NORTHERN PLAINS: The new LIV Golf Invitational series and its upcoming event at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club have already generated plenty of drama. When the players play the Portland-area field on Thursday afternoon, it will mark the beginning of a weekend of firsts.
Not only will the event be a first in North America for the new Saudi-backed league, it will also represent the debut of several prominent golfers who have helped give it credibility. Several of those players defended their decision to join LIV Golf during an interview session with reporters on Tuesday, when they were faced with questions about the tour’s connections to human rights violations and how it will fit into the future of golf.
Four-time Major champion Brooks Koepka, 2020 US Open champion Bryson DeChambeau and 2018 Masters champion Patrick Reed represent three of the most recent players to make the leap from the PGA Tour. The trio was joined by Abraham Ancer and Matthew Wolff, other PGA Tour winners who are 32 or younger.
His arrival represented a major victory for LIV Golf in its ongoing dispute with the PGA Tour, which has announced it will suspend any player taking the course at an LIV event. Tensions escalated further Tuesday when the PGA Tour announced a partnership with the DP World Tour, a move made public as Dechambeau, Ancer and Wolff were speaking at Pumpkin Ridge.
It is a little secret that the main reason for defections has to do with money. DeChambeau, at least, did not hide that. He called his move a “business decision.” Both the and Koepka, along with Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson, reportedly received contracts worth more than $100 million to join the new tour.
“For me it was a personal business decision,” DeChambeau said. “I run and operate my golf as a business, as well as wanting to be one of the best players in the world.”
The source of that money has been the main cause of the controversy surrounding LIV Golf. The league is funded by the Public Investment Fund, Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund. Critics have accused the Saudi government of trying to use LIV Golf to “wash sports”, enhancing its reputation by distracting attention from its record of human rights abuses. That includes the death of Fallon Smart, the 15-year-old Portland resident who was struck and killed by the car of Abdulrahman Sameer Noorah, a Saudi citizen, in August 2016. Noorah escaped to Saudi Arabia and was never tried.
North Plains Mayor Teri Lenahan joined the mayors of 10 other Washington County cities in signing a letter expressing her opposition to LIV Golf coming to Pumpkin Ridge. Oregon Senator Ron Wyden has spoken. And last month, a group of nearly 2,500 survivors and family members of those killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks wrote an open letter to PGA Tour players thanking them for staying loyal to the tour and not joining LIV Golf.
DeChambeau, Koepka and others were asked if they had any qualms about where their lucrative contracts came from, and unlike previous interview sessions, the journalists were not eliminated. In exchanges that at times turned combative, each dismissed concern. “We’re just golfers” became a constant refrain.
“They’re allowed to have their opinions,” Koepka said, when asked about critics of LIV Golf. We have heard it. I think everyone has. It has been raised. But look, like we said, our only job is to go play golf, and that’s all we’re trying to do.”
DeChambeau, at least, was aware that LIV Golf’s financial backing is a touchy subject and said he plans to use his lucrative new paychecks, and the increased time between events, to give back to the community.
“It wasn’t just a, ‘Oh, I’m selfish and I take all this,’” DeChambeau said. “It was more like, ‘How can this be good for the people around me?’ Now that I have this opportunity in front of me, what can I do well with it in my community in California, where I grew up, and in many other junior and potential golf events and areas in the future?
Players were much more willing to talk about the less controversial differences between LIV Golf and the PGA Tour, in particular, as DeChambeau alluded to, a more player-friendly schedule that includes just eight events in 2022.
They also noticed some other new wrinkles that will be on display this week. The Portland event will feature three rounds of 18-hole competition, as opposed to the four-day, 72-hole format at PGA Tour events. A shotgun start will cause the entire course to start at the same time, spread over different holes. Golfers will also be grouped into teams of four, with the top three teams at the end of the event receiving cash prizes.
The controversy surrounding LIV Golf and its US debut is unlikely to dissipate once the tournament begins. But Reed expects the tag team competition, as well as Pumpkin Ridge itself, to provide plenty of drama inside the ropes.
“The golf course is pure,” Reed said. “It is in impeccable condition. … It gives you so many different opportunities. There are so many different shots that you have to take, and you have to be creative in this spot, and I really can’t wait for the event to actually start, especially playing on that side of the team. Come on that last day, you have a chance to win, but at the same time, you’re also trying to win for your team, and I see this place having fireworks towards the end.”
— Mitchell Forde, for The Oregonian/OregonLive