LIV and Let Die

by | Jun 1, 2022 | 0 comments

Dustin Johnson (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

John Craven

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So it begins.

The eagerly-anticipated list of names set to compete in the opening LIV Golf event has finally been released. Giants of the game in Ogletree, Uihlein, the inferior Fisher and the other Koepka cutting their legacies down at the knees in search of a quick buck.

Truth be told, I contemplated whether or not to write this article at all. Not to go all Greta Thunberg on it but I shouldn’t even be here. I should be writing about the biggest event in the history of women’s golf that’s about to tee off on Thursday. Trust Greg Norman to cast a classless shadow over the US Women’s Open on the eve of the tournament.

But by not writing about it, I would be giving it a pass, and although my words mean nothing to those tarnished souls seeking refuge in the grateful arms of the Saudi regime, ultimately it’s that regime that hopes this thing tees off without comment, and that eventually journalists will tire of dredging up the ongoing human rights abuses from which this golf series is attempting to distract.

But hey, that’s just me, and I’ve been criticised in the past for my unbalanced reporting on this subject. After all, I’m a journalist, and objectivity is important, not that it did Jamal Khashoggi any good. But I’ll try and be objective for the sake of argument here. Whip out a piece of paper like a ranting Rafa Benitez and lay out the facts.

So in that spirit, what we’re looking at next week at Centurion Club is a $25 million 54-hole, no cut event. Four of the current world’s top-50 will play with the average ranking of the 48-man field somewhere around 300. For context, many of the players in question wouldn’t get near this week’s Memorial tournament, and yet they’ll play for more than double the $12 million up for grabs at Jack’s place. And even if they did tee up at Muirfield Village, they’d then have to play well to take home a slice of the pie, easier said than done against Rahm, McIlroy, Morikawa and co.

So yeah, I can see the size of the carrot that LIV Golf is dangling. If I’m Richard Bland, 49 years to the good and just two wins to show for it, I’d probably think a guaranteed $120,000 to finish plum last is pretty good. He might even finish a few places better. Sure LIV Golf is like Winning Streak on steroids, but instead of Marty Whelan dishing out a new car if you can count from 1-6 or identify the Rock of Cashel, Norman’s Saudi overlords will give you the chance to spin the wheel as many times as you want… until someone of superior notoriety rocks up and replaces you of course.

In case you can’t tell, I’m finding it difficult to be neutral on this. I struggle so much with this proposed new world order of golf and its collection of mercenaries who for so long have swung with mediocrity only to be suddenly rewarded with riches scarcely earned.

Call me old fashioned, but I thought job promotions ordinarily apply to those excelling at their craft. There’s reports that one of the three amateurs received $6 million up front just to compete. If that’s the case, how much was Dustin Johnson given to go back on his bogus declaration of loyalty to the PGA Tour from February? How can any existing tour compete with such frivolous spending and bottomless wealth?

And the truth is, they can’t.

Golf’s existing tours are relying on their stars to resist the temptation of financial freedom and to instead value honour, prestige and titles above all else. That’s alright if you’re Rory McIlroy, but to expect someone like 32-year old Laurie Canter with one win to his name to hold strong is a different thing entirely.

Or take 30-year old Talor Gooch, a golfing ATM machine on the PGA Tour, amassing more than $8million with tens more likely on the way. Even with a future so bright, he decided to eject himself from the plush confines of the PGA Tour to seek more riches elsewhere. Maybe his priorities reside away from golfing legacies and somewhere closer to retiring by 35 courtesy of Saudi Monopoly money. Again, many will ask, who could blame him?

Well, I could, being honest. It’s not like he’s been slumming out there on the PGA Tour. It wasn’t that long ago that these guys counted their lucky stars to be living the life that they did. But eaten bread is soon forgotten, and much like I’m convinced that there’s more to life than money, I’m certain that there’s more to the money being thrown at these players than sport.

Not to pick on Richard Bland who provided many of us with the golfing highlight of the year in 2021 at the British Masters, but as much and all as ‘Blandy’ says he’d be a fool to pass up this opportunity at a better life, he’s also surely not foolish enough to think this payday has been earned?

Bland, like so many of this first raft of defectors, will be cashing in while keeping the seat warm for someone better in behind him. He’s a pawn in this game of politics, not sport, and although he’ll be handsomely rewarded for taking to the front line, the ultimate ambition of LIV Golf is to attract 48 of the game’s best players, not 4 of the top-50.

Resolves are going to be tested in the coming weeks, and as a golf fan, you’d have to worry about where the sport is headed. There are names on today’s list that I’ve never heard of and next week they might be the ones to capture a title against a weak field with few watching and walk away with $4 million. You can expect superior talents to want in on that action, and soon.

It’s up to golf’s status quo to decide what happens next. If they can take away the Majors and world ranking points from LIV Golf competitors, then the proof will really be in the pudding as to what these guys actually play for. But regardless of the outcome of legal battles, or what you feel watching Kevin Na walk slowly, oh so slowly into the Saudi sunset, I can’t escape feeling that this is a sad day for golf.

Football’s equivalent Super League fell flat on its face when the supporters revolted but unlike major teams bound by fans, history and tradition, the independent contractors of golf’s top tours answer to no one. And whether or not I agree with it, it’s their life to LIV.

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