LIV Golf has reason to feel good about itself, but where does the sport go from here? | Golf News and Tour Information
Yasir bin Othman Al-Rumayyan, a senior Saudi government official, pressed the flesh during the glitzy trophy ceremony. It was the Saudis and their vast reserves of oil money that started LIV. Al-Rumayyan’s preppy Western attire and impeccable manners did not hint at the atrocities his government has repeatedly committed. LIV frontman Greg Norman acted as emcee during the ceremony. All that mess lurked below the surface, like a turgid shark, because the feeling at the trophy ceremony was celebratory. Fueled by great food and beer offered at reasonable prices in the Spectator Village, the fans were loud and rowdy. (The final round was billed as a sold-out sale, although free tickets were available ahead of the tournament.)
In a cute touch, LIV presented trophies to the top three finalists in the individual and team competitions, and the assembled players beamed with giddy Christmas morning and exchanged incredulous glances that could be interpreted as Holy shit – it really worked! It was disconcerting to figure it all out, a reminder that in this complicated time for professional golf, many things can be true at once: It’s impressive what LIV has built from the ground up in a short time; the Saudi money and palpable greed of the players is disgusting in the extreme; a 54-hole tournament with a shotgun start sounds odd, but it’s always a pleasure to watch accomplished golfers battle it out with a tough course with something at stake; in the space of a week, LIV has captured the bulk of the clout in the battle for the future of golf, some three decades after Norman first floated the idea of a world tour independent ; the monolithic, monopolistic PGA Tour is sort of the underdog now.
“The evolution of the game of golf has arrived,” Norman said at the awards ceremony. “LIV is alive. For 27 years, many obstacles have stood in our way. There have been many crushed dreams. But they couldn’t crush us. Golf was always going to be a force for good. The fans wanted that. We wanted this for you. We wanted that for the players, we wanted that for the caddies, for the families of the players.
As was the case throughout the week of the tournament, the action on the course was overshadowed by larger developments. Schwartzel had a five-shot lead at the turn of the final round, making it easier to focus on breaking news that Patrick Reed and Pat Perez are the latest players to leave the PGA Tour to join LIV. This followed Bryson DeChambeau’s similar announcement the previous day. LIV has now gained a critical mass of Hall of Famers (Phil Mickelson and, one day, Dustin Johnson), major championship winners (Schwartzel, DeChambeau, Reed, Sergio Garcia, Martin Kaymer, Graeme McDowell and Louis Oosthuizen) and personalities thorny ones that generate conversation (Perez, Ian Poulter, Kevin Na and Lee Westwood). Rumors are circulating that Harold Varner III and Jason Kokrak are next; they’re not stars, but that sort of established veteran is important to fill the 48-player fields and crush some of the unknowns that shook LIV’s credibility in its opening event. The Pat Perezes of the world also bring respectable positions on the World Rankings, making it increasingly difficult for the OWGR folks to keep denying points at LIV events. (This is a key point, as world ranking is the key metric for players to advance to major championships.) More players are sure to jump in as good word of mouth spreads among their peers.
In London, players appreciated the shorter workweek and the casual, nonconformist feel of the tournament. They especially loved money. Carrying Schwartzel (including the $750,000 for his share of the winning team) would have placed him 29th on the 2020-21 PGA Tour money list for the season. Hennie du Plessis, 25, who finished second, took home $2.875 million in individual and team cash, nearly double what the winner of this week’s Canadian Open on the PGA Tour will claim, and that triples Du Plessiss’ world earnings. Journeyman Peter Uihlein won $1,050,000 for finishing fourth, more than seven times what he has earned in 15 PGA Tour starts this year. Money was mentioned endlessly during streaming coverage of the final round, because what else did this soulless tournament have to offer?
“It’s a business,” says McDowell, who once sounded like a golf romantic. “Yeah, we love the sport, we love the competition, but the scholarship we play every week, the appearance money, you know, we run a business here. It’s like the sacrifice we make by being away from our families – I hate to use the word “sacrifice”. We are all here playing golf for a living; it’s a pretty sweet life. But still, you’re away from your family 30, 35 weeks [per year playing the PGA or European Tour]. It must be worth it financially. Otherwise, it’s a big sacrifice you’re making for no reason. You always weigh in from a business perspective: what is the best financial outcome for my time spent? »
That’s the cold, harsh reality facing PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan, who was clearly foiled by Norman, a man much more comfortable working in the shadows. Monahan thought he had a hammer in threatening PGA Tour members with suspensions if they defected to LIV, but Johnson and others quit their memberships with minimal regret. DJ will now make more money playing half as often, in what could be interpreted as the American dream. (For top players, weekly tournaments have always been packed between the majors, and LIV just made that clear.) What will Johnson, a noted boater and occasional Tik Tok star, do with all that free time? “Anything I want,” he said. Of course, that kind of recklessness is only possible if you don’t think about the source of the money that buys all that freedom. And given that professional golfers have long competed in Saudi Arabia, China, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, they clearly aren’t inclined to worry about who signs the checks, which Schwartzel confirmed on Saturday. “Where the money comes from is not something I’ve ever looked at playing a 20-year career,” he said. “If you start studying all the places I’ve played, you could find flaws in anything.”
Schwartzel, McDowell, Poulter and Westwood are not on the court, but a few LIV attendees will now travel to Boston for next week’s US Open. Surely Monahan hoped the majors would close ranks and ban LIV players, but a turf war between competing tours isn’t the fight of the USGA (or the PGA of America or the Royal & Ancient or of Augusta National). Schwartzel may have earned a historically high salary, but during the winner’s press conference he managed to keep some perspective, saying, “The majors are what define our careers. The major pressure is definitely different. Money is one thing, but in the majors you play for prestige, for history.
It’s a strange thought. Old-fashioned, even. Now more than ever, money is what makes the world of golf go round. Lots of money was won at this first LIV event. But it was as if the sport had also lost something.