More people are talking about golf now than they were a year ago. That’s a good thing – right? Well, it’s complicated. Much of it has been about the LIV Golf Series, and now it’s starting to get nasty. And that’s a bad thing.
The forward defence shot played by almost every golfer who has joined the Saudi-backed LIV Series has been that it’s about ‘growing the game’. At least the straight-arrowed commentator David Feherty admitted, ‘it’s about the money’, when he crossed the floor.
The problem is that the lawyers are now getting involved as things start to escalate, as was predicted at the outset. They’re the towtruck drivers at a hot-spot intersection, waiting for the inevitable collision, and then they get to work.
Right now it’s become a slanging match between those who defend golf’s honour and traditions, against those who believe that a golfer is effectively a freelancer – despite being permanently employed – and able to take whatever offer is on the table.
Golf is the loser in any such debate.
‘Can we just stop criticising LIV,’ is the call from those who support the Saudi-backed breakaways. ‘Sure,’ respond those faithful to history and tradition. ‘Take the money and play, but then don’t try to have your cake and eat it.’
Obviously everything has a beginning. Cricket’s IPL is an example, claim the LIV sympathisers. Maybe it is, most probably it isn’t.
LIV will never be able to throw up the nail-biting wins, the tension and drama of the ‘historical’ way golf is played.
You have a limited field of golfers, playing a 54-hole tournament in which there is no cut line, teeing off in a shotgun start, with a $4-million cheque at the end of it.
As a golf purist, where’s the drama in that? Part of the allure of Sunday tournament golf is the scoreboard pressure. The Masters starts on the final nine holes, history has shown. That’s because a golfer with a four-shot lead and nine to play is not safe. The clubhouse leader still has a chance. The tension ratchets up. One. Shot. At. A. Time.
The great stories in golf have been about the Major climaxes. Watching the hapless Jean van de Velde at The Open in 1999 was car-crash television. How can LIV ever challenge ‘traditional’ golf with a shotgun start and no scoreboard pressure?
For those who still believe their favourite has signed for LIV ‘to grow the game’, their argument quickly escalates into something more of a street-fight. ‘You’re jealous of the players,’ I’ve been told. ‘You would also change jobs for the money.’ The former is false, the latter is false – most of us have been offered more to work elsewhere and turned it down for reasons other than money – but the latter does raise the prospect of ‘everyone has a price’. I accept that. But, I can’t be jealous of golfers joining LIV because it’s not a world in which I could ever operate. I’m not a PGA Tour player. I suppose I would be jealous if I were one and had not been approached by LIV, therefore not giving me the opportunity to say no, like Tiger Woods did for an $800-million signing-on fee, or yes, like Dustin Johnson did for a $150m fee.
Ultimately, for me, it will take a lot of convincing for me to believe that LIV is good for professional golf. Sure, it might lead to PGA Tour players being paid even more, but for the pure sporting spectacle – which is what fans and spectators are in it for – it makes no appeal. There’s no tension. As an example, here’s a little exercise for you: write a short summary (300 words or so) about the first three LIV events that have been held.
I assure you it’s not easy, and if you remove the surround sound, there’s not much to write about. Which is why most of the articles written have started with, ‘Charl Schwartzel won $4m … Branden Grace pocketed $4m … Henrik Stenson earned $4m.’ Which proves that there hasn’t been much else to write about in terms of tension-filled, headline-creating golf itself.
And it underlines what I wrote in this column months ago: It’s about the money, not about the golf.
– This column first appeared in the September 2022 issue of Compleat Golfer magazine. Subscribe here!