Anyone remember those glorious days of the 1980s, the golden era of boxing?
If you weren’t there perhaps you’ve heard hand-me-down stories of how we used to get up in the early hours of the morning to watch the big fights live on TV.
Leonard vs Hearns, Leonard vs Hagler, Duran vs Hearns, Duran vs Hagler, Leonard vs Duran, Hagler vs Duran. And more. Boxing at its peak.
Then, not quite overnight, but within a decade, boxing was broken. The clever wordsmiths referred to the alphabet soups, the WBA, WBC, IBF, WBO, IBO, WBU and so forth. Basically, these were all breakaway organisations who were formed with the intention of each one having their own rankings, their own champions. Growing the game, one might say.
Instead it had the opposite effect. Boxing is now at such a low that when there’s that rarity – a unification title fight – there are so many belts to be wrapped around the winner that he is drowned under them.
I’m scared that this might be the way men’s professional golf is headed.
Hopefully the hysteria on both sides of the LIV Golf Series ‘is it good for golf?’ argument has quietened and we’re now getting into the more mature conversations. There was so much mud-slinging relative to the PGA Tour/DP World Tour and LIV split that ‘discussions’ became juvenile. ‘If you were offered that amount of money you’d switch jobs too’. That line was aimed at me a thousand times.
Well, yes. If you offered me $30-million – ignoring who were my paymasters – to sign up for a series of 54-hole tournaments with no cut, and I shot rounds of 86-90-88 and walked away with a guaranteed $120,000, then of course I’d be on the next private jet to Saudi Arabia.
But, if I were ranked in the world’s top 50, travelling the world, playing in the most historic golf tournaments, and I was already rich beyond anything I’d ever dreamed then I would say no. If I were that golfer, and you asked me if I wanted to be remembered as a Masters or Open champion, or someone who ‘earned’ $300-million in my career, I’d choose the former.
Anyway, my fear is that once all the verbal jabs and nastiness is a thing of the past and we talk about the game we love – golf – is that the sport is going to ruined beyond repair.
At the heart of it is the World Ranking. In order to get into the big events automatically you have to have a world ranking that qualifies you for the field. You can’t have 500 golfers pitching up in St Andrews on a first-come-first-serve basis to fill 144 spots.
With no points awarded to those LIV golfers, they are going to slide down the ranking.
You won’t see the effect overnight, but unless points are allocated to LIV events, and while the Official World Golf Ranking system is in place, golf will head the way of boxing. Louis Oosthuizen ended 2020 ranked No 10. Since joining LIV he has slipped to No 31, and dropping like a stone each week. He’s South Africa’s best golfer, but soon the ranking will tell a different story.
As we headed into September Christiaan Bezuidenhout was ranked 64th, Dean Burmester 69th, Erik van Rooyen 86th, Thriston Lawrence 87th and Shaun Norris 93rd. Charl Schwartzel and Branden Grace had dropped to 126th and 145th on the ranking. Because they are no earning points it’s possible the latter two might have already played at their last Major championship.
Cameron Smith joined LIV as Open champion and world No 2. Give it a year or two and he’ll have tumbled down the ranking. Out of sight and out of mind, despite using $100 notes as fire-starters for his barbeques down under. The oldies will say, ‘he could have won 10 Majors’.
So, I ask again. Unless there is a compromise between the PGA Tour, LIV Golf, the R&A and other powerbrokers, then you’re going to be telling your kids about how golden golf used to be.
– This column first appeared in the October 2022 issue of Compleat Golfer magazine.