Golf’s strangest day: LIV debuts as PGA Tour deals out punishment

·5 min read

The strangest day in recent golf history began with 18 simultaneous tee shots and ended with C.SCH leading H.DUP and P.KWM in a tournament with a $4 million prize.

How strange was Thursday? The fact that a crane hoisted a table full of golf fans high over the RBC Canadian Open wasn’t even close to the weirdest moment of the day.

Some future history of golf may target June 9, 2022, as the day golf leveled up, or the day golf crumbled into competing little fiefdoms, all adding up to less than the whole. Regardless, Thursday was a landmark day in golf history, a moment where the sport irrevocably changed.

Let’s start with Phil Mickelson, since he’s the centerpoint around which virtually all of the events of the last few months have revolved. After spending the last three months in golf exile following the publication of some rough comments waving off Saudi atrocities, Mickelson showed up at the LIV “team draft” event wearing black leather and exuding serious Middle-Aged Real Estate Agent In Midlife Crisis energy.

Mickelson then showed up at Centurion Golf Club on Thursday morning wearing what appeared to be an Augusta National Golf Club vest with the logo blacked out:

Nothing Mickelson does is without intention and backstory, so what was the point here? A message to the green jackets that he still loves them? A sign that as lucrative as LIV is, the majors still have a place in Mickelson’s heart?

Whatever the answer, the vest was gone a few holes later.

Mickelson was one of the 48 players who began teeing off at 9:15 a.m. Thursday in a shotgun start format, meaning the entire field was on the course at the same time. It’s standard operating procedure for a member-guest at your local club, but not so much for a professional golf tournament, which tends to proceed in an orderly, parade-like fashion. Having every player on the course at the same time, and in the same position relative to the field, will take some getting used to.

To begin, the new format requires a revamped leaderboard; simply noting how many holes a player has completed is useless. Instead, LIV went with a Formula 1-style graphic, right down to the three-letter abbreviations for players’ names. The shotgun start eliminates the classic “everyone plays the same final holes” drama, but it also eliminates long stretches of dead air. From the first tee shot to the last putt, there’s constant action.

(Via screenshot)
(Via screenshot)

And here’s where LIV stepped up. Yes, the graphics and sets looked like something out of a too-optimistic science fiction future. But the overall broadcast package — particularly given the spotty, slapdash feel of the pre-tournament social media rollout — ended up being competent and easy to follow. While the broadcast lacked some of the fancier graphical and statistical elements of PGA Tour broadcasts, it also lacked commercials — meaning it was all golf, almost all the time. Features on individual players were brief but detailed enough to spark a bit of rooting interest. (Who doesn’t want Chase Koepka to be able to hold his head high at Thanksgiving dinner?)

On the other hand, LIV’s announcers, most notably Arlo White and Jerry Foltz, veered from rah-rah company men to full-on state-sponsored media with their proclamations of this glorious new era in golf. Most fans aren’t tuning in to see whether their favorite players are being fairly compensated, so there’s not really much need to try to justify LIV’s monstrous paychecks. But White and Foltz tried anyway.

One topic they didn’t cover: the PGA Tour’s sledgehammer declaration, delivered shortly after tee time, that anyone involved with LIV was suspended indefinitely. It wasn’t exactly a surprise, but still it was something of a shock to see Hall of Famers and major champions given the bum’s rush out a side door of PGA Tour HQ.

Still undetermined: how long the suspensions will last, or whether there will be any recourse for players wishing to rejoin the Tour at some unspecified future date. Also still up in the air: whether LIV players will be able to compete in any majors past next week’s U.S. Open.

While the PGA Tour booted the LIV crew off its circuit, the majors — which hold much of golf’s enduring power — aren’t yet showing their hands. The PGA of America has intimated that LIV players won’t be permitted to play in the PGA Championship, but Augusta National and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club are staying quiet for the moment.

LIV gets back to the action Friday morning, and so too does the PGA Tour at the RBC Canadian Open. Many of the world’s greatest players are now teeing it up in separate, concurrent tournaments, each with a wary eye on the other. In time, this might all seem something close to normal, but on Thursday, it was as odd and unexpected a day as golf has ever seen.

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com.