It’s a heavy battle for the soul of the game – old ways and old PGA money versus bold changes and Saudi-backed blood money for the LIV Tour, an ongoing battle that has split the sport in two, leaving no easy answer to where it all goes from here.
The endgame is anyone’s guess, but the next round of battle is impossible to miss, as you’ll be stopping at our doorstep with LIV Golf Invitational Boston taking place Friday, Saturday and Sunday at The International in Bolton.
Just days after the PGA officially wrapped its season with a dramatic and lucrative end to the FedEx Cup series in Atlanta, and just months after Boston hosted one of the jewels in the sports crown with the US Open at The Country Club in Brooklyn, it’s LIV’s turn in the ring.
Can their brand of the game — “golf, just louder,” they call it — deliver a knockout punch?
It’s the familiar four-day PGA competition with cut-offs after two rounds versus three days of no-cut play, a distinction that actually inspired the name LIV, which stands for the Roman number of 54, as it does in 54 holes.
It’s a full-day PGA T-shirt that welcomes the whims of Mother Nature into the competitive equation versus kicks off a LIV rifle meant to take her out of play.
It’s the single players in the PGA who are only fighting for themselves versus the LIV team element that raises the stakes.
It’s the difference in prize payments, with PGA’s tradition of earning the win against guaranteed LIV payments and lucrative up-front contracts.
And it’s money, with the chains of the famously narrow PGA wallet opened against endless LIV pockets.
“What has been done to the world of professional men’s golf has torn it apart, which is unfortunate,” Rory McIlroy said after winning the Tour Championship in Atlanta. “I think there are ways to fix that and bring it back together. But with everything else going on now, I don’t expect that to happen anytime in the future.”
Each side scores points
The fight continues, with a series of punches that haven’t stopped since the game split due to the arrival of the controversial defector round. Since LIV debuted on June 9 in London, it seems that the ongoing and controversial news cycle is announcing alternate round winners.
The PGA just scored big with a FedEx Cup finish, not only in the way that McIlroy drastically outperformed Scotty Scheffler by erasing a six-shot deficit on Sunday but was McIlroy himself – the man who, along with Tiger Woods, emerged as the fiercest defender in the PGA. Woods, who has confined him to 46 and his body surgically repaired in a rare competitive appearance, traveled to Delaware ahead of the penultimate FedEx event to boost PGA support.
Since the beginning of the split, points in the court of public opinion have largely gone to the PGA, which quickly claimed high moral standing in the wake of the human rights record of a Saudi regime investing billions of dollars in the LIV round. But other weeks have gone their way, too, such as the sovereign in a lawsuit in which LIV players sued to compete in the FedEx Cup, and The recent announcement of new competitive structures and wages within the current round. Or until the latest report that Japanese superstar and former Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama will stay with the PGA Tour.
Pick another week, however, and the rounds go the LIV way, when they remind the world that no sport is without controversy, when they attract more top players from the ranks of the PGA Like world number 2 Cameron Smith from AustraliaBritish Open champion, or Americans Cameron Triangle and Harold Varner III, or while preparing for a full second season that will feature 12 franchises in international locations.
This one is pretty clear: While the calendar may be indicating that summer is about to end, the summer of discontent in golf shows no signs of abating. The heat continues because the LIV, with its deep pockets, bold ideas, and roster of defectors that followed Phil Mickelson and Greg Norman, emerged as a legitimate threat and because the PGA, with strong defenders like Woods and McIlroy, resisted.
“Men who think one way or the other, frankly, I don’t care one way or the other, I don’t care if they leave,” McIlroy said. “But I would like them to be fully informed; I don’t want people to make decisions after listening from only one side.
“Men can do whatever they want, and make the best decision for themselves and their families; I just want them to make it based on all the facts.”
Verbal Strike Trading
McElroy’s conciliatory tone isn’t always echoed by others, and she’s probably the one to grudgingly accept that LIV isn’t going to go away. From the first grumbling and rumors about the arrival of the new league to the screaming and anger at the charter member Mickelson’s Clumsy Confessions About the controversial Saudi investment fund that will pay for it, there have been times when it has felt as if the LIV was not going to happen.
The times when McIlroy called her “dead in the water,” or tour members like Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau publicly declared their loyalty to the PGA only and later struck multi-million dollar contracts with LIV. The time Norman, the creative driving force behind an idea he’s been pushing for the better part of 30 years, declined a question about Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. By saying, “We all make mistakes.”
Or, of course, the time PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan unilaterally declared that any player competing for a LIV would be automatically suspended from the PGA Tour, a position he succinctly and unequivocally stood in at East Lake, answering the question of whether He could see the potential future return of LIV players with a “no”.
When asked why not, he said, “They’ve joined the LIV Series of golf and they’ve made that commitment. For most of them, they’ve made multi-year commitments. As I’ve been clear all along, every player has a choice, and I respect their choice, but they did. We made it for us.” We will continue to focus on the things we control and become stronger and stronger.”
With the fourth of seven LIV regular season events (followed by the Team Championship Final) ready to kick off, the new organization is ready to respond. Comments range from an official statement in response to the PGA changes announced by Monahan last Wednesday – “LIV Golf is clearly the best thing that has ever happened to aid the careers of professional golfers” – to Lee Westwood’s less blunt but more angry reaction, now a golfer. Liv, who told Golf Digest:
“I laugh at what the PGA Tour players have come up with. It’s just a copy of what LIV does. There are a lot of hypocrites out there. They all say LIV is ‘not competitive.’ They all refer to the infinite aspect of LIV and the ‘Short Fields.’ Now, it’s funny They suggest 20 events very similar to LIV.
“Hopefully, at some point they will all choke on their words. And hopefully they will be held accountable as we were in the early days.”
The battle continues
Each side believes in what they have to sell. For McIlroy and Woods et al, sticking with the PGA means sticking with the best competition in the world. The PGA Tour remains the only way to the true crown jewels of golf, the four major titles being Masters, the PGA, the US Open and the British Open. The PGA Tour is the setting for history for Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods.
“Everyone is trying to get to the top of professional golf, which is the PGA Tour,” McIlroy said. “Ultimately the PGA Tour will do what they’re going to do, LIV will do what they’re going to do, and at this point, Jay said it’s best if the PGA Tour tries to control what they can control and deliver the best product that people can control.”
Those were the ideas that Monahan had at the start of East Lake, announcing changes that would include a higher class of events within the current schedule that would feature the game’s top-ranked players, ensuring that those players would come together in 20 events annually. , guaranteed money for beginners, and higher rewards for more golfers from the Player Impact Program, which rewards participation with fans as well as finishes and ratings.
He’s formally partnered with Woods and McIlroy for a new “Monday Night Football” skill competition and it’s impossible to ignore just how frequently the changes are what LIV claims to be.
Golf, only louder – the official logo of LIV. Championship golf, yes, but it starts with an actual countdown clock. The battle continues, and the next round is coming to a golf course near you.
Tara Sullivan is a columnist for The Globe. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter Tweet embed.