Every golfer has a price

The announcement of the players that will compete in the first of LIV Golf Series in London did have a few surprises, but there are still several questions that remain to be answered.

The feud between Greg Norman, armed with an obscene amount of money, and the PGA Tour, (also not short of cash), is going to drag on for some time before a winner is declared, but for now, Norman is probably just ahead on points.

When the field for the inaugural event of the LIV golf event was revealed (42 of the 48 names), the first surprise was that Dustin Johnson had thrown in his lot with the Norman-led organisation. Johnson had made his position clear just three months ago. “I am fully committed to the PGA Tour,” said Johnson, going on to say how grateful he was for the opportunity to play on the best Tour in the World, etc. Well, he obviously changed his mind. It has been widely reported that this change of heart had something to do with $125 million he is being paid by the Saudi-backed company. Everyone does indeed have a price. Johnson has hardly been setting the word alight lately and he is currently languishing outside the top 50 on the earnings list this season.

It is quite easy to understand is why the likes of Graeme McDowell, Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood decided to jump onto the LIV bandwagon which is awash with dollars. With the greatest respect, these players are in the twilight of their careers, and the temptation of a short schedule comprising no-cut tournaments with crazy purses, not to mention the upfront money they are being paid merely to pitch up, must have been hard to resist. Even if the PGA Tour does ban them, as has been threatened, they do not have a lot to lose.  

The fact that 16 of the world’s top 100 players have committed to playing in what is seen as a “rebel” Tour must be seen as a reasonably good result by Norman, at least for a start. I have no doubt that depending on how things pan out, more players might well decide to jump ship.

We do not know exactly how much this first batch of players are being paid to compete, but appearance contracts aside, for the likes of South African Louis Oosthuizen, playing for big money (double the purses offered at the Majors), must seem attractive. The easy-going Oosthuizen has never come across as someone who is obsessed with winning trophies, and by his own admission, religion, his family and driving a tractor on his farm has always been more important to him than grinding away on the Tour.

There were those that insisted that the LIV Golf initiative was never going to work, and that at best Norman would only be able to cobble together a bunch of ‘has-beens,’ but they have been proved wrong. Among this group are a few current Tour players who would seem to be near their peak, even if they are not yet household names. Among them is Australian Matt Jones, who is one hell of a player. Last year he won the Honda Classic, starting off by tying the course record (61) and beating a quality field by five shots. Earlier this year at the Tournament of Champions, Jones set a new Tour 36-hole record by shooting 62, 61 over the weekend. He eventually finished third (beaten by his countryman Cameron Smith). Another two outstanding players are Talor Gooch (currently 10th on the FedEx points list) and Hudson Swafford, a three-time winner on Tour.

A smart move on the part of the LIV team has been to rope in some rather special young players with stellar amateur careers – no secret that they are also being paid handsomely. The current US Amateur champion James Piot, who turned pro last week, must be seen as a good investment, as is Thai prodigy Ratchanon Chatananuwat, who is only 15 years old. Two others, former US Amateur champion Andy Ogletree and Spain’s David Puig, must also be seen as potential stars.  

But now for the inexplicable names that have appeared on the list, and the inclusion of Chase Koepka, younger brother of Brooks, makes no sense at all. Apart from his surname which is recognisable by fans, his ability leaves a lot to be desired, and his world ranking of 1,543 probably flatters him. Good luck to him – even if he finishes stone last in the first event, he will earn $120,000. This is a lot more than he has earned from special sponsor’s invitations which he has received based on his last name. Oliver Fisher, the 33-year-old Englishman who is currently ranked 979 in the world and in danger of losing DP World Tour playing privileges, is hardly a drawcard, but he is certainly a cut above Chase Koepka. There are also a few names from the Sunshine Tour, none of whom are world-beaters. 

What remains to be seen is how the PGA Tour and DP World Tour will react to their players defecting. Also, in order to be successful, the LIV Series is going to have to find media partners – major television networks make major sporting events, and so far, none of the big guns are willing to do a deal that might jeopardise their advertising revenue. Most importantly is whether the four organisations that run the major championships will decide to ban the players that are playing for Saudi money. If this cash is indeed so tainted, strange that the United States and the UK are happy to supply huge amounts of military hardware to the Saudi Kingdom, but that is another story. When it comes to money versus morality, I know who I’m backing.  – IRC.

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