The Day That LIV Golf Arrived?
For all of its flaws, the upstart league got the jolt it needed when Dustin Johnson holed an eagle bomb for the YouTube world to see
By Michael Bamberger
LIV Golf had its first YouTube moment on Sunday. The fourth LIV event was decided in a sudden-death playoff. Dustin Johnson and two other guys not named Cam Smith.
A playoff is a gift to LIV Golf’s unique shotgun-start format because it gets all of the spectators to a single hole for the first time, in this case, the 18th at the International Club, near Boston. Johnson made an unlikely 35-footer—his eagle putt was flying—and the curtain came down.
It was a gift to YouTube. As of high noon on Labor Day, the broadcast (or parts of it) had been viewed 792,155 times. Live sports as theater. We watch for the surprise. People love to be entertained.
I saw it on my MacBook. (Full disclosure and I can’t be alone: I watched a fraction of the six-hour broadcast.) The ball disappeared, thousands of arms went up and so did a roar. It looked like a golf tournament and sounded like one too—a golf tournament that ended on its 55th hole.
We all know the deal: three rounds of 18 holes, 48 players, 12 four-man teams. DJ plays for the Four Aces, who won the team competition too, for the third consecutive time. As Warren Buffett once said to shareholders, after investing in a cement company, “Try to contain your excitement.”
Warren Buffett is a member of Augusta National. I once saw him at a Ryder Cup. He was there to play bridge. There are many roads to golf and golf events.
Mark King, the former TaylorMade CEO who now sells tacos (he’s the CEO of Taco Bell), is one of the most insightful golf people I have ever met. A month or so ago he told me that in five years LIV Golf will be another tour among existing tours and that everybody will learn to get along. I don’t know, but I wouldn’t doubt King on any golf thing. He was way ahead on the hoodie-for-golf thing.
Every professional golfer is an opportunist. It’s the way of the world, really. But opportunism has degrees, like everything else. Tiger Woods, as a rookie, played Milwaukee and Disney and the old Southern Open. A year or two later, he didn’t need those events anymore, but his golfing home was still the PGA Tour. It remains the PGA Tour, even though he’ll never play anything resembling a full schedule on it again. As for the Disney tournament and the Southern Open, they’re dead and gone. Life goes on.
Johnson and Smith (a shot out of the playoff) and Phil Mickelson (T40 in Boston) walked away from the PGA Tour to go to LIV. For some of us, it didn’t (and doesn’t) sit right. But 792,155 clicks is 792,155 clicks. The click count will only go up. Passion for LIV Golf is harder to say. It will never have grandeur. But grandeur is not part of its business plan.
The unspoken element in any business plan is luck. The LIVsters were lucky that Smith won the British Open at the Old Course in July, on a still Sunday when Rory McIlroy hit a long series of conservative second shots. Greg Norman and Co. were lucky that Johnson made that eagle putt. Drip, drip, drip, drip and a sports league is born, like it or not.
Ten weeks ago, the U.S. Open was played outside Boston, at the Country Club. It’s unusual for one city to have two golf events in one year. In 1981, the U.S. Open was played at Merion, outside Philadelphia. The old Philadelphia Tour stop, played at Whitemarsh Valley, sat on the sidelines for the year and never got its spot back. Golf scheduling is a ruthless business.
This is weird to say, but one of the things I remember best from this year’s U.S. Open was Phil’s Monday afternoon press conference. I was under the tent’s canopy with 100 other reporters. We were all packed in there because Mickelson was making his return to public life, in the States anyway. The U.S. Open is the stern grandfather of golf tournaments, one in which he has finished second a record half-dozen times, the title he needs to complete the career grand slam. You can watch the press conference on YouTube, if you’re so inclined. I am not. Too painful, all the way around.
Phil’s confounding Open record will be in his obit. Tiger has three U.S. Open wins, which seems improbable, given how he drives it. The U.S. Open has grandeur. It can be boring, but it is grand. Weird, right?
There was an undercurrent of resentment in that half-hour under that tent, beside the Country Club’s yellow clubhouse. We in the sportswriting trade lean in the direction of tradition. Because when the score is 9-1 in the seventh, you start writing history and you look up the club record for most stranded runners in a game. (It’s 27, in a 20-inning game.) I mean, you have to write something, right? Now might be a good time to note that baseball used to be called the American Pastime. When was the last time somebody said that with a straight face?
This is the weirdest year in golf history, at least in my years in the game. I believe Tiger thought that after skipping the U.S. Open he could prepare his way into contention at the Old Course. He didn’t. I can’t imagine him ever playing the four majors in a season again. The Presidents Cup is coming up and he has no public role, certainly not as a player, but not even as an assistant captain. But you can be certain that Davis Love III, the U.S. captain, will run every lineup past him. That’s a statement on Tiger’s standing in the game.
Phil’s standing in the game has taken a severe hit. It was only a year ago that, as an assistant captain, he was the darling of the Ryder Cup. He and Amy, really. Most Charming Couple. Right now, it seems unlikely he will ever wear a Ryder Cup uniform again.
The LIV event—a September golf event, in greater Boston—brought other September golf events in greater Boston to mind.
Some of you will remember Mickelson’s Labor Day win in 2007, at the Deutsche Bank Championship, at TPC Boston. FedEx II, of IV, back in the day. Yes, it’s a Tiger phrase. Mickelson was paired with Woods for the fourth and final round and won by two.
Mickelson didn’t play FedEx III that year. It was some sort of protest. In victory, on live TV, he said that PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem had been unresponsive to various suggestions he had been making. Everybody on Tour knew that Mickelson believed four FedEx events was one too many. Eventually, of course, the number was cut to three.
You may not remember this, but Mickelson was working with Butch Harmon at the time, Tiger’s former swing coach. Woods was the defending champion in Boston. Woods won seven times in 2007. But if Phil ever had Tiger’s number, it was then and there, for that one brief shining moment. Woods was wearing red and black, of course, for the Labor Day finale. Phil was wearing black and blue. Source: YouTube.
While we’re at it (Boston, golf, September song), let’s recall the 1999 Ryder Cup, at the Country Club. On Sunday, batting third, Mickelson won a match on a day his team, the United States of America, would need every point it could get.
On that day, Mickelson and his 11 teammates were all wearing what is surely the most memorable shirt ever assigned to the members of a U.S. golf team, a maroon homage to great moments at the Country Club. Yes, Tiger won that day too, in the fifth slot.
You know what the British writers remember most about that Sunday? The way the American players and their wives and the assistant captains and various others ran all over the 17th green after Justin Leonard holed a bomb, even though Jose Maria Olazabal still had a 22-footer to halve him. Chima has holed hundreds of putts longer than that one.
We are all corrupted by our own attachments.
Here comes the Chicago LIV event. Here comes the Presidents Cup. Here comes the football. Here comes the playoff baseball, for those of you who know how playoff baseball works anymore.
Michael Bamberger welcomes your comments at [email protected]