Column: Biggest disruption to Saudi tour is words, not golf

American golfer Dustin Johnson after playing his second shot on the 4th hole during the JP McManus Pro-Am at Adare Manor in Limerick, Ireland, Monday, July 4, 2022. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)

American golfer Dustin Johnson after playing his second shot on the 4th hole during the JP McManus Pro-Am at Adare Manor in Limerick, Ireland, Monday, July 4, 2022. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)


The theme of the Saudi-funded LIV Golf series is “Golf, but stronger”.

Money talks, loud enough for Dustin Johnson to get an offer he couldn’t ignore, for Brooks Koepka to turn around in a week, for Pat Perez to smile after shooting 80.

The Saudi sovereign wealth fund’s inflated signing fees were always going to draw criticism. Now an additional layer of noise is starting to surface, mainly because some of these players have decided to take the money and shut up.

Talor Gooch has garnered more attention for his words than anything he has ever done on the golf course. For those unfamiliar with Gooch, he won his first PGA Tour title in the 2021 Final Tournament against a field that didn’t have anyone in the top 10 in the world this weekend. He played seven major tournaments in his eight years as a professional.

When asked at the LIV’s inaugural event outside London if he was right to be criticized for contributing to ‘sportswashing’, Gooch replied: ‘I’m a golfer. I’m not that smart.

And then he proved it last week at Pumpkin Ridge when his team (4 Aces) won by seven strokes, each member paying $750,000. Gooch was asked if he could feel the energy of the crowd.

“I haven’t played the Ryder Cup or the Presidents Cup, but I can’t imagine there’s a hell of a difference,” Gooch said. “It was as cool as it gets.”

As cool as it will ever be for him, no doubt.

The comment was nonsense, even by Gooch’s standards. He’s the player who posted a “You’re Welcome” gif when the PGA Tour reacted to LIV announcing changes to its schedule focused on bigger prize money for top players.

Without a doubt, the new league is a disturbance, and that’s not too bad.

The changes announced two weeks ago will make the PGA Tour leaner and better without losing the ideal that “playing better” still reigns. Chief among them is a calendar year (January through August) with an offseason that offers something for everyone, or nothing at all if someone wants a clean break.

The money was always going to increase with a new media rights deal, now channeled more towards the players who made the media want to invest in golf.

But this disruption has also drawn a line between who wants to be rich and who wants to be a star, and they aren’t necessarily related. There is growing animosity from the latter who would like the former to be a bit more transparent.

“I get that they’re fed up with all the things to say and all that, but for them to say it’s all for the betterment of the game… to be perfectly honest, I just wish one of them have the balls to say I’m doing this for the money,” PGA Champion Justin Thomas said on the No Laying Up podcast. “Personally, I would gain a lot more respect for that.

“But it’s just that the more players keep talking and saying it’s for the betterment of the game, the more agitated and irritated I get about it.”

It’s not that 54 holes are more exciting than 72. It’s not about playing for a team. And it’s not about playing less. Otherwise, those who signed up wouldn’t need the tour they left behind.

Patrick Reed took a starting shot at the PGA Tour saying he never listened to the players. He talked about the appeal of LIV Golf being able to spend more time with his family with fewer events to play. And at the weekends he was trying to figure out how to fit the Scottish Open into his schedule.

Wasn’t the idea to play less?

Reed plays about 30 times a year and leaves out the game where it’s his choice. Being an independent contractor isn’t about setting your own rules, it’s about setting your own schedule (which Reed can no longer do as an employee of LIV). He hasn’t had to play five times after the Tour Championship last year. He didn’t need to be a member of a European tour.

The noise coming from some players creates an “us versus them” mentality, the kind of disruptive environment that serves no one.

Fred Couples was particularly blunt in an interview with last week when he called Perez “a grain of sand” on the PGA Tour. He got personal with longtime friend Phil Mickelson. At least he was once.

“These guys – you’ve seen their interviews, haven’t you?” Couples said. “Have you ever seen Phil look so stupid in his life?” They know it’s a joke. He also said of Mickelson, “I don’t think I’ll talk to him again.”

It remains to come to integrate avocados into the mix.

Ian Poulter was among three players on the European tour who won a temporary stay from a UK judge which allows them to play the Scottish Open, even though the tour suspended them for playing an LIV event without permission .

A lawsuit against the PGA Tour seems only a matter of time. This probably won’t sit well with loyalists sharing space inside the ropes with players chasing them effectively.

“I think it’s just one of those things where maybe if I walked past this person earlier and said ‘Hey’ or asked how they’re doing, I might not do it again,” Thomas said.

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