NORTH PLAINS, Ore. — The most polarizing golf league in history is off and running.
The LIV Golf Series has completed two events — one in Europe and one in the U.S. — and most still are not sure what to make of this venture being financed by a country known for its human rights abuses.
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But the Saudi Arabia-backed league, run by Hall of Famer and Palm Beach Gardens resident Greg Norman, is elated with the progress and the number of players who have left the PGA Tour to join LIV. And lastvweek's U.S. debut at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club outside of Portland did nothing to slow the momentum.
LIV is so confident this venture will thrive that it fast-forwarded its plans of easing to a full schedule by 2024 and will expand to the maximum 14 events in 2023 (from eight this year), with 48 contracted players and a true league format of 12 four-man teams.
Here are 10 takeaways after an eventful week that saw protesters and supporters:
It's professional golf, but louder
Walking the course during play certainly was different. Remember, this is new for LIV, too, so it will take time to work out the bugs, and one of those is making sure there are enough volunteers on the course.
Patrick Reed's first tee shot Thursday hit a pine tree. With no spotters in the immediate area, he initially could not find his ball. He finally did but with help from the fans. One volunteer told me they were short-staffed Thursday but expected help the final two days.
LIV brands itself as "golf, but louder" and lived up to the billing with music heard around the course as players were being delivered to their assigned holes via golf carts for the shotgun start. There were also skydivers and jugglers on unicycles.
Bryson DeChambeau's creation company, Regency, followed him to film content for his YouTube Channel.
“It’s literally the opposite of the PGA Tour,” one of his cameramen told Golf Digest. “You can’t do s--- out there. Here, they’re encouraging us to do stuff.”
Recruiting efforts ongoing
The NBA is not the only league where deals are currently being struck. LIV will be adding more PGA Tour players and who knows when it will end. Players and agents are looking for more tour defectors and won't stop anytime soon with LIV going to 48 contracted players for 2023.
"Getting calls from (Dustin Johnson) and some of these guys telling me how amazing London was, it's something I feel like I wanted to be a part of," Reed said.
Englishman Paul Casey, ranked No. 26 in the world, is the latest to defect from the PGA Tour, joining LIV on Saturday. More are expected to make the switch before LIV's next event July 29 at Bedminster, N.J.
One player said a lot is happening behind the scenes.
Ari Fleischer working with players
Media consultant Ari Fleischer, the Fox News political commentator and White House press secretary for President George W. Bush, has appeared at both LIV events and listened intently to how players answered questions.
Once it was clear players were giving the same talking points, a testy exchange occurred when some were asked how much media training they received, especially to address questions about human rights abuses happening in Saudi Arabia.
"Zero," Pat Perez said.
"Yeah, I mean, unless you want to do it yourself," chimed in Brooks Koepka.
When Koepka was told it was just a question he said, "I'm just giving you an answer, man."
What is the long-term outlook?
Considering the number of players who have resigned their tour membership — the list includes Jupiter's Dustin Johnson, Jupiter's Charl Schwartzel, Sergio Garcia, Kevin Na, Louis Oosthuizen, Lee Westwood — many have faith LIV's future is bright.
Schwartzel, who won the inaugural LIV event outside London, did his research and told me he wanted to be certain it "wasn't a scam" and that there was a long-term vision before joining.
Still, no one knows where this league will be in three or four years. We know the confidence is high from within that it will thrive, considering LIV officials gave the go-ahead to schedule 14 events next year. And we know some of these megamillion-dollar contracts are for four years.
On Friday, Carlos Ortiz was asked how it feels to be set for life financially. Ortiz was at the podium with Johnson, who reportedly signed a $125 million contract to join LIV.
"I don't know," Ortiz said. "How does it feel D.J.?"
Said Johnson: "Just look at my face."
He was smiling.
Less golf, more parties
In team sports, we have guys described as a "player's coach." If that extended to leagues, LIV would be labeled a "player's league."
LIV Golf covers expenses for travel and accommodations for all 48 players and their caddies, agents and coaches. They put them up at a swanky hotel at each event, throw a players party and encourage players to hang out.
"We tend to be more together, there is more social going on, that relates to more fun," said Schwartzel, admitting it is easier with just 48 players. "Very seldom do you see every player pitch up at a function on the tour. Most of the time half of the guys wouldn't come. Everybody comes (to the LIV party)."
The parties, though, have not come without controversy. The one in London was moved after the host venue reportedly walked away fearing bad publicity. After Tuesday's party here, the company that owns the venue apologized, telling KGW television in Portland it will "evaluate and change our policies for vetting and booking events."
Team concept a big hit
One novelty is the team component, which really kicks in next year.
In 2023, 12 permanent captains will be chosen and they will select, recruit and coerce others to join their teams. This year, each event is designating $5 million to the team pot: $3 million for first place, $1.5 million for second and $500,000 for third.
"It's like college. You're going to try so hard for your team and it just gives you so much more opportunity to enjoy yourself and have little small wins and feel good about yourself (even if you) shoot a 75," Matthew Wolff said.
Some sponsors not offended (yet)
One question about Koepka's decision to defect to LIV was answered Tuesday when he stepped up to the podium wearing his Nike cap, the company whose headquarters are 15 miles from where LIV's first U.S. event was held at Pumpkin Ridge.
Several sponsors, though, have dropped LIV golfers, including Rocket Mortgage, KPMG, Heineken, Workday, Amstel, UPS and Royal Bank of Canada. Callaway put its sponsorship of Phil Mickelson on pause but other golf equipment manufacturers have not commented.
Mickelson has been wearing a hat with the logo of his LIV team — Hy Flyers.
Some see it as a business decision
DeChambeau talked about the "business decision" side of joining LIV and giving back to those who helped save the life of his father, Jon, who received a kidney transplant five years ago.
"The National Kidney Foundation came and helped him out," DeChambeau said. "And it would be doing them a disservice if I wasn't able to give back to the organization that helped my father stay alive."
DeChambeau, by the way, made $26.2 million in prize money while on the PGA Tour.
Ryder Cup questions
One of the unknowns when it comes to LIV golfers is whether they will be allowed to play in the Ryder Cup. What we do know is those who signed with LIV Golf have been suspended by the PGA Tour and the PGA Tour and DP World Tour strengthened their existing alliance.
Englishman Lee Westwood, who has played in 11 Ryder Cups, equaling a European record, is not happy with the possibility of LIV golfers being banned from the Ryder Cup.
"Why should it be threatened?" he said. "I've been playing Ryder Cup golf since 1997 and the criteria has been to be a member of the European Tour. The criteria for being a member of the European Tour is to play four events. Why should they change that now? Why would the European Tour change their rules so dramatically because another tour doesn't like it or feels financially threatened? There's just a bit too much protection going on for my liking and not enough transparency."
Fan experience limited, for now
LIV has capped the number of fans allowed into its two events and declined to make that number public for the event at Pumpkin Ridge. The reason for the limited number of patrons at Pumpkin Ridge was the possibility of trouble from protesters and two-lane roads being the only way into the course.
"When they start to get permitting for a larger number, I think we'll start seeing a lot larger galleries," Phil Mickelson said. "I know there's a lot of demand but right now but they're keeping it small."
Those in attendance told several reporters they were not interested in the politics and where the money was coming from and only wanted to see professional golfers, especially in an area of the country that has hosted few events. Many were overheard talking about conversations and interactions they had with the golfers.
This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Greg Norman's LIV Golf has supporters, protesters after two events