Lynch: The PGA Tour is facing the toughest decision with LIV Golf. Should players be making that call?

Only in politics and professional golf can one hear an arsonist share his impassioned vision for the rebuild he rendered necessary. So it was Monday when player-directors on the PGA Tour’s board met Yasir Al-Rumayyan, who as head of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund has single-handedly financed the ravaging of the sport. A day later, two golfers on either side of the schism he created indicated how they’re reconciled (or not) to the consequences of their decisions.

Jon Rahm, one of Al-Rumayyan’s more expensive firestarters, offered a positive pitch for the Tour he left. “It was fun to watch, and what a finish. Jesus Christ, that was one that was fun to watch,” he said of the Players Championship, before admitting he has watched other tournaments that he’s no longer eligible to play, three of which he won last season. “It’s gut-wrenching to watch, but it made for great TV, and it was really fun.”

Picture the reigning Masters champion watching the action from home, then juxtapose that with the widely-circulated image of him playing a LIV event in Jeddah with not a spectator in sight. Asked about a subsequent LIV stop in Hong Kong, Rahm praised the people and the food. He is a competitor reduced to a concierge. His brave face notwithstanding, there was a poignant note in his comments about moving to LIV Golf. “It’s done. It’s past. It’s a decision I made, and I’m comfortable with it,” he said. “But I’m hoping I can come back.”

Rahm gives the impression of someone convinced he was going to be a one-man catalyst, that his departure would be a shock so seismic that every faction in golf would hasten toward reunification. By now, he must realize that a path back to the PGA Tour is not yet paved and that, bar four weeks a year, he will be competing before sparse galleries for the foreseeable.

His words struck a dissonant chord against those of Xander Schauffele, a leading man in the Players drama Rahm enjoyed from his couch. ”I’m very content with where I sit right now,” Schauffele said. “I don’t have any regrets of what I’ve done or what I’m doing, so I’m sleeping just fine at night knowing where I stand.”

Their respective comments illustrate the only constant in recent years: golfers making decisions based wholly on self-interest and where they are in their careers, not for any more noble motive, and certainly not for the well-being of the tours from which they earned a stout living. As competitors, golfers ought to be selfish and focus on themselves. But that trait is also why they shouldn’t be positioned to heavily influence decisions that have enormous ramifications for the PGA Tour’s broader business.

Just such a decision is nearing.

I asked someone who was in the room for the Al-Rumayyan meeting in the Bahamas to characterize it. “Weather today was partly sunny with scattered but significant clouds,” came the response. No cloud looms more ominously than the issue of how (or if) LIV golfers return to the PGA Tour in any peace deal. It’s a divisive topic, even among Tour loyalists.

Rory McIlroy’s suggestion that they come back without sanction was quickly poo-pooed by Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler, while Scottie Scheffler — not a man prone to pettiness — said that a welcome might never be extended to guys who litigated against the Tour. Tempting as it may be to exclude Phredo Mickelson and Bryson DeChambeau, lines can’t be drawn around individuals based on their popularity in the locker room.

This dilemma isn’t just procedural (What status would LIV guys have? Must they re-earn eligibility? Are they to be excluded from bonus pools for a period?) it’s also personal. Not in the sense of animosity, but in advantage. No Tour member has to best Rahm or Cameron Smith to win a tournament these days. No one is seeing a FedEx Cup bonus that might otherwise be theirs go to Brooks Koepka or Dustin Johnson. None of the rank-and-file struggling for starts are missing out because Graeme McDowell or Sergio Garcia got the call instead.

If you ask John Henry — the leader of Strategic Sports Group, which just invested $1.5 billion in the Tour — he might argue that his product would be measurably improved if the aforementioned defectors were in the fold again. But despite the pablum about unifying the game and seeing the best compete together again, many Tour members are disincentivized to see that happen. Which is why active players should not be on this jury. What’s best for individual members — even a large constituency of them — isn’t necessarily best for the Tour’s commercial prospects. But convincing members of a “member-led” organization that their interests are not the same as the Tour’s interests is akin to persuading Irish republicans that their best future lies in allegiance to the British monarchy.

The equity being distributed to players is an opportunity to reset the parameters of their role in Tour governance. They are shareholders, not owners. Activist shareholders, sure, but not the ultimate decision-makers. That distinction was lost when players used discord over the secretive Framework Agreement to demand a built-in majority on the board, which they also hold at the new for-profit entity, PGA Tour Enterprises. Ask folks if they’d rather see Jay Monahan or Patrick Cantlay make decisions about the direction of a multi-billion dollar enterprise, you’d likely hear a chorus of ‘Neither!’ Players will be compromised in many future decisions, executives were compromised by past calls. But at least executives don’t have their own competitive skin in the game.

“I don’t think anyone has sort of the right answer to keep everyone happy,” Schauffele said a few days ago. He’s right. But that’s an argument for avoiding a scenario in which players prioritize their happiness over what’s best for the Tour and the greater game. We’ve seen more than enough of how that usually works out.

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek