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LIV Golf, PGA Tour controversy continues to grow

LIV Golf, PGA Tour controversy continues to grow
Charl Schwartzel became the first winner of the LIV Golf Invitational Series, earning $4 million for his first-place individual finish. (Credit: Reuters via USA TODAY Sports)

LONDON (BVM) – In the middle of June, the headlines surrounding professional golf typically come from the U.S. Open. However, the controversy and drama in the sport right now have changed that narrative.

The U.S. Open is set to be played later this week at The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts. But right now, and as we get further into the week of the season’s third major, LIV Golf will continue to be the talking point.

After a long wait and build up, LIV Golf finally got underway last week with its inaugural tournament at Centurion Club in London. Charl Schwartzel came out on top in the first event with a score of 7-under par, earning $4 million for the first-place finish while securing his first professional golf win in six years.

The 2011 Masters champion also pocketed an additional $750,000 by earning a team victory with Stinger GC, captained by Louis Oosthuizen. While Oosthuizen finished in 12th place, his other teammates, Hennie Du Plessis and Branden Grace, finished right behind Schwartzel in second and third place with scores of 6-under and 5-under, respectively. Altogether, the team finished at 20-under par, which was 14 strokes better than the next closest squad, Crushers GC.

Some of the bigger headliners on the LIV Golf Invitational Series did not fare quite as well, as Dustin Johnson finished eighth at 1-under par, Sergio Garcia shot 6-over par to finish 24th, and Phil Mickelson struggled to a 10-over par finish, coming in at 34th on the leaderboard.

The Greg Norman-led league got off to an interesting start overall, with a much different feel than a PGA Tour event thanks to having a shotgun start, playing just 54 holes and a team competition factoring into play. 

The event also featured some unique elements not often seen at a tour event, including music blaring on the driving range, a marching band and planes doing aerial stunts, perhaps signaling “the future of golf.”

Overall, a competitive tournament and a good setup in London led to a successful first week of golf for the new league. There were hiccups with crowds, the broadcast, and the leaderboard missing from LIV Golf’s website that will look to be resolved, but considering the unknowns of so much going into the first round on Thursday, LIV Golf produced an interesting and unique product that was something different from what many golf fans are used to.

However, the drama and controversy surrounding the new series has not gone away, and many questions, perhaps even more than before LIV Golf kicked off, remain surrounding what’s next for the sport.

There are clearly differences between LIV Golf and the PGA Tour, and one is just how much money the PGA Tour can actually give its winners. As ESPN writer Kevin Van Valkenburg noted recently, the PGA Tour is a non-profit organization that may have to change drastically to compete in the financial realm that LIV Golf seems able to.

Van Valkenburg also noted that LIV Golf’s main goal may just be to get the PGA Tour to run out of money. In a few years, professional golf could look very different should LIV Golf achieve that or the PGA Tour change how it operates.

An additional element to the new golf series is the concept of sportswashing, where an individual, group, or in this case, country, uses a sport to better its reputation. Saudi Arabia may very well be doing that through LIV Golf, with the money won by players being questioned morally. For the series’ first winner in Schwartzel, he didn’t want to think much about those kinds of specifics.

“Where the money comes from is not something that I’ve ever looked at playing in my 20-year career,” Schwartzel said after the round. “I think that if you start digging everywhere we’ve played, you could find faults in anything.”

No matter the intentions, one thing that is clear is that many golfers leaving the PGA Tour for LIV Golf are clearly taking a risk right now. Last week, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan suspended each of the 17 PGA Tour members in LIV Golf’s opening field, deeming them no longer eligible to play on golf’s main tour through a memo sent out on Thursday.

Phil Mickelson LIV Golf Centurion Club
Phil Mickelson struggled in his return to competitive golf, shooting 10-over par in his first LIV Golf tournament. (Credit: Reuters via USA TODAY Sports)

This also applies for any PGA Tour members who sign on with LIV Golf in the future, with some of the most recent being Bryson DeChambeau, Patrick Reed and Pat Perez. 

Leaving pro golf’s staple league for a new organization is an interesting move. However, many, such as Golf Channel’s Todd Lewis, believe these players may be looking at the future with this decision. Eventually, with the moves the PGA Tour is making, it’s possible players take them to court. If they win a lawsuit against the tour, they may be able to play with both the PGA and LIV Golf, creating a type of “free agency” in golf.

LIV Golf responded to the PGA Tour’s suspension of players with a statement of its own on Thursday. 

“Today’s announcement by the PGA Tour is vindictive and it deepens the divide between the Tour and its members,” the statement said. “It’s troubling that the Tour, an organization dedicated to creating opportunities for golfers to play the game, is the entity blocking players from playing. This is certainly not the last word on the topic. The era of free agency is beginning as we are proud to have a full field of players joining us in London, and beyond.”

Of course, Norman has had his own thoughts on the PGA Tour’s actions. Recently, he noted in an interview with SI.com that LIV Golf is prepared to back its players should lawsuits come to fruition.

The messy situation between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf is clear, but what about the four major championships? Last week, the USGA announced that it would allow any players competing in LIV Golf’s first event last week to compete in this week’s U.S. Open. This was a surprising move to some, but a decision that was hard to make with qualifying already complete and the field essentially set.

As of right now, many believe the R&A will make the same ruling when it comes to next month’s Open Championship, meaning the real drama within this realm could first begin next year with the 2023 Masters. 

Greg Norman LIV Golf
Greg Norman and the PGA Tour continue to be at odds over what is happening with LIV Golf. (Credit: Reuters via USA TODAY Sports)

Arguably golf’s most prestigious tournament, the Masters has always invited past champions to play. Currently, Garcia, Johnson, Mickelson, Reed and Schwartzel would be the players in question if the Masters would decide to not invite LIV Golf members to play in its tournament.

Most likely, LIV Golf players will be banned from playing in the PGA Championship as well. The PGA of America is a separate entity from the PGA Tour, but the two are very closely aligned, so it’ll be interesting to see what happens next spring if golf is still in the same state it is currently.

It is already known that the Presidents Cup will be impacted, as Monahan noted last week that players competing with LIV Golf will be ineligible for the 2022 event held in September at Quail Hollow in Charlotte. Ryder Cup eligibility also could be in question when it returns in 2023. 

Outside of the majors, questions remain about what the DP World Tour – formerly the European Tour and the world’s other main pro golf league – will do when it comes to LIV Golf. They have not made a decision either way as to whether or not to suspend or ban its players from the tour if they play with LIV, but will likely have to make some kind of ruling in the near future.

Overall, the controversy has created an awkward situation for golfers on both sides of the coin. After winning the RBC Canadian Open on Sunday, one of the biggest faces on the PGA Tour, Rory McIlroy, took a subtle dig at LIV Golf.

Ironically, McIlroy also surpassed Norman in PGA Tour wins on Sunday with 21, allowing him to also take a shot at the leader of LIV.

“I had extra motivation of what’s going on across the pond,” McIlroy said after his round. “The guy that’s spearheading that tour has 20 wins on the PGA Tour and I was tied with him and I wanted to get one ahead of him. And I did. So, that was really cool for me, just a little sense of pride on that one.”

Now, players like Johnson, Mickelson and others will face the noise back in the United States this week as they get ready for the U.S. Open. They also will rejoin their peers and many PGA Tour supporters, like McIlroy, possibly creating some tension between golfers if paired together. 

It should make for a very interesting week of major-championship golf, and an interesting few months as we find out what the future holds for professional golf. 

LIV Golf will get going once again June 30-July 2 at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club in Portland, Oregon.