The Pro-Golf Civil War

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Just prior to the US Open getting underway, the talk around 19th holes has been less about the season’s third major and more about the rift between players and the PGA Tour.

I must admit that LIV Golf’s first event at the Centurion Club north of London, for all the controversy surrounding it, seemed to go off as well as could have been expected. The layout itself was certainly worthy of a marquee tournament, and the “shotgun” start did streamline proceedings. It has been suggested that this idea, with all the players teeing off at the same time, be used at World Golf Championship events, and it might yet be adopted.

There were glitzy touches at the LIV Invitational such as uniformed trumpeters on the first tee, and LIV-branded London cabs driving players from the practice area to their respective tees added to the pazazz. Watching the hour-long television package, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a troupe of dancing girls performing the way they did in the early days of limited overs cricket. I can only suppose that given the conservative views of the sponsors of this jamboree, that idea was canned.     

Most importantly, the quality of the field was probably better than most expected, and if rumours are to be believed, there will be more defections soon – the likes of Rickie Fowler and Bryson DeChambeau are said to be keen to join the “rebels.” Of course, a major boost was the participation of Phil Mickelson, who came out of exile to compete for the first time since February. Mickelson’s choice of dress for the pre-tournament press interviews was interesting – black dress shirt, black trousers and a black leather bomber jacket; topped off with a slicked back hair style. If his aim was to resemble an aging rocker or Columbian drug lord, he succeeded.  

Play had hardly begun when commissioner of the PGA Tour Jay Monahan fired off a memo announcing that any current and future players in the LIV Golf Invitational series are indefinitely suspended. This means that they will not be eligible to compete in the Presidents Cup this September, not that that is likely to worry them. The big question at the beginning of last week was how the administrators of the Majors would view the LIV issue, and first to react was the USGA, the august body that runs the US Open.

Predictably, they took the path of least resistance, and announced that any player that had qualified this year was eligible to play. We must believe that the R&A, custodians of the Open Championship, will take a similar stance, although that is not guaranteed.

By all accounts, the established players that have already resigned from the Tour have weighed up the consequences of going to where the big money is and are prepared to forego the opportunity of competing for the FedEx Cup and, if it comes to it, the Ryder Cup as well. Ian Poulter, one player that has not officially resigned from the Tour, immediately said that he would appeal the decision. If Poulter believes the PGA Tour will suddenly change the rules to suit him he is mistaken.    

The big issue now surrounds world ranking points, certainly when it comes to next season’s Majors. Should the four bodies that run the Majors take the side of the PGA Tour and simply prevent the LIV players from competing, they will undoubtably leave themselves open to litigation. By playing only in the eight LIV events, those competing are going to lose world ranking points, and because of this some will forfeit automatic qualification. It is all rather messy, and this before the courts get involved. Until then, the LIV show will go on, and whether anyone really cares who wins and how much money they are paid is academic. I still cannot help paraphrasing Winston Churchill: “Never has so much been earned by so few for doing so little.”

For serious golf fans, the US Open is still the most important event at this time of year, and as usual, the USGA will have prepared the course to be fiendishly difficult. The obvious favourites at the time of writing are Justin Thomas and Scottie Scheffler (both at 12-1). Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm are at 14-1. 

For what its worth, I fancy the more generously priced trio of Sungjae Im (65-1), Will Zalatoris (28-1) and Xander Schauffele (20-1). We can probably expect typically narrowed fairways, penal rough, and firm, fast greens. It could be argued that this is the ultimate test of course management and shot making, and unless a player can produce precision putting, they have no chance. We can expect the usual bleats from certain players about the course being unfair, and as has been suggested in the past – the USGA sets up a course so nobody can win! – IRC.

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