A new round of golf kicked off Thursday in London, with fans arriving at The Centurion Club to see some of the sport’s biggest names playing in the inaugural North London event.
But what is the LIV Golf Series, the new venture that threatens to shake the very foundations of the sport?
It is a new tour organized by LIV Golf Investments and consisting of eight events around the world, which began in London on Thursday.
Headed by world number one Greg Norman, the team-based series runs from June to October with the goal of “comprehensively improving the health of professional golf on a global scale to help unleash the sport’s (sic) untapped potential.”
It is backed by the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF) – a sovereign wealth fund headed by Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia and the man described by a US intelligence report as responsible for approving the operation that led to the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Bin Salman denied his involvement in the murder of Khashoggi.
The Public Investment Fund pledged $250 million in total prize money. Each of the top seven events will have a total prize pool of $25 million, with $20 million split between individual players and $5 million remaining between the top three teams each weekend.
Ahead of the first event in London, 12 teams were announced, plus their captain. On Tuesday, the leaders selected the rest of their teams in draft form similar to the NFL and NBA drafts.
Unlike typical golf events, the London event lasts over three days, not four, as the 48-player course starts off with a gun start – all at the same time – in the hope of being a more engaging and action-packed event.
Compete in the traditional hit play format, the lowest score will be the winner.
Whereas in the first two rounds each team’s two best scores will be counted, in the final round, the three best scores will be counted, with the team’s lowest overall score after 54 holes the winning team is named.
For the final event – the team tournament – the format changes to a four-round knockout tournament.
Which golfers have scored?
The amazing money on offer attracted a mix of golfers to sign up for the inaugural event in London, of all ages, backgrounds and success on the golf course.
Six-time main winner Phil Mickelson and world number one Dustin Johnson were among the main winners of the event, while other main winners Sergio Garcia, Martin Kaymer, Graeme McDowell, Louis Oosthuizen and Char Schwarzl also took part.
Ryder Cup players Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood were also part of the first group to sign up, and the field features 18 players ranked among the world’s top 100 players.
Why is it controversial?
The LIV Golf Series is not without question marks.
The source of the funds, the Saudi Public Investment Fund, led to inquiries and criticism targeting organizers and players over the choice to play for money from the country given its human rights record.
Another way of controversy surrounding the league is the breakaway nature of well-established rounds of golf.
The PGA Tour and the DP World Tour – formerly the European Tour – where players ply their trade via the golf calendar, have long been outside the four major disciplines.
But, when presenting monetary and life balance issues as excuses, the decision of a faction of players who shunned play in the LIV Golf Series was met with mixed reactions from fellow tour members.
What do the players say?
On the eve of the series, the world’s most lucrative golf event, journalists questioned rivals at an often tense press conference in St Albans, England.
Mickelson has been the main focus of attention, mainly because he is one of the sport’s biggest stars, but also because this will be his first competitive event since his biographer published his controversial comments about Saudi-funded events earlier this year.
The six-time main winner is cited from a 2021 interview with author Alan Shipnock for his upcoming book “Phil: The Rip-Roaring (and Unauthorized!) Super League because it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour works.”
And the Shipbank website quoted Michelson as saying that there are things that degrade the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in the field of human rights, and confirmed that the kingdom had killed the journalist Khashoggi.
In his opening answer at Wednesday’s press conference, when asked about the human rights record of the country providing funding for the project, Mickelson appeared remorseful.
He said repeatedly, “I do not condone human rights violations at all.”
Johnson – the tournament’s highest-ranked player and is 15th in the world – quit his PGA Tour membership and said on Tuesday: “I don’t want to play for the rest of my life, it gives me a chance to do it. What I want to do.”
Graeme McDowell, European Ryder Cup champion, was asked about Khashoggi’s murder during his press conference.
“We all agree that this is something to blame. No one will argue that fact but we are golfers. We are not politicians.
“If Saudi Arabia wants to use golf as a way for them to get where they want to be, we are proud to help them on that journey, using golf and the capabilities we have to help grow the sport.”
What about those who do not participate?
The first LIV event takes place at the Centurion Club. This tournament takes place with the Canadian Open for the PGA Tour almost simultaneously and is the first head-to-head meeting between the two rounds.
Centurion’s $25 million purse tripled its $8.7 million value at the Canadian Open. Defending his title in Canada will be Rory McIlroy, ranked 8th in the world.
“Any decision you make in your life just for money doesn’t end up in the right way,” McIlroy said on Wednesday, as reported by Reuters.
“Money is clearly a critical factor in a lot of things in this world, but if it’s only for money, it’s not, and it doesn’t seem to be going the way you want it to.”
In terms of star power, the Canadian Open will easily outperform Centurion’s squad. Among the front-runners in Toronto will be world number one Scottie Scheffler and PGA Championship winner Justin Thomas.
“People have the right to choose what they like,” Thomas said. “I don’t hate DJ now. I don’t think he’s a bad guy. I wouldn’t treat him any differently.
“He has the right to choose whatever he wants.
“Right now, I’m disappointed and wish he and the others wouldn’t, but that’s their decision.”
What does that mean for the future of golf?
It is not clear what this will mean for the future of golf, and where players will choose to practice their trade in the future.
Many of the players affected by the ban – Mickelson, Westwood and Poulter – are in the middle of their careers, perhaps underestimating the suspension.
A few players, including Johnson, Garcia and Kevin Na, have quit their PGA Tour status before play begins Thursday in London.
But for six-time main winner Mickelson, who has already earned a lifetime status on the PGA Tour, it calls into question his long-term commitment to the Tour. He said at his press conference Wednesday before the inaugural LIV Golf Series event that he didn’t want to give up his life membership on the PGA Tour, saying, “I won that, and I’m not planning to just give it up.”
And for the young talents in the game, the commentary is an enigma.
The PGA Tour is the most prominent golf tour in the world at the moment, and as such is viewed as the pinnacle. However, the new big money round offers a great opportunity to earn money for players all over the world, especially the rising talents.
Will younger players decide to stick with the LIV Golf series, thus destroying their chances of playing on the PGA Tour, or stick with the “traditional” path and play on the PGA Tour and possibly reduce their earning potential?
The DP World Tour – currently the second largest in the sport – has not announced any potential penalties for players. When contacted by CNN, she said she had “no comment” on the LIV Golf Series.
As for four-player golf, the appearance of players in the LIV Golf Series has also disrupted their participation in those teams.
Although next week’s US Open said players are free to play if they qualify, next month’s Open in St Andrews has yet to make a public decision.
Shortly after the announcement, LIV Golf issued a strongly worded response, calling the comment “retaliatory.”
“Today’s announcement by the PGA Tour is retaliatory and deepens the divide between the Tour and its members,” she said.
“It is troubling that the Tour, an organization dedicated to creating opportunities for golfers to play the game, is the entity that prevents golfers from playing. This is certainly not the last word on the subject. The era of free agency has begun because we are proud to have an entire field of players who They join us in London and beyond.”