LIV golf
BEDMINSTER, NEW JERSEY – JULY 31: Former U.S. President Donald Trump congratulates Henrik Stenson of Majesticks GC during day three of the LIV Golf Invitational – Bedminster at Trump National Golf Club Bedminster on July 31, 2022 in Bedminster, New Jersey. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/LIV Golf via Getty Images)

LIV Golf: The Last Shall Be First

Controversy swirled off the course and around winner Henrik Stenson as the upstart tour continued to play the victim card

By Alan Shipnuck
August 1, 2022

One of the most striking ironies in modern sport is that the folks at LIV Golf—populated by golf royalty, funded by actual royals, run by Greg Norman, who spent 331 weeks as world No. 1—have staked out the position as oppressed underdogs, fueled by grievance. In explaining why Brooks Koepka, winner of eight PGA Tour events, bolted for LIV and a $130 million bonanza, his swing coach, Claude Harmon, has been telling intimates, “Brooks is finally getting paid like a Super Bowl-winning quarterback, which is what he is worth.” In hailing the palpable camaraderie among the LIV players, Pat Perez, whose $28.8 million in winnings rank 49th all-time on the PGA tour money list, says, “It feels like us against the world.” 

This week LIV Golf barnstormed to a perfectly iconoclastic host venue: Trump Bedminster, founded by the eponymous 45th President of the United States, an outer-borough striver who created private clubs in his own image because he was not welcomed as a member at Augusta National or Pine Valley or Cypress Point or Seminole or Shinnecock Hills or Fishers Island any of the game’s citadels that confer the highest status upon the ruling class. (Trump has long been a member at Winged Foot but is rarely seen there, perhaps because the caddies reportedly nicknamed him “Pelé” for repeatedly kicking his ball out of the rough.) For hosting LIV, Trump Bedminster was paid $2.8 million (according to the Trump Organization) or $4.5 million (according to club members.) Either way, that’s a lot of oil money, but Trump has never been shy about doing Saudi Arabia’s bidding. In October 2018, The Washington Post reporter and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi—a longtime critic of the House of Saud—was lured to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, where he was killed and dismembered. U.S. intelligence services determined that Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman approved the operation, but then-President Trump resisted calls for formal sanctions, saying it would be “foolish” to risk the $450 billion Saudi Arabia had promised to spend and invest in the U.S. during Trump’s visit to the kingdom a year earlier. This is how the President explained his fondness for the Saudi elite, which dates back decades to the purchase of many pricey condos in Trump Tower: “They pay cash.”

And yet money is only part of Trump’s motivation for hosting two of this year’s eight LIV events. (The splashy season finale will be in late October at Trump Doral.) Just as Norman is fueled by vengeance—having been outfoxed, humiliated and turned into a pariah by the PGA Tour three decades ago when he tried to launch a competing world tour—Trump is seeking payback, having once again positioned himself as the great disruptor. He presided over a prestigious PGA Tour stop at Doral from 2013 to ’15, but it was outsourced to Mexico when Trump became a divisive political force. After a decade of wooing golf’s various governing bodies, this year he was supposed to get the sport’s ultimate validation: hosting a major, the PGA Championship, at Bedminster. But after losing the 2020 presidential election, Trump failed to participate in a peaceful transfer of power, and as the Jan. 6 hearings have made plain, actively worked to subvert the democratic process and did nothing to slow the sacking of the Capitol. The PGA of America, in a rare showing of backbone by a golf organization, stripped him of the PGA Championship. It still burns Trump to have been rejected by not one but two of golf’s rulers.

Early in tournament week I requested an interview with Trump but he declined, citing through intermediaries his unhappiness with a 2017 Sports Illustrated feature I had written that sought to show how his character has been revealed through golf. But during the Thursday pro-am, I was walking alone next to the rope line when Trump roared up in his golf cart. We had met once before, at Doral, and I have interviewed him by phone, but he introduced himself and said, “You’re a great writer with a great reputation.” After a little small-talk, Trump added, apropos of nothing, “The PGA screwed me, but I’m going to get them back. Trust me, I’m going to get them back.” Then he smashed the gas and was gone, leaving it unclear if he was woofing at the PGA of America, the Tour, or both. Next year, the LIV schedule will expand to 14 tournaments and Trump is pushing hard to host more events, including one at Turnberry. That would be a big middle finger to another group of golf golf tastemakers who have rejected him, the tweedy gents at the R&A; they have made plain they will not bring the Open Championship back to one of the world’s greatest courses as long as Trump presides over it.

All of this mojo was in the air at Bedminster, along with pro-Trump chants (“Four more years!”), anti-Biden chants (“Let’s go, Brandon”) and some pointed heckling of former fan favorite Phil Mickelson (“Do it for the Saudi royal family!”). The narrative around LIV contains so many Shakespearean themes—greed, betrayal, revenge, legacy—that the competition feels secondary, but Bedminster produced a juicy winner: Henrik Stenson, who, in his LIV debut, defeated a rejuvenated Matt Wolff and future Hall of Famer Dustin Johnson by two strokes. Stenson had fallen to 174th in the World Ranking since his epic victory at the 2016 Open Championship, but this performance raises the possibility that the 46-year-old flusher may still have a little something left in the tank. As is usually the case with LIV, the quality of the golf was overshadowed by larger events: Only days earlier Stenson had been stripped of his Ryder Cup captaincy by the European PGA Tour as the professional golf firmament continues to close ranks in an effort to thwart the LIV incursion. Stenson had called the captaincy the dream of a lifetime but left unsaid is that it’s a two-year unpaid gig. In three days at Bedminster he won $4.375 million, including a tidy payout for being part of the four-man squad—The Majesticks, should anyone care—that finished second in the concurrent team competition. “Yeah, it has been a bit of a roller coaster, no question,” Stenson said in victory. “Now it’s about looking forward. For me, at least.”

But Stenson made it clear he didn’t resign his post and that he still wants to serve, allowing him to stake out LIV’s preferred state of being: victimhood. (David Feherty, making his debut as an announcer on the LIV live-stream, hammered this theme during the first-round broadcast, calling Stenson’s demotion “a bitter and mean-spirited move.”) Yet Stenson, a jovial figure who was universally beloved until a couple of weeks ago, knew the captaincy would be the price he paid to take the LIV lucre. If he could so easily walk away from the prestige of the Ryder Cup—as have, potentially, numerous other LIVers—it has to make the rest of us wonder why we care so much. Even more than money, what LIV has brought to professional golf is cognitive dissonance. Trump’s presence offered buzz to a fledgling tour that certainly needs it, but it was disquieting for a former President to be profiting from a Saudi-backed venture in the shadow of Ground Zero. (Fifteen of the 19 9/11 hijackers hailed from Saudi Arabia and evidence continues to be made public that Saudi government officials materially supported some of the terrorists.) Surviving family members mounted protests outside the gates at Bedminster, but Trump was unmoved, saying “nobody’s gotten to the bottom of 9/11″—an obfuscation that was outrageous even by his standards. He batted away questions about the demonstrators. “I can tell you there are a lot of really great people that are out here today,” he said during the pro-am, “and we’re going to have a lot of fun and we’re going to celebrate.”

This is the LIV way: self-aggrandizement above all else. Just ask Stenson. He left Bedminster with a new fortune, but one that has come at quite a cost.

45 thoughts on “LIV Golf: The Last Shall Be First”

  1. The Bonesaw Tour…not much else to say. Much ballyhooed exhibitions. The money is (really) good, yes, second only to the “family time” (wink, wink) and the grand opportunity to do something good with the game of golf (wink, wink, wink). I hope the majors all close their doors next year to these guys. It’s a longshot…but I wouldn’t put it past The Masters (free thinkers, they are) and The Open (traditionalists).

  2. Alan: The comment about Koepka “finally being paid like a Super-Bowl winning QB”, is interesting. He feels that he should be paid what his value to a tour would be but these events aren’t even close to Duke’s Mayo Bowl ratings. This tour is starting to feel like an ultra rich circus with free admission to the general public: lots of interesting sights to see but not much movement at the turnstiles. After this week’s political atmosphere , I’m not sure what the future holds for this Tour. I enjoy your reporting on these events in any case.

  3. One guy, running a satire twitter account makes the “do it for the Saudi Royal Family” jab at Michelson and security and the surrounding fans get pissed at him. A whole gallery full of loudmouths chant “let’s go Brandon” and everybody cheers. That’s all you need to know about this league, it’s organizers, and it’s most ardent followers.

  4. Hi Alan,
    Thanks for a good article and for a very good platform for golf journalism!
    Although your piece was not focused on the actual golf – do you not agree that the players on top of the leaderboard
    were performing rather high level golf?
    Another issue: You write:
    “Stenson had called the captaincy the dream of a lifetime but left unsaid is that it’s a two-year unpaid gig.”
    Reading quotes of Padraig Harrington, commenting on Henrik’s decision, indicates that the captaincy of the Ryder Cup is
    well-paid. This particular quote taken from Golf.com.
    “We’re all here to make money and things like that but there is an element of like signing up to do something, and as much as it might suit him now and as much as it financially — financially being a Ryder Cup Captain in Europe is very lucrative.
    Padraig should know shouldn’t he? What is correct?

    1. Captains are unpaid but the endorsement opportunities via promotional events and pre tournament media engagements make the role financially rewarding.

  5. If victim-hood is the primary play of the LIV Tour professionals, then they’ve found a kindred soul with #45 who is always aggrieved with someone about something.

    Congratulations to Hendrik for cashing in $4.4million plus. Condolences to Sihwan Kim and any others who may find themselves already being pushed away from the money trough. Those who have not yet jumped should realize the current boat is full AND some early jumpers are finding themselves on the side of the road after having burned bridges with PGA and DPT, and having lost favor with LIV as they sign brighter stars. As Eliza Doolittle asks of her puppet master Professor Higgins, so might the lessor LIV professionals ask of MBS: “What’s to become of me?”.

    PS – campaigning for Sam Harrop to do a version of Dire Straights “Money for Nothing”.

  6. All I need to know is that the former guy is involved and then I know it’s a sham. Phil has now lost all respect as well. Same for Feherty. I have no respect for any of these clowns with BLOOD on their money.

  7. No disrespect meant, but Henrik winning on this Liv Exhibition event speaks volumes of the quality of the actual golf. The guy isn’t remotely competitive at the PGA tour elite level and hasn’t been for a while, much like the rest of the field.

    Trump being the media flash of this whole LIV circus is wholly appropriate to the general distasteful vibe and will ultimately be another reason why these LIV exhibition events will never be take seriously. It becomes more polarising by the week; the them and us becomes more defined for both the players and fans alike.

    Feherty has also revealed himself to be now very wealthy, but all credibility gone; shame because he always seemed above all this nonsense and quite an authentic guy, now being paid to say what he’s told like the rest of the players and staffers.

    How can this LIV exhibition series gain any ground if it’s not authentic; the fan won’t buy it, long term as they will not be able to emotionally invest in it.

  8. Obviously, a lot of the politics concerning the LIV Tour is very troubling. But competition in general is a good thing, especially when the group being attacked (competitively) is a monopoly with major issues of their own. The PGA Tour is trying to cast itself as a victim as well, but its response has been to follow the LIV playbook in a lot of ways (much bigger payouts in the future and smaller fields in the elite tournaments). I do think a lot of the PGA Tour’s policies are outdated – no other sport besides tennis makes its athletes take care of its travel and itinerary costs (and golfers have much bigger posses than tennis players). Yes, the elite golfers are paid handsomely but the guys struggling for years in the 150-300 range are only setting themselves up for future teaching gigs at some remote golf course. As long as the LIV events don’t become Trump campaign stops, I’ll be watching them.

  9. I like reading your articles but please leave your personal politics out of them. I can get that anywhere.

  10. Timothy McNulty

    Tell me again you are not a hack for the PGA Tour? I was there all the carts are electric. Doral had hosted a tournament longer than just 2013-2015. How about since the 60’s. You call yourself a golf journalist? You’re a hack. A cheap shill with a keyboard doing your bosses at the PGA Tour’s bidding. I hope you rot in hell for what you did to Phil

    1. Doogie Howser M.D.

      It’s good of you and a veritable public service to bring to the wider world’s attention that you are not terribly smart.

    2. “Smashed the gas” is an expression that everyone reading understood, it doesn’t matter that the cart didn’t actually use gas.
      Trump bought Doral in 2012 and 2013 was the first time hosting during his ownership.
      Not sure what Alan did to Phil besides writing an accurate (and mostly positive honestly) account of the life and career of a complicated human being.

    3. “What you did to Phil.” This is both hilarious and ridiculous. For (you) the uninformed, Shipnuck had asked Mickelson at least three times for an interview for the biography he was writing. Mickelson declined each time. Then, just shortly before the book was put to bed, MICKELSON CALLS SHIPNUCK and vents about the Saudis. Now, let’s be clear, Mickelson KNEW Alan was writing a book, there was NO pre-set agreement that the conversation was “off the record” and yet Mickelson shot off his mouth about the Saudis, “leverage” against the Tour and other assorted crap. And Shipnuck — a reporter, a writer, a biographer — felt inclined to publish those remarks. Whatever you think “happened” to Mickelson, let’s be very clear: HE BOUGHT THIS UPON HIMSELF.

      Oh yeah: the fact that the LIV Tour is now solidly in the Trump camp speaks volumes about its total and complete lack of decency and integrity. What’s next, LIV golf pros being coached to say, “The election was rigged and so was the 2019 Masters?”

    1. Interesting, isn’t it, how you make this simplistic accusation but offer no evidence, no proof, not even any hearsay regarding the subject. You’re asserting the Shipnuck is uninformed? Laughable. Go ahead….. astonish us with your vast array of contacts, insider info and exclusive sources that indicate you know sooooo much more than a guy who’s been on the golf beat for 30 years. We’re waiting, dolt.

  11. I only hope that Ian Poulter made enough scratch this weekend to change the oil in his fleet of Ferraris; I’d hate to think his kids went without dinner.

    1. Agreed … that pic said it all for me along with al-Rumayyan wearing a MAGAT hat. Golf is notoriously conservative along with it’s history of racism, segregation and bigotry – alas even Jack supported the Orange Turd much to my dismay. But what is a sadder and more troubling undercurrent here is the growing number of these golfers not only selling their souls for the cash but allowing themselves, without any apparent caveat, to be identified not only with a terrorist regime but neo-fascist insurrectionists. A sad state of affairs for professional golf!

  12. Nice to point out the Saudi angle but fail to mention our current president going over and breaking bread with them because of his lack of being able to run this country right. If you are going to highlight stuff, you need to get all the points. Far as the rest. If the pga had tried to work with liv golf then we wouldn’t be having this issue. Funny how china who is a far worse human rights abuser and has tortured and murdered plenty of people gets a pass by all these leagues. Don’t be subjective in how you stand up for stuff, one might see the real motivations behind it.

    1. You think the USA has never tortured or murdered anyone? LIV golf has never had and never will have, any intentions of working with the PGA Tour. They are out to crush them. I also seem to remember the last President of yours being feted by the same group of Saudi’s. So other than all your points being total bs, your post was great

  13. Alan, reading some of the comments here is almost laughable but also sad. While expressing your perspective on events some people with a keyboard and a vast empty space betwixt the ears make it personal and hateful. Wonder how many of those have EVER attended a golf tournament much less a LIV Exhibition. Lots of surrounding noise but my question is if a “tournament” is a 54 hole, no cut, shotgun start on any tour, who will attend that or watch on TV / streaming device. Certainly not anyone whose actually been to a professional golf tournament. Despite the trolls, having you and Michael together at Fire
    Pit is the best for fans of golf. Two best since Dan Jenkins.

  14. Will Augusta bar the 6 former Masters winners in 2023 now in the LIV ? I think not. I predict the LIV players will be back on the PGA tour in 2 years flush with the Saudi cash. The PGA will have no choice but to welcome them back.

    1. THISSEASONWILLBEDIFFERENT

      You raise an interesting point. Counter – the Tour will have no choice but to continue the ban of the LIV Players, lest they experience a true revolt; all the Players who DIDN’T make the jump raising hell. We are starting to see rumblings of this possibility with the comments made by Davis Love (who appears willing to drum up support for boycotting the Majors if these tournaments allow LIV golfers in the field, prior winners or not).

      The Tour CANNOT allow the DJs and Koepkas back after being gifted 9 figure signing bonuses with no repercussions.

      If they do, they will have a true revolution on their hands.

  15. With all the buzz and ‘new’ news about LIV a few thoughts popped up.

    1. Who will be the first (recognizable) man left without a chair when the music stops (relegation) and will they tuck their gold plated tail and come back to the DP or PGAT? Clearly top guys have multi year deals, but does say Pat Perez?
    2. Patrick Reed just announced he’s entering two Asian Tour events. Looks like he’s already sick of his kids! To me his plea for less tournaments seemed the most disingenuous because he always packed his schedule by playing full time on both the PGAT, DP and a smattering of Asian Tour events. I remember reading an article a few years ago where he waxed poetic about traveling the globe and not needing off weeks (paraphrase).
    3. I felt sad seeing Matt Wolff join up. He’s a generational talent and a marketing dream. Nice kid, unique swing and seems genuine. It’s sad he may never play a major again.

    1. Matt Wolff a generational talent? I think you’re stretching a bit. But given the absurd number of comments attacking Alan from thin-skinned MAGAts, I’ll have to let it slide.

  16. This skirmish between the PGA and the Liv tour points out a sad truth, the almighty dollar trumps ( pun intended )
    anyones ethics, morals, or principles. PHIL Mickelson called the Saudis evil, scary people. Yet when the money was dangled in his face, he gladly puckered up and kissed their ass! I hope these guys fall flat on they’re face!

  17. My God… Can we please leave the politics out?! Golf was one of the only sports left where it wasn’t shoved in our face. Now, like everything else in this world, golf has become political. The golf media making it sound like “The Deplorables” are aligning with LIV because an event was hosted at one of Trump’s courses. All the players and fans are guilty by association/proxy. It’s very clear where your politics align Alan and that’s fine. To each his own… But, the golf media drawing battle lines and making this a political thing to pit fans, players, tours against each other is divisive. No matter how you package it, half the country supports/likes/would vote for Trump, half doesn’t… so drawing all these conclusions about the politics of LIV, Trumps involvement, Jan. 6th, 9/11, etc. is just going to keep hammering the wedge between right and left…now even in the golf world too!!!!

    1. THISSEASONWILLBEDIFFERENT

      Everyone would like to leave it out, but you can’t in this particular instance, can you? Not if you want to describe the events of the Tournament anyway. Not by a long shot.

  18. Not sure Alan is doing the work of making this political. It was shaping up to be the more interesting of the two tournaments, so I turned on the livestream on Sunday EXACTLY as what seemed to be the entire crowd of 40 year old white guys chanted “Let’s go Brandon”. At least I got to see Finau continue a great stretch on CBS.

    A – Pretty sure Alan wasn’t leading that chant. B- If that’s who they’re “expanding the game for”, I’ll be looking for even more tee times where I can play by myself going forward.

  19. Looks like the Saudis also have their own “FEDEX Cup”

    FedEx Express Announces $400 Million, 10-Year Investment Plan in Saudi Arabia
    October 13, 2021 News Bulletin
    FedEx Express, a subsidiary of FedEx Corp. and the world’s largest express transportation company, announced a SR1.5 billion ($400 million), 10-year investment plan to directly service Saudi Arabia’s domestic and international shipping markets. Jack Muhs, regional president of FedEx Express Middle East, Indian Subcontinent, and Africa remarked, “Our customers will be able to take advantage of FedEx digital tools and a wider service portfolio. This strategic expansion in the Kingdom will help Saudi-based businesses connect to new markets and customers around the world, supporting Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 goals to diversify the national economy.” FedEx Express has facilitated trade in Saudi Arabia since 1994 through local service providers, most recently SAB Express, with whom FedEx Express will continue to work to provide pickup, delivery, and customs clearance services in the Kingdom.

  20. So, now that Brooksy is being paid a quarterback’s salary, does this mean we can run out into the fairway & tackle him? Didn’t think he was the kind of guy to get franchised.

  21. I don’t seem to remember LIV being under a DOJ investigation. That sucking sound your about to hear is PGATOUR losing the lawsuit and beginning of the end of that circuit. So poorly handled by Monahan – he should be sued for management malpractice

  22. Interesting article on profession sports and antitrust
    /https://thesportjournal.org/article/the-role-of-antitrust-laws-in-the-professional-sports-industry-from-a-financial-perspective/

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