At a LIV golf event, thin crowds and a tense start

BEDMINSTER, NJ – Standing over his ball on Friday, Phil Mickelson, the prized acquisition of the new Saudi-backed LIV Golf series, lined up his first tee shot at the breakaway circuit event at Trump National Golf Club Bedminster.

Just as Mickelson, who reportedly received a $200 million signing bonus to join the Insurgent Tour, was about to start his swing, a fan 15 yards to his right shouted, “Do it for the Saudi royal family!

Mickelson walked away from the shot as a security official approached the fan and told him he would be kicked off the field if there was another explosion.

Appearing flustered, Mickelson returned to his stance and eventually hit the ball, which sailed 60 feet off the line and landed in a cavernous bunker. Stomping and mumbling to his caddy, Mickelson would start his day with a bogey.

LIV Golf’s dominating slogan, barked in radio ads and displayed on gigantic neon-letter billboards around the Trump course is “Golf, But Louder.”

The Mickelson episode, which happened seconds after the first LIV golf event held in the Northeast, is unlikely to be what organizers had in mind.

For most of Friday’s first lap, it was anything but noisy. Yes, there was plenty of music playing on the course, from loud speakers near the greens and tee boxes. But the thunderous cheers, the typical soundtrack of most professional golf tournaments, were non-existent.

The crowd at the event, LIV Golf’s third tournament, was too sparse to hear standing ovations around the course. This may have been because it was a Friday rather than a weekend, but as an example, the biggest crowd at the first start of the day was undoubtedly for Mickelson, and that was approx. 350 people.

And Mickelson was knocking alongside a large clubhouse balcony and patio. When he reached his first green, there were exactly 43 people waiting for him. As he played the 18th hole, a large luxury box overlooking the green stood empty. Several thousand spectators were spaced around the course, but far from the roughly 20,000 that might attend an average PGA Tour event. LIV Golf officials have not announced an attendance figure.

As the day progressed, some greens were partially shrouded by standing fans two deep, but that was a rarity. For many participants, however, this was not necessarily a bad thing.

Denny McCarthy, 29, of Kearny, NJ, was thrilled with his stunning view of the 18th green. He planned to stay in one place for most of the day and watch each of the 18 three-man groups as they played the hole.

“There’s a beer stand behind me and the line isn’t long either,” McCarthy said.

There were other notable ways in which the atmosphere was different from that of a PGA Tour event. On the one hand, the players seemed much more relaxed. In interviews, LIV Golf players have explained how the new circuit has helped foster a collective spirit with extravagant pre-tournament parties at nightclubs and abundant reimbursement of travel expenses for families and player caddies. .

Additionally, due to the controversies swirling around the circuit – including its funding by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, and concern that it will forever shatter a revered golf ecosystem – LIV golfers have felt ostracized. . This spawned an us versus them mentality that was evident on Friday. As the players roamed the fairways, there were a lot more casual conversations between their groups than usual at a PGA Tour event.

The element of team competition may be a factor. At each LIV event, 12 teams of four players play for a $3 million prize which the winner shares equally, supplementing the golfers’ individual winnings.

“It’s a lot like college golf,” said Sam Horsfield, who, at 25, is one of the youngest players in the game. “You’re out there grinding every blow trying to do well for the boys.”

But at the end of the day, there’s one overriding reason why LIV golfers can feel more comfortable and more collaborative: every player, in a sense, is guaranteed to be a winner. Unlike PGA Tour events, which send half the course home without a dollar, LIV Golf events have guaranteed payouts. Even the finalist will receive $120,000 for their three days of competition.

The payouts were made possible by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, which has led critics to accuse the players of selling out to a country that is trying to cover up its poor human rights record. On Friday, a group of family members of victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks protested near the course, claiming that Saudi officials had supported the terrorists.

But on the course, some supporters, especially the younger ones, fed on the camaraderie they observed between the players.

“I love what they’re doing on social media, even seeing them enjoying the social events leading up to the events,” said Jon Monteiro, 30, who traveled from his home in Reading, Pa., to the tournament on Friday. “The players are having more fun, and if they are having fun, I want to go and share that atmosphere.”

Standing next to Monteiro was his friend Alex Kelln, 30, who lives in Rumson, NJ Speaking about past PGA Tour events he’s attended, Kelln said the tour had a somewhat unwelcoming stigma, which he described as, “You stand there and there are quiet signs.

Monteiro added, “When we play golf, there’s a speaker playing music, and I feel like that’s how we grew up playing golf.”

Neither Monteiro nor Kelln are concerned that men’s professional golf is fractured by the showdown between tours.

“It’s healthy competition that will make them both better,” Kelln said.

As Monteiro and Kelln were talking, it was 90 minutes before the first shots of the day, before Mickelson’s encounter with a heckler. Before, the crowd was thin and sparse at many holes.

Monteiro admitted it was early in the LIV Golf experience. He smiled and said, “We’ll see.”