Column: Golf’s civil war likely to lead to no real winner

Golf is in the early days of a bitter showdown between the established PGA Tour and an upstart chain backed by the oppressive Saudi regime that hopes throwing billions will help people forget their horrific human rights record.

If history is any indication, Link is likely to have no real winner in this fight.

IndyCar is still struggling to pull off an ugly revolt from the 1990s. The growth of the NBA was undoubtedly stifled by a nearly decades-long challenge to the American Basketball Association. The NHL suffered several hard blows while defending the World Hockey Federation.

It’s hard to see how golf emerges from its civil war in a stronger position.

“I tossed and turned and lost a lot of sleep last week wondering what could have happened,” said Justin Thomas, who was stuck with the PGA Tour, but said Monday to be concerned about the future of the game. accepted.

“I want to play the PGA Tour my whole life, break records, make history, play the President’s Cup, play the Ryder Cup.” “The fact that things like this can potentially hurt as some people go, and if more go, that’s very sad. There’s really no other way to say it. It just makes me sad.” does.”

LIV Golf launched last week With the three-day tournament out of London, presenting itself as an exciting new alternative to the staid ol’ game – as long as everyone is willing to ignore the people who are writing huge checks.

For now, the PGA Tour seems to have the clear upper hand, with nearly all of the top players remaining, far greater exposure through its lucrative television deals, and a long history as the premier destination for any pro golfer.

The new tour has faced considerable disdain from those who see it as a second-rate outfit for Over-the-Hill and the players have never wanted to cash in on riches beyond their wildest dreams.

After his win at a lucrative Canadian Open on Sunday, beating two of the world’s top-ranked players in Thomas and Tony Finau, Rory McIlroy took a lot of subtle jabs at LIV golf.

“I think it had all the ingredients,” McIlroy said. “It had a golf course. It had the cast of players that you’d like to be there. It had the caliber of golf. And it had the atmosphere. It had everything you needed to organize a truly top-class golf event this week.”

“It doesn’t get much better than that.”

Of course, McIlroy’s stellar appraisal of a PGA Tour event meant that LIV Golf’s inaugural, 54-hole tournament—with shotgun starts, no cuts, neon-colored scoreboards, a team competition, and a staggering $4.75 million in prize money—was a staggering $4.75 million. Winner – lacked all the elements that really mattered.

It certainly couldn’t be denied that Canada was much more dominant than England, where Charl Schwartzel (2011 Masters champion and number 125 in the world rankings) held on to a one-stroke victory. More than Henny du Plessis of South Africa (ranked 134th).

It was Schwartzel’s first win on any tour in more than six years.

While mocking the quality of its players, LIV Golf has made some surprising inroads into the PGA Tour’s talent base. Former world No. 1 Dustin Johnson stuns everyone by joining the Upstart Tour. Major winners Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed, who plan to make their debut at LIV’s first U.S. event in Portland, Oregon, starting June 30, are also aboard.

And, of course, it was Phil Mickelson. who led the way even after using derogatory slang to describe Saudis, admitting they have a “terrible record on human rights”.

Others are sure to follow after Schwartzel won more money in three days than in the past four years.

Mickelson, who reportedly received $200 million to sign up with the Saudis, again on Monday defended his decision – it’s all about the money, if there were any doubts – and expressed hope. That he would be allowed to play on both the tours.

But the PGA Tour is working hard, suspending LIV players who haven’t voluntarily given up their membership.

Lefty wants his cake, and everyone else’s piece too.

“I earned that lifetime membership (on the PGA Tour), so I guess it must be my choice,” said Mickelson, whose poor image as a “People’s Champion” earned his place among the great frauds in sporting history. has earned.

How this all pans out is anyone’s guess, but the mid-1990s IndyCar division may provide some useful guidance.

Open-wheel racing had reached unprecedented heights while ruled by CART, but Tony George controlled the biggest event of the series – the Indianapolis 500 – and wanted to say more about how things are run. So, he launched the rival Indy Racing League and, of course, made the 500 the centerpiece of his new series.

Most of the top teams stayed at CART for many years, but eventually Indy’s greed became too expensive to ignore. Major drivers began to migrate to IRL, which put the more established chain out of business in 2008 But emerged in a much weaker position than in the glory days of CART.

One has to wonder whether LIV golf’s excessively deep pockets and willingness to drain millions of people in pursuit of the larger purpose of improving Saudi Arabia’s image would provide a significant bargaining chip against the PGA Tour, just like that. Like the 500 IndyCar was at war. ,

Not to mention, if major championships allow those suspended from the PGA Tour to continue playing in four of golf’s biggest events – that’s at this week’s US Open and likely the same at next month’s British Open – The PGA Tour will be even less attractive to those who can make far more money on the new Tour.

In the end, it doesn’t matter whether the PGA Tour leaves LIV golf behind (as the NBA and NHL faced with rival leagues) or whether the upstart Tour manages to drive the established organization out of business (a la IndyCar).

The NBA and NHL emerged from their challenges with many ugly scars, from huge financial losses to relocated franchises (in the case of hockey, the two franchises were even forced to merge).

Those wounds eventually healed, but it took some time. There’s more than we can say for IndyCar, which is still trying to clean up the mess left over from its division more than a quarter century ago.

Now it is golf that appears to be headed down the same, self-destructive path.


Paul Newbery is a national sports columnist for the Associated Press. Find him at pnewberry(at) or . write on


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