NORTH PLAINS, Oregon – The most polarizing golf competition in history is gone.
The LIV Golf Series has had two events – one in Europe and one in the US – and most are still unsure what to make of this venture funded by a country known for its human rights abuses.
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But the Saudi-backed league, run by Hall of Famer and Palm Beach Gardens resident Greg Norman, has been delighted with its progress and number of players. left the PGA Tour to join LIV. to connect† And last week’s US debut at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club outside Portland did nothing to slow the momentum.
LIV is so confident that this venture will thrive that it has accelerated its plans to relax the program to a full schedule by 2024 and will expand to the maximum of 14 events by 2023 (from eight this year), with 48 players signed and a real competition format of 12 four-man teams.
Here are 10 takeaways after an eventful week of protesters and supporters:
It’s professional golf, but louder
Walking the course while playing was definitely different. Remember this is also new to LIV so it will take time to fix the bugs and one of them is making sure there are enough volunteers on the course.
Patrick Reed’s first tee shot hit a pine tree on Thursday. He was initially unable to find his ball without spotters in the immediate vicinity. He eventually did, but with the help of the fans. A volunteer told me they were understaffed on Thursday, but expected help for the last two days.
Calling itself “golf, but louder,” LIV fit the bill with music heard around the course as players were taken via golf carts to their assigned holes for the shotgun start. There were also paratroopers and jugglers on unicycles.
Bryson DeChambeau’s creation company, Regency, followed him to film content for his YouTube channel.
“It’s literally the opposite of the PGA Tour,” one of his cameramen told Golf Digest. “You can’t do s— out there. Here they encourage us to do things.”
Recruitment efforts underway
The NBA isn’t the only league where deals are currently being made. LIV will add more PGA Tour players and who knows when it will end. Players and agents are looking for more tour defectors and aren’t going to stop LIV to 48 contracted players before 2023 anytime soon.
“I got calls from (Dustin Johnson) and some of these guys telling me how great London was, it’s something I felt like I wanted to be a part of,” said Reed.
The Englishman Paul Casey, the number 26 in the world, is the last to defect from the PGA Tour and will join LIV on Saturday. More people are expected to make the switch ahead of LIV’s next event on July 29 in Bedminster, NJ
One player said there’s a lot going on behind the scenes.
Ari Fleischer works with players
Media adviser Ari Fleischer, political commentator at Fox News and White House press secretary for President George W. Bush, appeared at both LIV events and listened intently to how players answered questions.
Once it was clear that players shared the same topics of conversation, a spirited exchange ensued when some were asked how much media training they had received, especially to answer questions about human rights violations in Saudi Arabia.
“Zero,” said Pat Perez.
“Yeah, I mean, unless you want to do it yourself,” interrupted Brooks Koepka†
When Koepka was told it was just a question, he said, “I’ll just give you an answer, man.”
What are the long-term prospects?
Given the number of players who have canceled their tour membership – the list includes Jupiter’s Dustin Johnson, Jupiter’s Charl Schwartzel, Sergio Garcia, Kevin Na, Louis Oosthuizen, Lee Westwood – many believe LIV’s future is bright.
Schwartzel, who won the inaugural LIV event outside of London, did his research and told me he wanted to make sure it “wasn’t a scam” and that there was a long-term vision before joining.
Yet no one knows where this competition will be in three or four years’ time. We know there is confidence from within that it will thrive as LIV officials gave the green light to plan 14 events next year. And we know that some of these mega-million dollar contracts are four-year contracts.
On Friday, Carlos Ortiz was asked what it feels like to face life financially. Ortiz took the stage with Johnson, who reportedly signed a $125 million contract to join LIV.
“I don’t know,” Ortiz said. “How does it feel DJ?”
Said Johnson, “Just look at my face.”
Less golf, more parties
In team sports, we have guys who are described as a “players coach.” If that were true for leagues, LIV would be called a ‘player league’.
LIV Golf will cover the travel and lodging expenses of all 48 players and their caddies, agents and coaches. They put them in a swanky hotel at every event, throw a players party and encourage players to hang out.
“We tend to be together more, there’s more social going on, that relates to more fun,” said Schwartzel, admitting it’s easier with just 48 players. “Very rarely do you see every single player performing on the tour. Usually half the guys wouldn’t come. Everyone comes (to the LIV party).”
However, the parties have not come without controversy. The one in London was moved after the host venue reportedly walked out for fear of bad publicity. After Tuesday’s party here, the company that owns the venue apologized, telling Portland KGW Television it will “evaluate and change our event vetting and booking policies.”
Team concept a big hit
The team component is new, which will only really get off the ground next year.
In 2023, 12 permanent captains will be elected and they will select, recruit and force others to join their teams. This year, each event will donate $5 million to the team pot: $3 million for first place, $1.5 million for second, and $500,000 for third.
“It’s like studying. You’re going to try so hard for your team and it just gives you so much more chance to enjoy yourself and have small little wins and feel good about yourself (even if you shoot a 75,” Matthew Wolf said.
Some sponsors not (yet) offended
A question about Koepka’s decision to defect to LIV was answered Tuesday when he took the stage wearing his Nike cap, the company’s corporate headquarters 15 miles from where LIV’s first US event was held in Pumpkin Ridge.
However, several sponsors have dropped LIV golfers, including Rocket Mortgage, KPMG, Heineken, Workday, Amstel, UPS, and Royal Bank of Canada. Callaway has paused its sponsorship of Phil Mickelson, but other golf equipment manufacturers have not commented.
Mickelson wears a hat with the logo of his LIV team: Hy Flyers.
Some see it as a business decision
DeChambeau spoke about the “business decision side” of joining LIV and giving back to those who helped save the life of his father, Jon, who received a kidney transplant five years ago.
“The National Kidney Foundation came to help him,” DeChambeau said. “And it would be a disservice to them if I wasn’t able to give something back to the organization that helped my father stay alive.”
By the way, DeChambeau made $26.2 million in prize money on the PGA Tour.
Ryder Cup questions
One of the unknowns when it comes to LIV golfers is whether they will be allowed to play in the Ryder Cup. What we do know is that those who signed to LIV Golf have been suspended from the PGA Tour and that the PGA Tour and DP World Tour have strengthened their existing alliance.
Englishman Lee Westwood, who has played 11 Ryder Cups, equaling a European record, is not happy with the possibility of LIV golfers being banned from the Ryder Cup.
“Why would there be a threat?” he said. “I’ve been playing Ryder Cup golf since 1997 and the criteria was to be a member of the European Tour. The criteria to be a member of the European Tour is to play four events. Why would they change that now? change drastically because another tour doesn’t like it or feels financially threatened? There’s just a bit too much protection going on for my taste and not enough transparency.”
Fan experience limited for now
LIV has limited the number of fans allowed for its two events and declined to disclose that number for the Pumpkin Ridge event. The reason for the limited number of patrons at Pumpkin Ridge was the possibility of problems from protesters and dual carriageways as the only way to the track.
“If they get permission for a larger number, I think we’ll see much bigger galleries,” said Phil Mickelson. “I know there’s a lot of demand, but right now they’re keeping it small.”
Those in attendance told several reporters that they were not interested in politics and where the money was coming from and that they only wanted to see professional golfers, especially in a part of the country that has few events. Many heard talking about conversations and interactions they had with the golfers.
Tom D’Angelo is a journalist at The Palm Beach Post† You can reach him at [email protected]†
This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Greg Norman’s LIV Golf Has Supporters, Protesters After Two Events