Love of Money

For The Love of Money

 

LIV Golf has reason to feel good about itself, but where does the sport go from here?

By Alan Shipnuck

HEMEL HEMPSTEAD, England — On Saturday evening, along the rolling countryside outside London, at a private club that is a bastion for the Anglo elite, former Masters champion Charl Schwartzel tapped in for a final par to win $4.75 million at the inaugural LIV Golf tournament, ushering in golf’s age of cognitive dissonance. For Schwartzel, 37, this was his first worldwide “victory” since 2016 — he was also part of the winning four-man squad in LIV’s concurrent team competition — but his potential reemergence as a big-time player was relegated to a minor footnote amid the preceding days’ political brinkmanship that is threatening golf’s world order. Pressing flesh at the glitzy trophy ceremony was Yasir bin Othman Al-Rumayyan, a top official from the Saudi Arabian government. It is the Saudis and their vast reserves of oil money that launched LIV. Al-Rumayyan’s preppy Western clothes and impeccable manners did not hint at the atrocities his government repeatedly has committed. Acting as emcee at the ceremony was LIV frontman Greg Norman, who has taken to spouting empty cliches about modernism and inclusivity but only two days earlier looked on impassively as tournament security goons strong-armed a reporter out of a press conference without cause. All this messiness lurked beneath the surface, like a turgid shark, as the feeling at the trophy ceremony was celebratory. Fueled by excellent food and beer offered at reasonable prices in the spectator village, the fans were loud and rowdy. (The final round was billed as a sellout, though free tickets had been available before the tournament.)

In a cute touch, Liv gave out trophies to the top three finishers in both the individual and team competitions, and the assembled players radiated Christmas morning giddiness and exchanged incredulous looks that could be interpreted as holy shit—this actually worked! Taking it all in was disorienting, a reminder that in this complicated moment for professional golf many things can true at once: It is impressive what LIV has built from scratch in a short period of time; the Saudi money and palpable player greed is distasteful in the extreme; a 54-hole tournament with a shotgun start feels weird, but it is still a pleasure to watch accomplished golfers tussle with a challenging course with something at stake; in the space of a week, LIV has seized most of the leverage in the battle for golf’s future, some three decades after Norman first floated the idea of an independent world tour; the monolithic and monopolistic PGA Tour is somehow now the underdog.

“The evolution of the game of golf has arrived,” Norman said at the trophy ceremony. “LIV is alive. For 27 years there have been a lot of obstacles put in our path. There have been a lot of dreams squashed. But they couldn’t squash us. Golf was always going to be a force for good. The fans wanted this. We wanted this for you. We wanted this for the players, we wanted this for the caddies, for the players’ families.”

As was the case throughout tournament week, the on-course action was overshadowed by larger developments. Schwartzel had a commanding five-stroke lead at the turn of the final round, making it easier to focus on the breaking news that Patrick Reed and Pat Perez are the latest players to leave the PGA Tour to join LIV. This followed Bryson DeChambeau’s similar announcement from the day before. LIV has now acquired a critical mass of Hall of Famers (Phil Mickelson and, someday, Dustin Johnson), major championship winners (Schwartzel, DeChambeau, Reed, Sergio Garcia, Martin Kaymer, Graeme McDowell and Louis Oosthuizen) and spiky personalities who generate conversation (Perez, Ian Poulter, Kevin Na and Lee Westwood). Rumors are flying that Harold Varner III and Jason Kokrak are next; they’re not stars but this kind of established veteran is important for filling out the 48-man fields and bumping some of the unknowns who dented LIV’s credibility in its opening event. The Pat Perezes of the world also bring respectable World Ranking positions, making it increasingly difficult for the OWGR folks to continue to deny points to LIV events. (This is a key point, as World Ranking is the key metric for players earning access into the major championships.) More players are sure to jump as good word-of-mouth spreads among their peers.

In London, the players enjoyed the shorter work week and jaunty, non-conformist feeling of the tournament. They especially liked the money. Schwartzel’s haul (including the $750,000 for his share of the being on the winning team) would have placed him 29th on the season-long 2020-21 PGA Tour money list. Hennie du Plessis, 25, who finished second, cashed $2.875 million in individual and team money—that’s nearly double what the winner of this week’s Canadian Open on the PGA Tour will claim, and it triples Du Plessiss’s career worldwide earnings. Journeyman Peter Uihlein won $1,050,000 for finishing fourth, more than seven times what he has earned in 15 starts on the PGA Tour this year. The money was mentioned incessantly during the streaming coverage of the final round, because what else did this soulless tournament have to offer?

“It’s a business,” says McDowell, who once seemed like a golf romantic. “Yes, we love the sport, we love competing, but the purse that we are playing for any given week, appearance money, you know, we’re running a business here. It’s like the sacrifice that we make being away from our families—I hate to use the word ‘sacrifice.’ We are all here playing golf for a living; it’s a pretty sweet life. But still, you’re away from your family 30, 35 weeks [per year playing the PGA or European Tour]. It has to be worth it financially. Otherwise it’s a big sacrifice you’re making for no reason. You’re always weighing up from a business point of view: What is the best financial outcome for my time spent?”

This is the cold, hard reality facing PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan, who clearly has been outmaneuvered by Norman, a man far more comfortable working in the shadows. Monahan thought he had a hammer in threatening PGA Tour members with suspensions if they defected for LIV, but Johnson and others have resigned their membership with minimal regrets. DJ is now going to make more money playing half as often, in what could be interpreted as the American Dream. (For top players, weekly tournaments have always been filler between the majors, and LIV has just made this more clear.) What will Johnson, a noted boater and occasional Tik Tok star, do with all that free time? “Whatever the hell I want,” he says. Of course, this kind of insouciance is possible only if you don’t think about the source of the money buying all that freedom. And given that pro golfers have long competed in Saudi Arabia and China and Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, they are clearly disinclined to fret about who is writing the checks, which Schwartzel confirmed on Saturday. “Where the money comes is not something I’ve ever looked at in playing a 20-year career,” he said. “If you start studying all the places I’ve played, you could find faults in anything.”

Schwartzel, McDowell, Poulter and Westwood aren’t in the field, but a few LIV participants will now travel to Boston for next week’s U.S. Open. Monahan was surely hoping the major championships would close ranks and ban the LIV players, but a turf war between competing tours is not the USGA’s fight (or the PGA of America’s or the Royal & Ancient’s or Augusta National’s). Schwartzel may have won a historically large paycheck, but in the victor’s press conference he managed to maintain some perspective, saying, “Majors is what defines our careers. Major pressure is definitely different. Money is one thing, but at majors you are playing for prestige, history.”

It’s a quaint thought. Old-fashioned, even. Now more than ever, money is what makes the golf world  go ’round. A lot of cash was won at this first LIV event. But it felt like the sport lost something too.

34 thoughts on “For The Love of Money”

  1. With more PGA players moving LIV will be where to play in the next 3 years as long as those players can play the majors. The PGA tour is going to have to change the way they run their tournaments and the formats and the payouts if they want to be the place to play .

    1. They literally CAN’T do that, though, Alan. They don’t have an infinite pile of cash to compete with the Saudis on that front. If what matters is money (and it appears that’s what matters), then the Tour is done. It can’t compete with a regime that can light billions on fire in pursuit of a goal much larger than golf.

    2. GoodWalk Spoiled

      Right you are. The PGA will need to get team play going, and make other changes. Competition is good for them. More power to LIV golf. I hope they get a TV deal with a major network soon. That will really build momentum.

  2. I find it difficult to express how disappointed I am in the pros who jumped to LIV, funded 100% by Saudi blood money. I counted DJ, Phil and Sergio as among my favorite players on the tour. But seeing them cave and sell their integrity for easy paydays has driven a stake into the heart of this fan. It’s not just that I can no longer root FOR them in the majors to come, I will be actively rooting AGAINST them. On the bright side: We now know what their integrity is worth…..

    1. The PGA tour is fueled by the US government who supports killing small children with the worst gun laws in the world……

      1. John, how is the PGA “fueled by the US government”? Worst gun laws, exactly why gun law will prevent a person intent on killing acquire the weapons they wish? Criminals, or those with criminal intent, don’t follow laws.

    2. I’m in agreement. Good bye to the ones who sold their soul to the devil(s) behind LIV. Norman’s scowl and blatant lie says it all. He’s the head crook of a dirty money sportswashing scam.

      1. GoodWalk Spoiled

        Everyone who drives a car or flies on an airplane supports the Saudis. Where do you think the oil and gas that goes into the tank comes from? The Church Lady mentality and Phil bashing at the Golf Channel is laughable. PGA tour players have been joining tournaments in Saudi Arabia and Arab states for years. Never a question there. Pro golfers are businessmen. They’re not fools, and money talks. The PGA will be forced to improve with competition from LIV. So be it.

    3. I agree that this is blood money, but isn’t Biden about to go and kiss MBS’s ass in a bid to get the Saudis to increase oil production?

      1. I recognize the near hypocrisy. But I’d argue that Biden is doing this not for personal monetary gain — but rather to help Americans during this economic crisis.

    4. 100% correct Gary no Integrity when money can by your morals what is there. I also curious if the wives of these players stand for woman’s rights that the Saudi government condemns or they are all about the money too

    5. Why? Every country has problems, if you are an American, mass shootings, police abuse with black people, racism etc. are big big problems, if you live in Europe racism and fascism is coming back very strong, the united states do business with the same government you are complaining about, formula 1 is owned by an American company and their major sponsor is from Saudi Arabia, Horse racing has a lot of Arabian investment and no one says anything about that, why all of a sudden golfers cant play where the money is better and you have to play less? wouldn’t you like to work less and make a lot more money? stop making this a political issue, workers should be free to choose where they work.

  3. David Hernandez

    One can say, “who gives a shit, it’s money”. And they will be making a ton of it. But at a competitive level it’s not the same. Who are they competing against? It’s a shame that honor, dignity takes a second place when money is presented

  4. I believe you used to have a picture of yourself playing a hole on Cypress on your Twitter page. That certainly qualifies as a ‘bastion of the Anglo elite’ doesn’t it? Yet you seem so contemptuous of them.

  5. LIV paychecks are funded by the consumption of oil, in the form of gas, and literally every American consumes lots of gas every day, if not directly in their vehicles, then indirectly in the goods and food they buy, because that stuff is transported by gas-using vehicles. So LIV golfers paychecks are funded by all of us.

    1. We go to work and drive our kids and survive…we’re not golfers who already have millions in the bank

      your ‘point’ is excrement

  6. A tour offering more money to attract players. Nothing new here ! PGA tour, not LIV, basically destroyed the European tour when they decided to attract elite European (and International) players by offering more money. From what I know, PGA is not a transparent organisation (no tax, no report published). Aren’t the sponsors doing some sportwashing as well ? Is the money financing PGA tour really cleaner ? I don’t know, but I would love to see some facts about it. I think Ryder cup format and match play are still the best TV, but I found LIV TV product better than PGA and with more potential to improve. And bring in the best women in the competition, rather than the no names at the bottom of any leaderboard. Mixed competition, especially when there is a team format, would bring me on board.

  7. So-called “blood money” permeates every sport – look at China’s enormous influence in the NBA. Where are LeBron et al critics. Serious question please enlighten me, what is the difference?

    1. When a government is directly funding the entirety of a league with the sole purpose of creating a shiny thing for people to look at to distract from human rights abuses, you can’t pretend this is the same thing.
      The NBA etc is owned by individual and corporate owners out for profit. This is a false equivalence.

      1. WTF are you talking about, Nike uses slave labor and writes huge checks to your boy Rory every year…China, with the worst human rights abuses on this planet, gets paid millions by your Golf Channel – owned NBC to broadcast the Olympics. Biden shuts down domestic oil production so we become reliant on your Saudi friends for increased production…..and you can’t spell hypocrisy?

  8. The best thing about the pre-LIV golf structure globally is that it is a true meritocracy. Even ignoring the blood money – which you can’t – LIV is nothing of the sort. We have washed up vets and no-names, plus a handful of greedy mid-career guys who can’t understand that the world is not only about them and their wallet.
    It’s truly a depressing representation of many of society’s problems – too many people focused solely on personal financial gain without any second thought to how their actions impact the society they live in. They will get paid and I bet zero of these dollars will go to any more worthwhile cause. Not a single one so far has come out and said that they’ll use a meaningful (or any!) portion of their windfall for some cause that’s beyond themselves.

  9. BigGoldMachine

    The Fire Drill discussion proves the disconnect. Insiders have beef with the Tour about insider-y issues for college grads, Korn Ferry guys and mini-tour guys, qualifying, quality of life for journeymen or lower. Then Matt et al. praise the LIV disruption for disruption’s sake — which I somewhat disagree with but whatever — but the LIV disruption is just going to make the little-guy problem worse, not better. I am an avid fan, and I care more than nothing about qualifying, etc. But that product does not pay any bills. PGA Tour should work on the product – team, format, etc. — but those things are different that the little-guy issue.

  10. Can’t believe the South African players are not getting called out. All the top South African players defected to play for the Saudi’s. With that countries history of human rights abuses these people should be much more sensitive to the human rights offenses in Saudi Arabia. Unless of course your believe in advocating and endorsing the racism and abuses that are part of their nation’s history.

    Also all citizens of the US will be subsidizing LIV Golf through the $5.00 plus per gallon gas that we are paying. The Saudi’s are the largest producer in the world and could bring down the price by turning on the spigots in their country. Yet they do not but will expect us to defend them if they get into a military confrontation with Iran.

    As far as the US whores such as Mickelson and DJ I wish them nothing but the worst. The Saudi’s could pull the plug on the whole deal at any time and when the music stops playing these clowns won’t have a chair. And the face of the operation, The Great White Jerk, would look good flushing down a drain as well.

  11. What no one seems to mention is the tremendous amount of charitable dollars that PGA tour stops put into the local communities where they are held. If LIV golf takes over, I don’t see the Saudis filling the void of charitable dollars that losing tour stop sponsorships will cause as they become less attractive due to the top players not participating anymore.

  12. PGA Tour is soooooo desperate….Sunday pins @ RBC a total joke…they want a drag race of birdies/eagles to the finish.

    1. Yeah like the Saudi’s aren’t desperate to sportswash their image with 2 billion in the first year led by creepy Greg Norman and his stooge Phil “it’s all about the money” Mickelson. I agree with a number of posts stating their disappointment in these players with more soon to go over to the dark side. When the game basically becomes a joke outside of the majors, these greedy bas…rds could give a crap as long as their bank accounts are overflowing.

  13. I am amazed by the hypocrisy regarding the LIV tour. Do golfers who played or play in China or the UAE on the European Tour face the same scrutiny from journalists as we have seen recently. Have they questioned any golfer who has a sponsor from a country with known human rights abuses in the same manner? I hate when tradition and breakaway groups potentially threaten the fabric of a game we love, as what happened with cricket- but the reporting over the past few months has left a very sour taste in my mouth.

    1. We all love golf and I wouldn’t bother watching LIV

      Yes the Saudis are a nasty bunch, no dispute.

      In 2019 the US Govt reported they took 14.5 billion dollars of Saudi money largely comprised of arms and ammunitions

      That includes the USA fighting a proxy war with Saudi displacing over 4 million ,bombing innocent civilians and leaving 20+ million in absolute poverty.

      The same blood money the golfers are taking the US government is taking

      Why does no one write about that reality

      1. Precisely….ever hear of Falun Gong, practiced by 100 million Chinese people? Guess what, the CCP has persecuted millions of adherents; detained in prisons, labor camps, and detention centers across the country, where they are subjected to torture, slave labor, and forced organ harvesting. For you “bone saw fanatics”, educate yourselves or STFU.

  14. I think the Tour has made some moves that diminish my outrage. First, they don’t give players a dime for missing the cut. That player showed up and filled out your field, paid his caddie, traveled and paid for a hotel room, and he gets nothing? That’s just not right, history or no history.

    Additionally, the PGA Tour pension plan is massively hypocritical for anyone complaining about filthy lucre. Arnold Palmer personally lobbied for the Tour to get massive tax exemptions that no other American gets and it’s worth untold millions.

  15. The wonderful mysterious spiritual game of golf will continue its enchanted path because at its center is the universes soul!
    No matter how the world wants to slice up living thru borders restrictions racism we will always come back to Carl Sagan’s speech “ the pale blue dot”. This planet viewed from millions of miles out in space by the Voyager space craft just a speck of dust where incredible beauty and kindness reside along side of the most violent and diabolical acts that person kind can perpetrate. This unfortunately for now is how the earth “life” is lived.As we evolve as a species this kind of behavior will be viewed as abhorrent and grotesque as the human sacrifices to bless abundance in the Aztec days.
    So what does this all have to do with our ancient game? Just this there is lightness and darkness in our lives we have the choice how to live and make our living to be a giver or taker.
    It has been my observation in my life that good,truth,kindness,generosity will always prevail.
    In my time of professional golf there was no money we traveled to the ends of the earth to compete.
    It evolved and it will keep on evolving.Back in the day a group of golfers did a daring thing of forming the Players division of the pga it was doomed to failure or so they said! Life goes on and this incredible game will survive not because of the professionals but because of all people who love the sound of the ball rattling in the cup for a perfect drive for that stupid missed chip the cameradere and above all for just playing “the game of golf” So leagues super leagues this billion dollar tournament that extravaganza will come and go what will be left as always is the little child on a windswept shoreline batting a ball with a hickory stick determined to broach that next daisy laden mound to lay it close to a fairy ring of mushrooms.And so the battle goes on to hole out our earth and square the circle.

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