It was a valiant fight, no matter how brief. As U.S. Open week arrives, LIV Golf lives, thanks to Bryson DeChambeau, Patrick Reed, Donald Trump, and the cults they have cultivated.
“They need us,” PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said as Rory McIlroy won the RBC Open on Sunday.
No, they don’t.
The USGA said it will welcome to the U.S. Open qualifying LIV players, whom the PGA Tour has suspended for joining the Saudi-backed rival league with bottomless pockets and bottomless morals. It is the first major tournament to announce it will allow defectors. The news could not be worse for the PGA Tour.
The bloody Saudis spent about a half-billion dollars in signing bonuses on their petting zoo of professional LIV golfers, but they didn’t really need Phil Mickelson, a has-been who turns 52 Thursday. They certainly didn’t need Charl Schwartzel or any of the apartheid-era South Africans who landed in the top three spots of the inaugural LIV event last week in London. They didn’t even need Dustin Johnson, the Keanu Reeves of a PGA Tour filled with insipid shells of manhood.
But the oppressive regime, desperate to sportswash its reputation, did need a McIlroy, or a Justin Thomas, or a Jordan Spieth — or, at least, a Bryson DeChambeau or a Patrick Reed.
They got Bryson, for a reported $100 million. They got Patrick, too.
Now, the flood begins.
The PGA Tour has suspended all LIV golfers who played in London and will suspend any who play in the next event, June 30-July 2 in Portland, Ore. Nevertheless, massively popular matinee Rickie Fowler, good ol’ boy Bubba Watson, 23-year-old snake-killer Matthew Wolff, and three other PGA players reportedly will join the LIV ranks out west. Game. Set. Match.
LIV had a reported $2 billion to spend, and it spent the first chunk on antiques, but LIV didn’t need the ‘57 Chevys. It needed Teslas.
They got ‘em — and they got the biggest of them all.
Bryson the buff
No golfer on earth is more “future” than overstuffed analytics geek DeChambeau. He’s 28, he’s a manic body manipulator, and, he resonates perfectly for his generation, which is generally uninterested in humility or morality but is addicted to fame and monetization. DeChambeau possesses no moral compass, is cruel and petty, and bereft of common sense; he said last year that he wouldn’t get a free and plentiful COVID vaccine so others could have it.
He is LIV Golf, distilled.
None of this will affect DeChambeau’s popularity. He’s shunned by proper golf, but for many he is the new John Daly: long off the tee, erratic on the course and off it, and the hero of, if not the everyman, then the Trumper-fan.
Because, in case you hadn’t noticed, professional golf and its supporters are disproportionately pro-Trump.
Trump wins, too
That’s not necessarily a knock on golf supporters, or on Trump, for that matter.
But Trump’s dirty relationship with the Saudis let them kidnap and murder journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 without repercussion while he refuted the findings of the CIA. His son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is being investigated by a House committee for using his position as a Trump adviser to secure a $2 billion investment from the Saudi government after Trump lost his re-election bid in 2020.
Not coincidentally, two of the eight LIV Golf events — 25% — will be held at Trump properties in Bedminster, N.J., and Miami. Those properties lost PGA Tour events in the past six years because Trump’s name was on the letterhead.
Rest assured, Trump will be grinning and greeting his Saudi masters at the gate.
His legions of loyalists will come, too. They’ll bring some liberal friends, because they like golf, too. They’ll likely discuss the Jan. 6 insurrection, the current House committee hearings, and whether their host will wind up behind bars, while paying $25 for some Trump-branded beer, which is sure to be tasteless.
Those weeks will be rare W’s for Trump. LIV large, Donald.
It’s easy to see why the Schwartzels and Pat Perezes and even the Phils and the Bubbas would forsake the PGA Tour, but why would DeChambeau and Reed — young, talented, in their primes — go, too?
To win big bucks. And win, they will.
When he gets healthy, DeChambeau will clean up against these fields, in this format, on these tracks, with $25 million purses, $4 million first prizes, $2.125 million for second, and team bonus money, too. He should make about $3 million per week. Say he plays, fully healthy, in six events — easy to do, considering the events only go 54 holes, instead of 72. That’s $18 million. Last season, DeChambeau made about $7.5 million in 22 events.
Consider: Schwartzel took home a total of $4.75 million (his team split $3 million for winning the team event). By comparison, Scottie Scheffler earned about $4.5 million in all of 2021, when he played 19 events. Schwartzel, 37, earned about $4.75 million in 72 events over the previous four seasons.
Assuming the competition remains Schwartzel-esque — assuming players like McIlroy, Thomas, Jon Rahm, and Scheffler, now the world’s No. 1 golfer, stay on the PGA Tour — DeChambeau might make $30 million next year, with 10 events scheduled.
Spieth set the PGA Tour record in 2014-15, when he earned just over $12 million in 25 events. And Spieth played generally four days in a row, against the best in the world.
DeChambeau is fighting injuries, and he’s missed his last three cuts, and he’s ranked just 28th right now. But he was ranked in the top 17 for 3½ years and topped out at No. 4. He’s going to be playing for just three days, on lesser courses, against players like Itthipat Buranatanyarat, World No. 599, who finished 47th out of 48 in London, 23 over par.
DeChambeau should be in fine fettle for the four majors, none of which has said qualifying LIV players cannot play.
That the U.S. Open will allow LIV-ers to play is of no surprise. The PGA Grand Slam of Golf left Trump National Golf Club Los Angeles in 2015 due to Trump’s comments about illegal immigrants. The 2022 PGA Championship left Trump National Bedminster after the Jan. 6 insurrection. But the USGA never considered moving its 2016 U.S. Women’s Open. Of course, former USGA chief Mike Davis is a member of Trump Bedminster. Current USGA chief Mike Whan, the former LPGA commissioner, served on a Trump sports committee in 2020.
None of the four majors is subject to the PGA Tour suspensions. The DP World Tour, or European Tour, has yet to decide if it will suspend members.
So, if the LIV-ers can play majors, why shouldn’t more Tour players be defecting?
Mickelson’s self-imposed exile this spring after his comments acknowledged that he was using the Saudis and their murderous regime — his words — for his own monetary gain caused him to miss defending his PGA Championship. And he’s won the British Open and the Masters, too. Reed won the 2018 Masters. DeChambeau won the 2020 U.S. Open, the same year Johnson won the Masters to add to his 2016 U.S. Open.
Entering 2022, LIV golfers won three of the previous seven majors. Without majors consequences, what’s the real deterrent? Regular Tour stops? Most golfers would be elated not to have to spend seven nights during a soggy Ohio spring because Jack Nicklaus’ tournament won’t let them in. (Footnote: Jack Nicklaus loves Trump, too.)
The high road?
After McIlroy took home Tour win No. 21 on Sunday, he sniped at LIV frontman Greg Norman: “One more than Norman.” It was a clever gesture, but toothless, considering Norman already has pocketed $100 million to continue his exile from a PGA Tour that already despises him.
And yes, while McIlroy has resisted the LIV pull, he once sportswashed Trump when he played with him in 2017, though he rejected subsequent offers. Tiger Woods, LIV critic, also Trumped up in 2017 and 2019.
Sportswashing is nothing new. The Olympics were used by Nazi Germany, by Russia as the Soviet Union in 1980 and as Vladimir Putin’s kingdom in 2014, and by Beijing, China in 2008 and 2022. Qatar, on the bloody backs of abused migrant workers, will host the men’s soccer World Cup this fall. We criticized the decision-makers and the policy-makers, held our noses, and carried on.
We understand the duality, or what you might even call hypocrisy, if you ignore the obvious shades of gray.
In March, the NBA quietly slipped back into bed with China, where NBA owners stand to make billions of dollars, and where the iPhone on which this was written was assembled. McIlroy has been turning down Saudi appearance fees since 2019 for “morality” reasons, but his first major sponsor was the Jumeriah Group, based in the United Arab Emirates, a consistent human rights violator.
You drive a car that might have Saudi petrol in it. So do I. We’ll all watch the soccer in November.
But you and I aren’t paid to ignore atrocities, to lie about our motives, and to cleanse the sins of the Chinese or the Saudis or the Qataris. On Trump’s golf courses, Phil, DJ and Bryson will.
The PGA Tour might not survive.