Golf has always had a silly season. Never before have I straddled June and July, when the big championships come together with major tournaments in between. The Renegade series, of course, is blatantly trying to change all of that. It has great appeal for being lucrative and stress free for players.
But as a product that lifts the hairs on the back of the neck? It feels like a second-rate reality show, rightly relegated to, say, the CW. (Or, actually, streaming on LIVGolf.com or YouTube.) In golf, the iron has sharpened the iron for a long time. No one ever said that gold sharpens gold. The most malleable of metals could, in fact, soften all those who have stuck their noses in the trough.
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It is important to constantly keep in mind the source of LIV’s extensive, indeed almost infinite, wealth and funding: the Saudi Arabian government. Sure, it’s slightly whitewashed through something called the Public Investment Fund, which bills itself as “sovereign,” a laughable idea given that the chairman of the board is none other than Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the board is made up of members of the Saudi establishment. Each of these players has signed up to make money from a murderous regime, and that colors the entire entity.
But put moral doubts aside for a minute, and what do you have left? It would seem like a misleading mess of a product. That’s not just because it’s different. At first glance, different is not bad. But let’s start with that fact, and go back to what Jon Rahm, the second-ranked Spaniard in the world who has pledged his allegiance to the PGA Tour, said before the US Open. It rang true at the time. As LIV Golf hosts the establishment’s second torch event in its existence, it seems more pertinent now.
“Some of the format doesn’t really appeal to me,” Rahm said. “Shotgun, three days, for me it is not a golf tournament. Without cutting. I want to play against the best in the world in a format that has been around for hundreds of years. That’s what I want to see.”
And think of what happened over the next week at the Country Club outside of Boston: a leader board that was dotted with stars of the game: Rahm, Rory McIlroy, Collin Morikawa and Scottie Scheffler among them. On the weekend, as has been the case for generations, the leaders did not go out at the same time as everyone else, but last, playing until the dying light. That left Matt Fitzpatrick and Will Zalatoris in the final group, staring at each other. This is how these championships have been decided for years. It was an exciting Sunday.
For the final round, which, in the LIV world, is the third Round: A LIV course is rearranged so that the leaders tee off from the first hole. But when they begin a round that determines who wins $4 million for finishing first and who takes $120,000 for finishing last, the leaders come off the first hole at the same time those in seventh through ninth come off the second.
It’s a shotgun start, with all the mess that implies. The leaders play the course as it should be played: the opening hole means something; the finishing hole means something else. Except everyone else, who doesn’t end up on 18 but on fifth or seventh or wherever.
That doesn’t feel like a championship event. It feels like a Monday morning shotgun to benefit the Four Counties Food Bank. Which, now that I think about it, would do the world more good than lining, say, Pat Perez’s pockets with $580,000 for finishing ninth.
This weekend, LIV Golf’s Portland-area event takes on the John Deere Classic, a PGA Tour event that has a history dating back more than half a century. It was preceded by last week’s Travelers, outside Hartford, Connecticut, won by young star Xander Schauffele. The Travelers and the John Deere Classic aren’t exactly PGA Tour highlights. But at least they have some history: Jordan Spieth hole out from the bunker on the 18th and hitting caddy Michael Greller’s chest, Jim Furyk shooting a 58, Iowan Zach Johnson winning at home, Bubba Watson crying as he won for the first time.
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LIV Golf cannot be expected to have a story in a month. But neither can it claim to be significant just because it exists.
“I’ve always been interested in history and legacy, and right now the PGA Tour has that,” Rahm said in those pre-Open remarks. “There is some meaning when you win the Memorial championship. There is some meaning when you win the Arnold Palmer event at Bay Hill. There’s some meaning when you win LA [at Riviera]torrey [Pines], some of these historical places. That, to me, matters a lot.”
There are also some procedural things that decrease the brightness of LIV. Koepka, for his part, has long said that what matters most to him are the big championships, of which he has four. That’s an admirable way of thinking, shared by Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods, to name a few.
But by joining LIV Golf, Koepka has, for now at least, potentially worked his way out of the big leagues. His ticket to the 2023 Masters is locked in, assuming Augusta National doesn’t ban LIV players, because he won the 2018 US Open. Winners of the US and British Opens and the PGA Championship receive invitations to Augusta for the next five years.
However, the road back to the Masters in 2024 and beyond is tougher than it was two months ago. Players who win a PGA Tour event in the year after the last Masters win entry. Koepka and the others can’t win PGA Tour events if they can’t play in them, so that path is blocked.
Players who are in the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking at the end of the previous calendar year, as well as the week before the Masters start, are eligible to enter Augusta. But right now, and maybe forever, LIV Golf events don’t allow players to accumulate OWGR points. That’s a crucial next point: LIV players are currently playing in tricky and irrelevant events. If the current rules don’t change, they may have trouble trusting big business to stay relevant.
What’s certain about this weekend away from Portland: Someone will win $4 million for finishing first, and the first loser will earn $2.125 million, nearly a million more than the John Deere champion. That’s important to players and their investment advisers, regardless of how dirty the money is.
What matters to the golf spectator is the test provided and the tournament that follows. LIV players have pushed the idea that golf can be a force for good. That’s suspicious at best, particularly when the golf that ensues feels more like a second-rate carnival than a first-rate competition.