from afar and listen to comments. Agree and disagree quietly to what people say. But, as I was saying to someone the other day, I get there’s a lot of change but, in terms of the talent in golf right now, there’s maybe never been a better time.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

In contrast to MacIntyre, who is teeing up on the Stadium Course for just the second time, Laird is making his 14th appearance here, having tied for second behind Matt Kuchar in 2012 before sharing fifth spot 12 months later as Tiger Woods landed the coveted title for a second time. “This is obviously a great event and it’s always fun to be here,” said Laird. “The course is in great shape, as it normally is, and I think we’ve finally got some decent weather for the March tournament.

“The rough this year is very thick. The priority all week is getting the ball on the short stuff and the course is only going to get firmer so it’s going to get tougher as the week goes on. It’s a proper test. There’s no hiding place around here. You’ve got to do everything well. You can’t get away with just chipping and putting well. You’ve got to do the whole thing - tee to green, around the green. Everything has to be so good because the greens are also rapid, so you’ve got to be on your game.”

Laird’s game has been pretty decent in recent weeks, having recorded top-ten finishes in both Cognizant Classic in The Palm Beaches and the Puerto Rico Open. “It’s a good week coming in as I’ve played nice the last couple of weeks and I am feeling a little bit more confident as a result of that,” he said. “You know, in the WM Phoenix Open, which was my last event before I went to the Cognizant Classic, I played better as the week went on and my caddie said my last nine holes there maybe the best nine holes he’d seen me play. I was absolutely striping it and it’s kind of nice leaving a tournament feeling like your game is going in the right direction.

“I then had a couple of weeks off before going to the Cognizant Classic and I’d say the biggest difference the last couple of weeks has been my short game as it’s been really good. I didn’t feel I played great last week but finished tenth, which can happen sometimes when your short game is really good.”

As compatriot and good friend Russell Knox lost his full card, Laird just hung on to his by finishing 114th in the Fall Series. “Last year, I was battling a couple of injuries early in the year,” he said. “I had a really bad right elbow and the first three or four tournaments I played, I really shouldn’t have played as I could hardly hold the golf club. But we are too stubborn to take time off and we think ‘nah, I’ve got to go and play and it will be fine’. Then when my elbow started to feel a bit better, my swing was horrendous because I had played for two months hardly holding on with my right hand.

“I was really annoyed at that as I know better than to try to play through that and I was a bit impatient. But, from June last year, I really started to play better again, better than my results showed. I then had a nice finish, tying for second, in the 3M and took a lot of confidence from that then went on played pretty solid in the Fall to keep my top 125 status, which I was really happy about as I feel I played terrible for five months last year, even though I took positives from still being able to finish 114.”

Knox, who lives in Jacksonville, played in his local event nine years in a row from 2014 and tied for sixth two years ago. It’s a sore one for him to be missing out on this occasion. “Russell is one of my good friends and I saw him last week,” said Laird. “It’s never a good year to lose your card but this is the worst year ever to finish in that 126-150 because they are just not getting in any events. But that’s what the tour wanted. They wanted stronger fields more consistently and they’ve got it. You just need to look at the guys who are not getting in tournaments. So they’ve got what they wanted, but it’s a shame for the guys who would maybe normally get 17-20 starts and they might only get 8-10 this year.”