Thursday, June 09, 2022

Professional golf may never be the same (yawn)

I really don't care much about golf as a sport, but it is nevertheless interesting to see it devolve from a cosmopolitan gentleperson's game to cut-throat blood sport. And the reason? You guessed it: money.

The PGA Tour, the exclusive and traditional professional golfing tournament since the year dot, has been completely up-ended by the new upstart LIV Golf International Series, which is being handsomely finamced by Saudi Arabia. The Saudi sovereign wealth fund is ploughing hundreds of millions of dollars into sign-on fees and prize money for the tournament, in an attempt to distance itself from the country's reputation as a human rights quagmire. Donald Trump had, unsurprisingly, offered his golf courses for the divisive cause.

And that has proven to be enough to attract some top names. Big-name PGA players like Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson have decamped to LIV for sums of money reportedly in the hundreds, not tens, of millions of dollars, more than most of them have made in their entire careers to date. Many of the others are reasonably big names but past their best, people like Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia, Louis Oosthuizen, Graeme McDowell, and of course LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman, himself a former No. 1 golfer. Several other equally big names, though, including Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas, are decrying the new tournament and sticking with the PGA, calling the Saudi move problematic, exploitative and divisive. 

But, more recently, two pretty big names who are very much in mid-career, Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed, have also signed up with the LIV Tour for future competitions. And that has really set the cat among the pigeons.

The PGA Tour has responded,.perhaps a little precipitately, by suspending all 17 PGA members who have signed up to  compete in the first LIV International Golf Series. Some of them see this as a reasonable response (or at least are unwiling to put up any public resistance). Others, like Ian Poulter for example, are vowing to take the PGA to court over it, arguing that they play in many different tournaments each year, the LIV being just one such, so why should they be disallowed by one tournament claiming to hold sway over others (and I must admit he has a point there).

Be that as it may, the whole thing is getting quite nasty, at least by golfing standards, and the battle lines are drawn up. Professional golf will probably never be the same (yawn).

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