The theme of the Saudi-funded LIV Golf series is “Golf, but Louder”.
Money talks, loud enough for Dustin Johnson to get an offer he couldn’t ignore, for Brooks Koepka to turn around in a week, for Pat Perez to smile after shooting 80.
Excessive signing fees from Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund would always be criticized. Now an extra layer of noise is starting to surface, mainly because some of these players decided to take the money and shut up.
Talor Gooch received more attention for his words than anything he ever did on the golf course. For those unfamiliar with Gooch, he won his first PGA Tour title in the 2021 final against a field that had no one in the world’s top 10 this weekend. He has played seven majors in his eight years as a pro.
When asked at the inaugural LIV event outside London whether it was right to be criticized for contributing to ‘sports washes’, Gooch replied: ‘I’m a golfer. I’m not that smart.”
And then he proved it last week at Pumpkin Ridge when his team (4 Aces) won by seven shots, each member paid $750,000. Gooch was asked if he could feel the energy of the crowd.
“I haven’t played a Ryder Cup or a Presidents Cup, but I can’t imagine there’s much difference,” said Gooch. “This was as cool as can be.”
No doubt as cool as it will ever get for him.
The comment was absurd, even by Gooch’s standards. This was the player who posted a “You’re welcome” gif when the PGA Tour responded to LIV by announcing schedule changes aimed at larger wallets for top players.
No doubt the new competition is a disruption, and that’s not all bad.
Changes announced two weeks ago will make the PGA Tour leaner and better without losing the ideal that “play better” still reigns supreme. The main one is going back to a calendar year (January to August) with a low season that offers something for everyone, or nothing at all if someone wants a clean vacation.
The money would always rise with a new media rights deal, now more to the players who made the media want to invest in golf.
But this disruption has also drawn a line between who wants to be rich and who wants to be a star, and they aren’t necessarily connected. There is growing animosity from the latter who would like the former to be a little more transparent.
“I understand that they get everything they have to say and all these things, but that they say it’s all for the betterment of the game … to be quite honest I wish one of them had the balls to say I’m doing this for the money,” PGA champion Justin Thomas said on the no stopping podcasting. “I personally would have a lot more respect for that.
“But it’s just the more the players keep talking and saying this is for the betterment of the game, the more excited and annoyed I get about it.”
It’s not about 54 holes being more exciting than 72. It’s not about playing for a team. And it’s not about playing less. Otherwise, those who signed up wouldn’t need the tour they left.
Patrick Reed took a farewell shot on the PGA Tour by saying it never listened to players. He spoke about the appeal of LIV Golf to spend more time with his family by playing fewer events. And by the weekend he was trying to figure out how to add the Scottish Open to his schedule.
Wasn’t the idea to play less?
Reed plays about 30 times a year and omits the part where it is his choice. Being self-employed doesn’t mean setting your own rules, it’s about setting your own schedule (which Reed can no longer do as an LIV employee). He did not have to play five times after the Tour Championship last year. He didn’t have to be a member of the European tour.
The noise coming from some players creates an “us versus them” mentality, the kind of disruptive environment that serves no one.
Fred Couples was particularly blunt in an interview with golf.com last week when he called Perez a “grain of sand” on the PGA Tour. He got personal with Phil Mickelson, an old friend. At least he was once.
“These guys – you’ve seen their interviews, right?” Couples said. “Have you ever seen Phil look so stupid in his life? They know it’s a joke.” He also said of Mickelson, “I don’t think I’ll ever talk to him again.”
Still to come is bringing lawyers into the mix.
Ian Poulter was one of the three European tour players who won a sojourn from a UK judge allowing them to play the Scottish Open even though they were banned from the tour for playing an LIV event without permission.
A lawsuit against the PGA Tour seems only a matter of time. That probably won’t sit well with the loyalists who share space within the ropes with players who effectively sue them.
“I think it’s just one of those things where I might not do it anymore, if I used to walk by that person and say, ‘Hey,’ or ask how they were,” Thomas said.
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