Rory McIlroy’s thrilling victory in the Tour Championship was an absorbing end to the campaign in the United States, but golf’s season of discontent rumbles on.
This week at Wentworth Club in Surrey, England, the DP World Tour’s flagship event — the BMW PGA Championship — takes center stage and will feature 18 players who have all defected to the LIV Golf Series. It could be uncomfortably awkward as the moment this scribe realized I had to wear speedos in a French public swimming pool. Sacre bleu indeed.
The likes of Abraham Ancer, Jason Kokrak, Kevin Na and Talor Gooch, who had hardly shown much interest in playing in Europe before, are all in the field now on the basis of their top-60-in-the-world exemption.
They need to top up their world ranking points – LIV Golf hasn’t been awarded world ranking status yet – but it must be mighty galling for some proper DP World Tour loyalists who miss out on the old European circuit’s showpiece amid this general tumult.
As for McIlroy’s views on the rebels pitching up in the leafy Surrey stockbroker belt? “I hate it, I really do,” said the Northern Irishman with his usual open and honest assessment of affairs. “It’s going to be hard for me to stomach going to Wentworth and seeing 18 of them there. That just doesn’t sit right with me.”
McIlroy has emerged as the statesman of the status quo. While gushing descriptions by some cooing observers of him being the savior of golf were somewhat hysterical in the aftermath of his timely win at East Lake, McIlroy’s box office appeal is the one thing money can’t buy. And LIV Golf certainly can’t buy his star attraction.
Of course, Cameron Tringale, a player who has earned upwards of $17 million on the PGA Tour but has never won in 338 events, recently decided to make the leap.
“After much reflection, prayer, and conversations with trusted advisors I have made the decision not to renew my Tour membership for next year and join LIV Golf,” wrote the deeply religious Tringale in a lengthy epistle of justification.
The Lord, it seems, will provide. Or at least the Saudi Public Investment Fund will. These are fascinating times.
While Lee Westwood and Eddie Pepperell were embroiling themselves in some tetchy parrying and jousting on social media — Pepperell told LIV rebel Westwood to “take your cake and enjoy it in the corner” — the PGA Tour top brass were unveiling a vast array of money-sodden, golden-handcuffs-style initiatives designed to keep the best players tied to the circuit and ensure the elite will play the elite on a more regular basis in a series of “elevated” events.
A few withering responses followed, with Westwood claiming the changes were nothing more than a replica of the LIV Golf formula. “It’s just a copy of what LIV is doing, there are a lot of hypocrites out there,” he said in an interview with Golf Digest. Any chance of some kind of compromise between the warring factions is about as likely as getting your bin emptied.
Are these changes by the PGA Tour too little too late? Well, they have certainly been wounded by a series of high-profile resignations and possibly underestimated the LIV Golf threat but it could be enough to lock the door before a few more horses bolt. Cameron Young, the rising star who was second in The Open, had been expected to jump ship, for instance, but the various carrots now being dangled by the PGA Tour have, apparently, convinced him to stay put.
Those aforementioned “elevated” tour events will be worth $20 million.
A LIV event is $25 million but it comes with the hefty price of reputational damage and the general scrutiny and condemnation that greets just about every defector. Now that the PGA Tour prize funds are kicking the backside of the LIV pots, those swithering may just decide it ain’t worth the hassle.
The fractured, disjointed scene at the top of a sport blinded by money remains a rather unedifying spectacle, though.
The players on either side of this divide are getting richer and richer but the game is poorer for all the squabbling and self-serving haverings. In this ongoing battle of attrition, it will be a while before a winner emerges.