Sports-Column Repost #13
On the Mark: LIV Golf Brouhaha Continues
By Mark Lorenzana
(Originally posted on July 18, 2022, in PNM)
On Saturday, July 16, Irish golf superstar Rory McIlroy and Viktor Hovland — a 24-year-old Norwegian ranked number nine in the world — shared the lead at 16-under par after the third round at the British Open, the oldest and most prestigious golf tournament in the world.
It’s a shame, though, that the British Open — a PGA Tour partner — is still being overshadowed by the ongoing LIV Golf controversy.
Early this month, the U.S. Justice Department officially opened an investigation into the PGA Tour for alleged “anticompetitive behavior” against the Saudi-backed LIV Golf circuit.
In light of the investigation, the agents of players currently signed with the PGA tour have received inquiries from the U.S. Department of Justice involving both the PGA Tour’s bylaws governing its players’ participation in other golf events, and the PGA Tour’s actions in recent months relating to LIV Golf.
Simply put: Since the debut of LIV Golf, the PGA Tour has suspended its players who have chosen to participate in the Saudi-backed tour. Both LIV Golf and the players who have been punished have cried foul — alleging that the PGA Tour’s actions have been both anticompetitive and punitive.
The players, at least, have a point: You can’t prevent someone from earning a living.
Especially since — and this is an interesting fact — the majority of the golf stars who decided to jump ship to LIV Golf had not actually been playing well in the PGA tour before they left: They have all tumbled in the world rankings.
Dustin Johnson, Bryan DeChambeau, Patrick Reed and Brooks Koepka were dominating professional golf early last year. Johnson was ranked number one, DeChambeau was fifth and Reed and Koepka were 11th and 12th, respectively. When Johnson signed on to LIV, his ranking had dropped to 13th. Koepka and DeChambeau are now ranked 19th and 31st, respectively. All the aforementioned players have defected to LIV Golf.
The problem for these golfers, if they chose to stay on with the PGA Tour? Unlike other U.S. pro sports like basketball and baseball, where athletes sign a guaranteed contract — and they get paid regardless of their performance — in the PGA Tour, the golfers who play the best get paid the best.
“There’s plenty of money out here,” golf legend Tiger Woods said at this year’s PGA Championship. “You have to go out there and earn it. You’ve got to go out there and play for it. We have an opportunity to go ahead and do it. It’s just not guaranteed up front.”
It’s different with LIV Golf, though — thanks to Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund. It’s been rumored that Phil Mickelson, who took his act to the Saudi-funded golf tour, received a $200 million contract from LIV. Mickelson, so far, has neither confirmed nor denied the rumor.
And we’re not even just talking about the lucrative deals that PGA Tour golfers are allegedly offered by LIV Golf to defect. The purses at LIV golf tournaments reach as much as $25 million, an astronomical amount — and the largest in the sport’s history — that gives players a safety net regardless of how their performance has dipped in the last year. Even if a participating golfer managed to finish dead last in all the 2022 LIV Golf events, that player will still pocket around $1 million.
McIlroy and Woods have refused to jump ship to LIV Golf and are staying — at least for now — with the PGA Tour.
“I’ve decided for myself that I’m supporting the PGA Tour. That’s where my legacy is,” Woods said in November of last year.
“Look, I’ve lived it — for the top guys, all that money really isn’t going to change their life,” McIlroy told Golf Digest in February of this year. “I’m in a way better financial position than I was a decade ago, and my life is no different. I still use the same three, four rooms in my house. I just don’t see the value in tarnishing a reputation for extra millions.”
We all need to make a living, though — just ask Mickelson, Johnson, DeChambeau, Reed, Koepka and the other former PGA Tour golfers who are now plying their trade for LIV Golf.
Regardless of the fact that — according to former ESPN and Sports Illustrated columnist Rick Reilly in an article for the Washington Post — “Saudi Arabia is attempting to ‘sportswash’ its murderous human rights record by buying off pro golfers with stupid money.”