Rory McIlroy And Rickie Fowler To Play Primetime Exhibition Match

Fake primetime golf in the United States is back!

More than a decade removed from the last iterations of Monday Night Golf on ABC or Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf on Golf Channel, the Associated Press reported on Monday, citing a source familiar with negotiations, that an exhibition match between Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler is being finalized for the week before the U.S. Open at Oakmont. 

Quicken Loans is finalizing details for a match involving Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler a week before the U.S Open, a person familiar with the negotiations told The Associated Press on Monday.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the match has not been announced.

The match would be at Detroit Golf Club on June 7, the Tuesday before U.S. Open week begins at Oakmont outside of Pittsburgh.

The first two hours would be televised live by Golf Channel, followed by the 9-11 p.m. slot shown live on CBS. It was not clear how many holes would be broadcast under the lights.

The exhibition is supposedly pairing McIlroy and Fowler with celebrity teammates in a ‘Team Rory’ vs. ‘Team Rickie’ format. 

While everyone loves those old-school made-for-television exhibitions, the nature and timing of the newest version is interesting to say the least. The last few of those made-for-TV spectacles aired right around the same time the PGA Tour signed it’s first Tiger-centric television deals in 2001, going into effect in 2003. Therefore, it’s probably not a coincidence that these televised duels have gone away during a period of time when so much money was being paid by the television partners for the solitary rights to broadcast PGA Tour events.

Talking in hypotheticals, tournaments and sponsors want the biggest names (ie. the biggest draws) to play in their events. If there were more money grabs available to the biggest stars for one day of work — which these exhibitions have proven to provide in the past — it would stand to reason that the “less-than” Tour events would suffer as collateral damage. In turn, the TV ratings would go down, giving the PGA Tour less leverage in future negotiations.

Which brings us to Rory vs. Rickie. The future of made-for-TV exhibitions need to be charitable endeavors (read: not very beneficial financially for the players). This way, players aren’t making side money that would dissuade them from playing in other PGA Tour events, which leads to better ratings, which leads to bigger TV contracts down the road. The circle of cash keeps spinning.

With Quicken Loans on board as a presenting sponsor of the reported Rory vs. Rickie match, you get an established PGA Tour partner offering to put something together with PGA Tour rights holders Golf Channel and CBS on board as well.

It’s a win-win for everybody, except perhaps, the players. But look closer.

Rory and Rickie will be great, but why not cash in on the Big 3 and get Rory vs. Jordan Spieth, for example? As Doug Ferguson adroitly points out in his report, Fowler has a personal endorsement deal with Quicken Loans, so his palms are getting greased, which flips the script as it pertains to Rory. Then comes in this nugget, “Fowler last year played in the Irish Open to help out McIlroy because of McIlroy’s involvement.” 

Consider this McIlroy returning the favor. 

Everyone is making out clean here. The PGA Tour is allowing this event to be televised on its rights holders’ networks without the undo risk of weakening other fields and therefore its negotiation leverage; Quicken Loans, already a PGA Tour partner, is getting Fowler to play — at least in part — as a stipulation of his endorsement deal; and McIlroy is paying back a debt owed to Rickie for playing in the Irish Open. 

How ever the back room workings were justified, the bottom line is that it means a marquee made-for-TV match up with two of the biggest stars in the game on a Tuesday night in June.

We all win.