George Washington’s face seems upholstered on every fairway, on every green. Golf no longer speaks of the purity of the game, but of the bloody bid between two organizations and the millions of dollars to be distributed. It is an unprecedented crisis, which not only fractured the structures of this sport, but also put the ethics and commitment of its main actors under scrutiny: golfers and managers.
The LIV Golf Invitational Series, the new tour financed with endless Arab funds, gave another coup de grace: it confirmed Brooks Koepka, four-time major winner, and the Mexican Abraham Ancer, one of the best Latin players of the moment and who is ranked 20th in the world ranking. With them two, there are already eight within the top 50 of the list who have crossed sides. Under-the-table deals for specific PGA Tour members continue to roll in daily, and at higher and higher amounts.
After securing Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau, Sergio García, Patrick Reed, Louis Oosthuizen and other prominent figures, it transpired that Joaquín Niemann (18th) was also sounded by LIV, but for now the Chilean continues resisting the lure of petrodollars. To get an idea of how much these stars are being offered – just for joining the circuit – it is said that there were more than 100 million dollars for Koepka and 70 for Ancer, obscene figures that completely distort the values of a sport of itself hyper-professionalized.
All golfers who have already played the first date of the LIV in London, as well as those made official these days to play in the next season in Portland, are suspended from playing in any PGA Tour tournament. However, the majors remain exempt from any sanction and respect the pre-established classification criteria: this was determined by the US Open won by the Englishman Matt Fitzpatrick, and the same will happen in the British Open (from July 14 to 17), as the R&A reported yesterday.
In this way, the golfers now loyal to the tour led by the Australian Greg Norman will be able to perform in St. Andrews, for the 150th realization of the oldest major, and will only appear in the LIV competitions, which last three days and are played 54 holes, both individually and by teams.
Faced with such an attack, which does not seem to stop, the PGA Tour reacted yesterday with various criticisms, but also with specific changes in order to retain their memberships. In his most challenging moment as commissioner of the entity, Jay Monahan made his declaration of principles: “The LIV Golf Series Invitational is an irrational threat, which does not care about the return on investment or the true growth of the game”, he lashed out, and added graphically: “If this is an arms race, and if the only weapons here are dollar bills, the PGA Tour can’t compete. We are an American institution, we cannot compete with a foreign monarchy that is spending billions of dollars trying to buy the game of golf.”
The announcement also covered increases in prizes. Thus, the PGA Tour detailed that the bags of eight existing tournaments will increase by around 54 million dollars: Sentry Tournament of Champions will go from US$ 8.2 million to 15; Genesis Invitational, Arnold Palmer Invitational, WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play and Memorial Tournament will jump from $12 million to $20 each, while The Players will go from $20 million to $25, and the FedEx St. Jude Championship and BMW Championship, from US$15 million to 20.
“These increases will be funded by sponsor support and supplemented in the short term by the operating reserve,” Monahan said, adding that these resource allocation amendments will not affect previously announced prize increases at other events.
But there is more, in order to get at least a little closer to the numbers of the Arab tour: the PGA Tour will create three contests with purses worth up to US $ 25 million each, which will rotate in cities in Europe, Asia and the Middle East . The 50 best players of the FedExCup season will be able to play this kind of world series and will start in 2024.
In this battery of changes, it is also planned to reduce the size of the fields for the FedEx Cup: there will no longer be 125 players who will enter the first playoff, but there will only be 70. In the second season the best 50 will remain, and in the final tournament, the Tour Championship in East Lake, Atlanta, will keep the top 30. Going forward, only the top 70 on the FedEx points list will be completely exempt for the following season.
Monahan insisted on the way LIV undermined the normal development of golf: “When someone tries to buy the sport and focus only on an individual priority, that association evaporates and instead we end up with a person, an entity, using endless amounts of money to direct employees, not members or partners, toward their personal goal.”
To all this appears Netflix, which had been filming its series in the style of “Drive to survive”, with the backstage of Formula 1. Until now there had been an alliance with the PGA Tour, but the problems began when the cameras secretly traveled to London to take LIV boot images. Then, another battle of interests broke out…
In a conference during the last US Open, Brooks Koepka had accused journalists of putting “a black cloud” over the US Open, by raising the LIV Series on the day’s agenda: “I’m here, at the US Open , and ready to play, and I think it sucks: y’all are throwing this black cloud over this contest.” However, days later he dropped out of Travelers, the next appointment on the PGA Tour, and was confirmed by the Arab league. “Koepka’s impact on golf over the last five years cannot be underestimated. He has a champion pedigree,” Greg Norman said upon receiving it.