Mega-money LIV circuit feels like a cheesy imitation of a real golf tour | David Whitley

David Whitley
The Gainesville Sun
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The first skirmish in golf’s civil war ended Saturday, and the winner was…

I don’t know.

Answering that would have required me to watch the first LIV Golf tournament. I tried, but after a few holes I opted for something more captivating, like mowing my lawn.

Before we get into why the tournament was a dud, I am constitutionally obligated to pontificate about how the distinguished sport of golf turned into a reality show.

Quick background: In an attempt to spiff up its image, Saudi Arabia decided to spend billions of petrodollars on a new golf tour. As if watching Bryson DeChambeau hit a few drives will make everyone forget about executions and torture.

The Saudis named it LIV, which is derived from the Roman numeral for 54. That’s how many holes each tournament will be, as opposed to the traditional 72. The Saudis hired Greg Norman to try to poach the PGA Tour’s top players, and public opinion quickly fell into two camps.

One side thinks the players are greedy mercenaries. The other side thinks the players are greedy mercenaries, but that’s OK.

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More:Phil Mickelson will not cede PGA Tour membership as he sets to play in the Saudi-backed LIV Series

Golf needs the meritocracy

That overarching debate will hang over the entire LIV season. Another problem became evident during the inaugural event near London.

It was D-U-L-L.

Dull because golf is supposed to be meritocratic. Unlike almost all other sports, you have to earn your keep.

You can’t go NBA and coast for three quarters then get serious at crunch time. There are no guaranteed contracts like MLB, where Eric Hosmer can make $20 million riding the bench.

A golf leaderboard doesn’t care if you’re Tiger Woods or Hank Lebioda. If you don’t make the cut, you don’t make a dime.

LIV tournaments don’t have a cut. Saturday’s last-place finisher will get $120,000; the winner $4 million out of the $25 million purse. They are trying to manufacture excitement.

“You’re about to witness an exhilarating new era in professional golf,” the announcer said at the start.

With a shotgun start, it felt like every beer-fueled scramble at your local muni. I’m surprised Norman didn’t sell mulligans for $50,000 a pop.

The 'Greed is Good' tour? 

The field was mostly has-beens and never-weres — Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Turk Pettit, Jinichiro Kozuma, Gordon Gekko.

“Greed is Good” is the LIV’s unofficial slogan. Players say they are striking a working man’s blow against the monopolistic PGA Tour.

There are legitimate gripes about the tour, but let’s be real. The main motivation is getting into the wallet of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who was last seen ordering the dismemberment of Washington Post freelancer Jamal Khashoggi.

It’s easy to moralize about how players have sold their souls for 30 pieces of silver. Truth is, I might sell out if the prince offered me DJ money (a reported $125 million bonus) to write nice things about his backswing.

Credit to Woods for supposedly passing up a $1 billion offer to be an LIV puppet. That’s real money, even to Tiger. It’s all Monopoly money to the Saudis.

Their sportswashing strategy has triggered a flood of “whataboutism.” Sure, no country is pure and soul-selling abounds (see: IOC, NBA, FIFA, Premier League). But there are degrees of dirtiness.

Filling your car with Middle Eastern gas is not the same as becoming a FootJoy-wearing PR agent. It was comical hearing LIV players try to rationalize becoming Saudi water carriers.

You think it was tough defending Augusta National for not having any female members back in the day? At least the Masters doesn’t throw women into jail for wearing shorts in public.

The high/low point came when Talor Gooch was asked whether the criticism of the kingdom’s human rights policies was fair.

“I don’t think that’s fair, but, also, I’m a golfer,” he said. “I’m not that smart. I try to hit a golf ball into a small hole.”

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Will majors let LIV golfers play? 

It’s too early to say how the LIV-PGA war will go. The tour doesn’t run major championships, and the U.S. Open is allowing LIV players to compete. A lot depends whether the other three majors — especially the Masters — will let them play.

If they can, players will have to make some mental adjustments. Goodness knows it can be brutal having to play four straight days and be rewarded based simply on performance. And the first-place check doesn’t even scrape $3 million.

On the flip side, a real golf tournament doesn’t have the vibe of a preseason NFL game between Jacksonville and Detroit.

That’s what the LIV Tour feels like. Money may be able to buy happiness, Mickelson and a lot of attention.

It can’t buy compelling golf.

Even Gooch should be able to see that.

David Whitley is The Gainesville Sun's sports columnist. Contact him at dwhitley@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @DavidEWhitley

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