LIV Golf leaves London with its mission accomplished

Charl Schwartzel and Greg Norman after the South African raised £3.85 million for the Centurion win (AFP via Getty Images)

Charl Schwartzel and Greg Norman after the South African raised £3.85 million for the Centurion win (AFP via Getty Images)

The battle for the future of golf began as a cloak-and-dagger operation at Centurion. Players tiptoed through the broken glass and into the comfort of their moral vacuum cleaner as they dodged questions and offered platitudes about growing the game. But by the time darkness fell over Hemel Hempstead on Saturday, the disguise had faded and the saber clank took center stage as Charl Schwartzel collected £3.85 million and Greg Norman trained his vengeful visor on the PGA Tour. “They couldn’t crush us,” he declared shortly before a flotilla of military planes rocketed through the sky as part of LIV Golf’s victory parade.

The Civil War may have just begun, but the significance of this monument can be little downplayed. The field at Centurion may have been tenuous — a bevy of faceless prospects, fading powers and barely a handful of real stars — but Saudi Arabia’s foray into golf is no longer a threat on the horizon. A real tournament unfolded over three days on the outskirts of north London, the players praising the success despite the moral ambiguity and then leaving into the sunset with their bank accounts stuffed. Andy Ogletree, the world No. 1,371, walked away with £100,000 despite finishing last, some 31 shots off the winning score.

“Where the money comes from isn’t something I’ve ever looked at,” Schwartzel said in a neat summary of how golfers choose to bury their heads in the sand. That approach has led to players being labeled as “stooges” by Amnesty International and a coalition of more than 9,000 families affected by the 9/11 terrorist attack being accused of “treason”. But what makes the LIV Golf series so special is how bold it is. This isn’t a pernicious sports wash, it’s a transparent and hostile takeover with the ridiculous sums swung in plain sight.

After Norman’s self-congratulatory speech at Saturday’s awards ceremony, Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the head of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, was pleased to announce that LIV Golf would reward the first player to shoot a round of 54. millions of dollars. It’s a silly prospect — the lowest score in PGA Tour history is 58 — but that’s exactly the point. There’s a bottomless pit of money to burn, the fire is lit in an oil drum, and it’s only a matter of time before more players are lured to the beacon.

LIV Golf will make its first stop in the US later this month, with Bryson DeChambeau, Patrick Reed and Pat Perez already confirmed as the latest players to enter the fray. Rickie Fowler, Jason Kokrak, Matthew Wolff and Bubba Watson are expected to join them soon if he can recover from injury. “Believe us, this is just the beginning,” Norman said, and it’s hard to foresee anything to hold back the tide.

The PGA Tour has gone on the offensive, suspending defectors and facing lengthy legal battles, but it’s clear they already have no choice but to co-exist with LIV Golf. The sheer magnitude of the wealth on offer proves irresistible even to players who pledged their loyalty to the PGA Tour just a few months ago. Money triumphs in the face of loyalty, inheritance and morality, and that is a precedent with which golf is already well known. Schwartzel was 10 years old when South African apartheid officially ended. Norman was one of the star names he’d seen avoid the country’s sporting boycott to compete in the lucrative, invitation-only Million Dollar Challenge. In golf, the Saudis have found the perfect accomplice with a long history of sales.

The huge marketing budget spent on highlighting the distinctive aspect of the LIV Golf events, from the team format to the shotgun start, may have added a level of intrigue, but it was never intended to mask the shamelessness of it all. . When Peter Uihlein’s birdie putt fell on the 18th hole, all that mattered was how many hundreds of thousands of pounds it had been worth. The pretense was no longer necessary. The money had spoken, the players had stopped to listen and the people behind LIV Golf had all the proof they needed to know that this sporting and geopolitical land grab can go much, much further.

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