November 3, 2022
LIV Tour and the loss of innocence
I am a PGA golf professional, which means I make my living working in the golf profession. I am also a professional golfer, which means when I play in a professional tournament I am competing for more than just the title, but for monetary compensation. Most times I had no idea what the first place check would be, but my goal was always to play as good as possible and if I did win, I first savored the victory and the honor of the title and second the prize money. If I didn't win, my objective was finish as high up the leaderboard to receive a bigger paycheck.
When I started competing in tournaments as a junior golfer the desire was to win a trophy. In college it was to play well as a team and secure a league title and possibility win an NCAA championship. My idol when I grew up was Arnold Palmer. He was all about winning championships. He was there to win the tournament and not play it safe so he could make a good check. Since Arnie, we have had a steady succession of great major champions in Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Tom Watson, Hale Irwin, Nick Faldo Ernie Els, Tiger Woods and the current stars of Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, and Scottie Scheffler. All appear to play the sport for the joy and challenge of the game and be the best that they can be. All have also been richly compensated for their achievements and are abundantly well-off with money that would last multiple lifetimes. I praise their achievements both career accomplishments and financially.
Now comes the LIV Tour and here I have to have a reality check. Professional golfers are playing golf for money. The idea is to make as much money as possible. My loss of innocence is my fantasy that all these golfers are doing this for the love of the game and to have their names eternally etched on a USGA trophy. Wrong, I was and am naïve. I want it to be that way, but professional golf is a business. Business is there to make money. If something is better in a different place, then that's where the business will take you. The money that the Saudi's have waved in front of the players on the PGA Tour is unreal. It's money that you can't fathom. Phil Michelson was reportedly given 200 million dollars. Dustin Johnson signed for a reported $125 million. Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau, and the world number two player Cameron Smith have guaranteed signing contracts over $100 million each. Who wouldn't be tempted if that was offered to you?
Great for them and they can take their talents and money and play in their 54 hole, shotgun start, exhibitions for as much money as they like. The general public will ultimately decide if that is the type of golf that they want to watch. I will go to two or three golf tournaments a year. I have specific players that I target to watch. None of the players that have signed onto the LIV Tour are on my list of people I must see. My interest in a limited field, shotgun start, short length event does not excite me. Greg Norman and the LIV Tour are promoting that this as the future. More excitement and more fun is the thyme, but I can't see it. What would be interesting would be a MMA bout on the 18th green pitting Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau for a million bucks. That would be fun!
With every contract and alliance you enter into, you have to be willing to do and say certain things. The players who took the big money are employees of the LIV Tour, which is fully funded by the Saudi government. So in reality they are working for Saudi Arabia. It's laughable the hype and faked enthusiasm that Greg Norman, Mickelson, DeChambeau, and Cam Smith have to say in promoting a currently secondary product. Another reason for the resistance to embrace this new Tour is the moral and ethical question, "should you take blood money from a country that promotes terrorism, violates human rights, have assassinated diplomates, and is anti-Semitic?" These players have chosen to look the other way and cash in. I wonder what their consciences have come up with to validate their choices. It's a tricky question, because the US government has trade and oil agreements with Saudi Arabia. Large US firms have business ties to the area. The European Tour has numerous tournaments that are played in Arab countries in the middle-east. Even two of the LIV Tour's biggest critics, Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods, have accepted appearance money to play in tournaments in the middle-east. Naivety and reality are at odds, but necessity (or money) makes strange bedfellows.
In the end, I'm fine with these LIV players taking their money and playing in a different playground. You took your riches, so go there and have fun and the PGA Tour shouldn't bother you and you don't bother them. If the LIV Tour truly is the way of the future, the future will come to your door. As for me, I like the PGA Tour and what it stands for, where everyone starts at scratch each year and you must earn what you make. We will see where the battle of these two tours will lead us, but already the PGA Tour has adjusted prize money and elevated events for 2023. Sometimes you have to rock the boat to move it forward.