Henrik Stenson.

Stenson Fired. Feherty Hired.

IRC SUNDAY NEWSLETTER

Even before Henrik Stenson officially announced that he would be joining the LIV Golf rebels, he was sacked as the European Ryder Cup captain, and to further bolster the Saudi-sponsored pro golf league, it was announced that David Feherty would be leaving NBC to join Greg Norman’s show. Wonders never cease.

It has certainly been an interesting year thus far in the world of professional golf, and before the FedEx Cup is decided, there is certain to be a lot more surprises. Stenson’s defection was unexpected, and his move not only cost him his position as Ryder Cup captain, but also puts the event he co-hosts in Sweden with Annika Sorenstam, in jeopardy. Stenson, who only about two months ago was inducted into Sweden’s Golf Hall of Fame, obviously weighed up the consequences of turning his back on golf’s establishment against some $50 million in a signing bonus plus guaranteed earnings and made his decision.

Feherty, who over the last 25 years since leaving Northern Ireland has been hugely successful (and very well paid) as a television golf analyst, also stunned observers when it became known that he would leave the powerful NBC network. It is not known what his deal with LIV is worth, but it must be something astronomical. Good luck to him.

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The most famous golfer from Northern Ireland, Rory McIlroy, must still be smarting after yet another major slipped through his grasp, and at the risk of boring repetition, I must say that until he learns to putt, he will forever battle getting over the line in the events that mean the most. I know that I fancied him to break his major drought at St Andrews, and of course he came so close, but as he so graciously said afterwards, he was beaten by a better man on the day. It was incredible to see him hit 18 greens in regulation during the final round, a brilliant exhibition of ball-striking, yet take 36 putts – unforgiveable in the big league.

Cameron Smith, who certainly deserved his maiden Major triumph, is now also rumoured to be joining the LIV series, and if he does, I will be truly amazed. Word is that he will hang around to complete the FedEx Cup playoffs, then cash in on the move, which really doesn’t make sense. The older players that were first to sign up for the controversial league, the likes of Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter and Phil Mickelson, clearly did the sums, and accepted that their best days were over. LIV offered these players a low-stress option for semi-retirement with very generous benefits. But for someone like Cam Smith, who could seriously challenge for golf’s top spot in the rankings, the huge sponsorship contracts which he might be offered would potentially earn him even more money than the LIV deal is worth. I suppose the upfront, no-risk deal is tempting.

I have tried my best to remain neutral in this Saudi-money-versus-the-rest feud, and I can accept the fact that many observers object to the so-called “sports washing” lark. But seeing the well-publicised photos of Joe Biden meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the fist-pumping, it makes a mockery of the whole issue of integrity.

The truth is the most important factors for the viability of professional sports are the sponsors and the fans. Without the fans (or high television viewership numbers), the sponsors will pull the purse strings. The fans want to see the best players playing against each other, and right now LIV Golf is not doing badly. It wasn’t long ago that the whole idea of the 54-hole, no-cut events with a few has-beens competing was deemed to be a non-starter. Rory McIlroy in fact said it was “dead in the water.” He was wrong. I believed that many of the companies that sponsored the players would cancel their contracts, but I was wrong. It has even been suggested that some of the major sports brands are even considering “buying” the four-man teams that make up the 48 players. Adidas is one company rumoured to be negotiating a deal. Should this happen, LIV will gain more credibility.

When the third of the LIV Series begins this week at the Trump National Golf Club Bedminster in New Jersey, the field will include 10 Major champions and four former World No.1s. New additions include Charles Howell III, Jason Kokrak and Paul Casey. This field is impressive.

I have been amused by some of the slanging matches between the LIV players and those that have chosen to stay on either the DP World Tour or the PGA Tour. These wars of words have been rather unbecoming for professional golfers, yet there is now a serious rift between the two camps. Of course, Sergio Garcia, always prone to ranting, outdid himself with an expletive-laden tirade which seemed aimed more at the DP World Tour (he had already made it clear earlier that the PGA Tour could go to hell), once it had been revealed that he would be fined and banned. He had already said at The Open that he didn’t “didn’t feel loved” by what was formerly the European Tour, and his message to the Tour, although not as polite, was similar to Boris Johnson’s farewell to the British parliament: “Hasta la vista, baby.” – IRC.

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