LIV Golf’s product is as dumb as its money

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Let’s head to Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club outside of Portland, Oregon for the latest in the LIV Golf Series. Charl Schwartzel, trailing around the $4million he made earlier this month outside London, lost the first pitch he hit, opened with a double bogey and, well, who really cares that he ended the day buried near the bottom of the leaderboard? Graeme McDowell, captain of a team known as the Niblicks, was 4 above par before an hour had passed, forging his way further into irrelevance. Brooks Koepka debuted for Team Smash, which has a logo it looks like, uh, flatulence. Nervous!

Golf has always had a silly season. He never overlapped June and July, when major championships are strung together with meaningful tournaments in between. The renegade series tries, of course, to change all that with impetuosity. It is very attractive because it is both lucrative and stress-free for players.

But like a product that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up? It feels like second-rate reality TV, properly relegated to, say, The CW. (Or, indeed, stream it on LIVGolf.com or YouTube.) In golf, iron has long sharpened iron. No one ever said that gold sharpens gold. The most malleable of metals could, indeed, soften all those who have poked their noses into the trough.

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It is important to constantly keep in mind the source of LIV’s considerable – in fact, almost endless – wealth and funding: the Saudi government. Of course, it’s lightly laundered through a fund called the Public Investment Fund, which calls itself ‘sovereign’, a laughable notion given that the chairman of the board is none other than the Crown Prince. Mohammed bin Salman and that the board is made up of members of the Saudi establishment. Each of these actors is committed to taking money from a murderous regime, and it colors the whole entity.

But put moral scruples aside for a minute, and what are you left with? It would seem like a tricked out waste of a product. It’s not just because it’s different. At first glance, different is not bad. But start with that fact and go back to what Jon Rahm – the second-ranked Spaniard in the world who pledged his loyalty to the PGA Tour – said ahead of the US Open. It sounded right at the time. As LIV Golf hosts the second event in its flamboyant existence, it seems more relevant now.

“Part of the format doesn’t really appeal to me,” Rahm said. “Shotgun, three days, for me it’s not a golf tournament. No cup. I want to play against the best in the world in a format that has been going on for hundreds of years. That’s what I want to see .

And think about what happened in the week that followed at the Country Club outside Boston: a leaderboard dotted with stars of the game – Rahm, Rory McIlroy, Collin Morikawa and Scottie Scheffler among them. On weekends, as has been the case for generations, the leaders did not leave with everyone else but last, playing in the dying light. This left Matt Fitzpatrick and Will Zalatoris in the final group, staring at each other. That’s how these championships have been decided for years. It made for an exciting Sunday.

In the final round – which in the LIV world is the third round – a LIV field is reworked so that leaders effectively start from the first hole. But as they begin a round that determines who earns $4 million for coming first and who takes $120,000 for finishing last, the leaders tee off on the first hole at the same time as those on the seventh through ninth tee off the second.

It’s the start of a shootout, with all the disorder that entails. Leaders play the course the way it’s meant to be played: The tee hole means something; the finishing hole means something else. Except for all the others, who don’t finish on 18 but on fifth or seventh or wherever.

It doesn’t look like a championship event. It looks like a Monday morning shotgun to benefit the Four Counties Food Bank. Which, come to think of it, would do the world more good than, say, lining Pat Perez’s pockets with $580,000 for finishing ninth.

This weekend, LIV Golf’s Portland-area event will take on the John Deere Classic, a PGA Tour event that happens to have a history that dates back more than half a century. It was preceded by last week’s travelers outside of Hartford, Connecticut, won by young star Xander Schauffele. The Voyageurs and the John Deere Classic aren’t exactly PGA Tour marquee events. But they have at least one story – Jordan Spieth coming out of the bunker on the 18th and banging the coffers with caddy Michael Greller, Jim Furyk shooting a 58, Iowan Zach Johnson winning at home, Bubba Watson winning in tears for the first time.

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LIV Golf cannot be expected to have a story in a month. But neither can it claim to have meaning simply because it exists.

“I’ve always been interested in history and legacy, and right now the PGA Tour has that,” Rahm said in those pre-Open remarks. “There is meaning when you win the Memorial Championship. There is meaning when you win the Arnold Palmer event at Bay Hill. There’s a meaning when you win LA [at Riviera]Torrey [Pines], some of these historical places. That, to me, matters a lot.

There’s also some procedural stuff that dulls the shine of the LIV. Koepka, for his part, has long said he cares most about major championships, of which he has four. It’s an admirable way of thinking, shared by Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods, to name a few.

But by joining LIV Golf, Koepka has – at least for now – potentially made it out of the majors. His ticket to the 2023 Masters is punched — assuming Augusta National doesn’t ban LIV players — because he won the 2018 US Open. The winners of the US and British Open and the PGA Championship receive invitations to Augusta for the next five years.

The road back to the Masters in 2024 and beyond, however, is tougher than it was two months ago. Players who win a PGA Tour event in the year since the last Masters qualify. Koepka and the others can’t win PGA Tour events if they can’t play them, so that avenue is blocked.

Players who are in the top 50 of the Official World Golf Rankings at the end of the previous calendar year, as well as the week prior to the start of the Masters, are permitted to enter Augusta. But at this time – and perhaps forever – LIV Golf events do not allow players to accumulate OWGR points. This is a crucial point ahead: LIV players are currently playing in rigged and irrelevant events. If the current rules don’t change, they might struggle to rely on the majors to maintain relevance.

What’s true about this weekend outside of Portland: Someone will win $4 million for coming in first, and the first loser will take home $2.125 million, nearly a million more than the champion John Deere. It matters to gamblers and their investment advisors, no matter how filthy the money.

What matters to the spectator of golf is the test provided and the tournament that follows. LIV players pushed the idea that golf can be a force for good. It’s suspect at best, especially when the golf being produced feels more like a second-rate carnival than a first-class competition.