The match is heading home for the holidays, but one of the founding members won’t be there to celebrate.
According to longtime friend and Match executive producer Brian Zoref, Phil Mickelson is no longer involved with the made-for-TV event.
“I love Phil and he’s been an incredible part of this. He’s gone where he’s gone, and we’re in touch with the PGA Tour,” Zoref told golf. So I mean, this is a PGA Tour event.”
Mickelson, who has competed in four editions of The Match, was the beating heart of the event. He was a natural fit for The Match’s wall-to-wall approach, and his charisma and free nature made him the ideal figure for the event driven more by his star power than his golf prowess. In early iterations of the match, Mickelson has been instrumental in helping the event capture the sport in the soft, gentle light Zoref envisioned.
Now, however, Mickelson is the king of LIV Golf, and The Match is in need of a new anchor.
“Unfortunately, he left the tour, and it’s unfortunate that he did something like this,” Zurev said.
While The Match is not owned or operated by the PGA Tour, there have been a few factors that drive its allegiance to golf’s biggest tour. The first, perhaps unsurprisingly, is money. The Match is a commercial boon for Turner Sports, which broadcasts the event to huge audiences due to surprisingly low overheads. For Turner, PGA Tour players are an easy sell to advertisers, making it easier for the network to make a profit from broadcasting.
“I look at The Match like saying ‘We’re doing an event in one day that costs a Many Less than LIV spends in a year, and more people are watching us than they are,” Zoref said. “I think we’re very smart with our business plan.”
The sources said that the recent acquisition of Warner Bros. Discovery on Turner Sports also played a role. The merger with Discovery, which has its own 12-year, $2 billion international deal with broadcast rights with the PGA Tour, made Turner and the Tour indirect partners. Had Turner pursued golfers LIV for The Match, it would undoubtedly create a conflict of interest they Presidents, Warner Bros. Leadership Team Discovery, the same folks who will be paying the PGA Tour about $175 million in rights fees this year.
Zoref said the condition of the golf was also a factor. From the outset, Zoref viewed The Match as an opportunity for golf to grow with younger audiences. The goal, he now says, is to make an event “additive” to the golf space, “not a combative event.” Within the first six iterations, this effort was largely successful.
“We will probably get more media attention with The Match than with any other golf event other than Augusta,” he says. “This is madness.”
In charting a course forward, Zurev wanted to remain true to that initial goal, even if it meant Mickelson could not participate.
“It’s just a problem because he’s been just such a great partner for so long,” Zurev said. “But that is a choice that he has made. He understands that when you make these choices, certain things are sacrificed. And that is one of the things that is sacrificed.”
Mickelson’s departure may be a disappointment Those around The Match, including Zuriff, have shared excitement over the line-up set for December 10, which they say brings the event’s long-term future into better focus.
This winter match event will be only the second iteration – after the original, Tiger vs. Phil – To feature professional golfers only, it pits Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy against childhood friends Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth. Moving forward, Zoref says, the goal is to have two annual editions of matches: one with guest celebrities in the warm-weather months, and one with professional golfers in the cooler-weather months.
“It’s important that we play real golf in the fall/winter,” said Zurev. “I think the summer is making room for more celebrity-led events with the big names. I think with that, we’ve established franchising.”
Zoref could not have chosen a better crew to lead The Match to the new rhythm. McIlroy is the newly-oldest statesman on the tour, while Thomas and Spieth are two of the sport’s most beloved figures. Woods, of course, is still Tiger Woods, which should assuage any concerns Turner executives had about the event’s ratings.
“I think you know, one of the reasons we get the big stars to do it on the PGA Tour is because they see how the game evolves,” he said. “When people talk authentically about game development – I think they can be very proud of game development through this franchise.”
However, the bigger question, which all four golfers will soon answer, is whether The Match can recapture some of the magic that carried it to early success in 2018 and ’20. In those early iterations, The Match has captured the attention of both the world of Sports and the world of golf. In recent years, the hype has kept up, but the originality has suffered from some. In a return to “real golf,” Zurev appears to be seeking to win over the hardcore public again.
But even if golf falls flat, Zurev says there’s a reason every golf fan should be counting down the days until December 10, which is—you guessed it—LIV. It’s been an interesting year for golf, and with Charles Barkley once again joining the broadcast along with four PGA Tour opponents, there’s at least one thing this match is sure to have in abundance: opinions.
“You really get a chance to hear what these people must have thought about everything that happened in the last year.”