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For a sport that prides itself on values like honesty, honor and integrity, golf sure seems over-populated with people whose word is worth about as much as a phlegm sundae on a sweltering day. ’Twas always thus, of course, no matter how energetically the PGA Tour marketed everyone as being of admirable character and charitable bearing. Thanks to Greg Norman’s ongoing abuse of the Clown Prince’s checkbook, at least now less work is required to identify the game’s most hollow charlatans. Just lob a dart at the LIV Golf line-up. And don’t feel the need to aim carefully.
Dishonesty and cowardice are two traits common to many players who have decamped to LIV Golf. They lie about their intent to join the Saudi-backed outfit and continually compound that by refusing to admit they did so for money, cowering behind codswallop about growing the game (they’re not) or setting their own schedule (they can’t). It’s an expanding roster of golfers who once insisted they’d never do exactly what they did whenever the Saudis found the inflection point in their spines, where cash trumps conscience.
LIV’s latest recruit is its least surprising: Henrik Stenson, the duration of whose Ryder Cup captaincy compares unfavorably to that of a Kardashian marriage. A few hours after Ryder Cup Europe announced his dismissal, Stenson released a statement expressing disappointment that jumping to the Saudis had cost him the job, perhaps forgetting that just four months ago he signed a contract that forbade him from doing just that.
“It is a shame to witness the significant uncertainty surrounding the Ryder Cup,” Stenson wrote, sounding like a pyromaniac dismayed at the damage caused by the fire he set.
But words, like contracts and character, are meaningless in the ranks of LIV Golf.
No sentient person in golf can be shocked that Stenson left for LIV, least of all those who selected him for the captaincy. Ryder Cup Europe coyly explained the decision to strip him of the captaincy as being “in light of decisions made by Henrik in relation to his personal circumstances.” Those circumstances don’t relate only to what tour Stenson wishes to compete on.
Most everyone on the DP World and PGA tours knows Stenson has more than once been the victim of large-scale embezzlement, so European Ryder Cup bosses must have understood that anyone offering him money would get a hearing. They would also have surmised that the dollar amount the Saudis were dangling would only increase with his assuming the captaincy. In the crude currency familiar to the Saudi regime, the head of the Ryder Cup captain is an attractive trophy to brandish. So what might seem an impressive coup for LIV Golf is really just an acknowledgment of Stenson’s financial history.
It was a risk Ryder Cup Europe chose to assume. It was a mistake common among many organizations and individuals who have had dealings with LIV players—trusting them, thinking their word was a bond rather than a tactic, assuming their signatures on contracts had standing. In the event LIV gained traction during Stenson’s tenure as captain, no one was more susceptible to FOMO—fear of missing out—on the cash. In the current environment, he was always a risky bet, but one that cratered even more rapidly than the Old World decision-makers could have imagined.
The extent to which the Ryder Cup will be impacted by Stenson’s firing is likely less than LIV enthusiasts will claim. The U.S. rout last year in Wisconsin proved that Europe is caught between generations of talent, so there’s little clarity on who the continent will field 14 months from now in Rome. None of the veterans who signed with LIV—Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter, Sergio Garcia, Graeme McDowell—were serious candidates for a spot on the squad. They are all yesterday’s men, as surely as Stenson is yesterday’s skipper.
In pondering options for his replacement, Europe should take the opportunity to dispense with the revolving door that has governed the captaincy for a quarter-century. Some of Europe’s greatest successes came under Tony Jacklin and Bernard Gallacher. Jacklin led four consecutive teams, followed by Gallacher for three. Two men held the captain’s job from 1983 until 1997, when Seve Ballesteros assumed the role for the match in Spain. That’s when Europe’s ‘Big 5’ of the 1980s and ‘90s was maturing into management, so the specious idea took root that even a winning captain had to make way simply because it was someone else’s turn.
Paul McGinley was an excellent captain in 2014, but was replaced in 2016 by Darren Clarke, who wasn’t. Thomas Bjorn led Europe to a decisive victory in Paris four years ago, but stepped aside for Padraig Harrington, whose team was battered at Whistling Straits last September.
The same phenomenon is evident on the U.S. side. Why should Paul Azinger have ceded to Corey Pavin in 2010? Or Davis Love III to Jim Furyk in 2018? Or, frankly, Steve Stricker to Zach Johnson this time? If a winning and popular captain has had enough, then fair enough. But if he’s willing and able to stay on, he should not be assumed to be out of the job simply because there are other candidates who feel entitled to a shot.
Hitting a reset button on how Europe selects captains might be the only positive contribution Stenson can claim from his 127-day stint in the job. Even Italian governments would be embarrassed to fall so quickly.
The Ryder Cup forged reputations—for loyalty, for love of competition, for character—that instantly withered under LIV’s insidious caress, lost amid a deluge of duplicity and double-speak. Chalk up Stenson’s as another. “I am committed to growing the game and using the game as a force for good,” he wrote, going on to insist that the sportswashing effort operated and financed by the repressive Saudi regime will be just such a positive force for good. Should one ever need a reminder of how easily credulous people can be duped, Stenson’s statement should be Exhibit ‘A.’
Next week, Stenson will make his LIV debut at a tournament hosted by Donald Trump. It promises to be the Super Bowl for grifters, a gathering of men sorely destitute of character, hungrily pocketing someone else’s cash while claiming it’s in service of a greater good. They are all richly deserving of each other’s company.