Top golfers contradict themselves for cash!

Among the top professional golfers, honesty is clearly not always considered to be the best policy when it comes to big money contracts, and as we look back on the defection of several players from the PGA and DP World Tours to the LIV series, some of them are being made to look rather foolish.  

It was back in 2019 that Paul Casey, when he was a UNICEF ambassador, decided that he would not play in the Saudi International, at the time a tournament on the DP World Tour. Explaining his decision, Casey, from his lofty perch on his moral high horse, said that competing “just didn’t sit well with me,” adding, “certainly signing a deal and being paid to be down there…I would be a hypocrite if I did that.” Casey couldn’t be faulted for his convictions, but now, a couple of years later, Casey is happy to accept money from the Saudis for playing in their golf series – presumably this does sit well with him.

Then there was Bryson DeChambeau’s statement, which was released as recently as February this year, saying that “As long as the best players in the world are playing on the PGA Tour, so will I.” It now turns out that at the time this statement was released, DeChambeau had already signed a contract to play in the LIV series (for a reported $125 million), knowing that he would be banned.

SHANKS & LIPOUTS, IRC SUNDAYS

Then there is Phil Mickelson, who made no secret of the fact that he felt that the PGA Tour was ripping off its members, and then went “dark” during a self-imposed exile. It now emerges that Mickelson had in fact been suspended by the PGA Tour, as early as March 22 – not for his disparaging remarks about the Tour, but for trying to recruit players for Greg Norman and his Saudi backers. He had had been informed that he could apply for reinstatement two months later, on May 22, but because he had played in a LIV event, his application was denied. Perhaps Mickelson’s big money contract with LIV was about him talking players into jumping ship, because if it was solely about his golfing ability, the Saudis should feel hard done by. Mickelson has only managed to break par in two out of the nine rounds he has played in the LIV events – my local club champion could probably do better.

To be brutally honest, if we look at the first three of these 54-hole, no-cut events, it is hard to get excited about the quality of golf. Let us just consider the winners. Charl Schwartzel, who has been hopelessly out of form for a couple of years, found a way to finish on top of the leader board in the inaugural event. Then Brandon Grace, who has not “graced” the winner’s circle on any Tour for a while, beat the mediocre opposition in the second edition. Finally, Henrik Stenson, great player that may have been, won the most recent event, and he hadn’t won on any Tour since 2017.

Now we have 11 “defectors” that have filed an antitrust lawsuit against the PGA Tour challenging their suspensions, and three others (Taylor Gooch, Hudson Swafford and Matt Jones), seeking a temporary restraining order that will allow them to play in the FedEx Cup Playoffs.

MONEY TALKS: Phil and Bryson are on the ball!

No matter what the court rulings turn out to be, this battle will continue, because the large majority of the 175 card-carrying members of the PGA Tour are against what is seen to be a threat to their existence. David Love III, the US President’s Cup captain, suggested that if the LIV players are allowed to come back and play on the PGA Tour, he can foresee a major strike taking place. Love, very much one of the ‘elder statesmen’ of the Tour, may be wrong, but the way things have unfolded thus far, this is not impossible. It seems rather strange that the players that decided to throw in their lot with the LIV rebel series all suggested that the attraction was not the money, but the lighter schedule which would allow them to spend more time with their families etc. Now they are suing so they can play in more events – work that one out. I could accept that if a group of players past their ‘sell by’ dates decided to resign their Tour memberships and join LIV for a wheelbarrow load of money, fine. But to try and have the best of both worlds is pushing it.

I waded through most of the 150 pages of the plaintiff’s lawsuit outlining the alleged transgressions of the PGA Tour, and it is anybody’s guess how this all might pan out. It is certainly difficult to foresee an equitable compromise.

Without doubt, considering that it was always going to be difficult for Greg Norman and his well-heeled backers to get LIV off the ground, but thus far they have exceeded expectations. If the next batch of defectors are as good as they are rumoured to be (the likes of Hideki Matsuyama and Cameron Smith), the LIV cause will gain even more momentum. There is still the matter of world ranking points, and whether the administrators of the four Major championships will insist that the LIV rebels will be required to prequalify for these events.

I cannot pretend to understand LIV’s business model, and without a powerful media partner it is difficult to see how there can be a return on this sizeable investment. Perhaps that is not important. The numbers of golf fans watching the action online has not been great – less than 100,000, but it is early days. If the future of professional golf includes loud music being piped over the course, fireworks and dancing girls, we might just have to accept it. Speaking for myself and my circle of golf nuts, this will be a sad day. -IRC.

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