LIV golfers, paid in advance, swing around Trump Bedminster

BEDMINSTER, N.J. — Brooks Koepka, a four-time major golf champion, sat on his lap in a golf cart with his wife, Jenna Sims, on Saturday, both laughing as the cart headed toward the golf course.

It was a beautiful summer shot in New Jersey.

But what made the scene stand out was the fact that Koepka was about two minutes away from teeing off in the second round of the LIV Golf event at Trump Bedminster Golf Club. Typically, the build-up to the first shot at a professional golf tournament is tense, anxious and full of pressure. After all, it’s seven-figure payday.

The easy Koepka-Sims carriage ride, while harmless fun, underscored the impact of the guaranteed nine-figure contracts won by top players on the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Tour. Koepka reportedly received more than $100 million to join the separatist ring.

No wonder he and his wife were giggling.

As LIV Golf wrapped up its third event of the year on Sunday, there was the same casual air about the venture, a sense that everyone had already gotten their money’s worth. That’s because dozens had, and even the player who finished last was guaranteed a $120,000 payout (with travel and lodging expenses reimbursed for the top players).

Henrik Stenson won the tournament and earned $4 million.

Yet despite its focus on lavish prize money, the LIV Golf experience shines and enhances professional golf in other, less glamorous ways. The atmosphere in northwest New Jersey Friday through Sunday was decidedly younger, less busy and decidedly more open to experimentation than on the established PGA Tour. That meant energetic music blaring even as golfers attempted tricky tee shots. The Beastie Boys’ “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (to Party!)” by Dustin Johnson ($125 million advance) was a high-volume hit when it debuted in its first week.

His shot hit the bunker.

But many fans felt energized by the setting.

“You go to a traditional golf tournament and they keep telling you to shut up,” said Patrick Shields, who lives in Hackensack, N.J., next to the 16th tee. “This is a sporting event, right?”

However, volunteers on the LIV Golf course carried crowd control placards aimed at quiet fans, as is common on the PGA Tour. The placards they held above said “Zip it” or “Shhhh”.

However, just as relevant, the volunteers never had to deal with large crowds. Attendance for Sunday’s final round was a big improvement from the sparse crowds that turned out for the first two rounds – often only 30 or so people around the green – but the total number of fans on Sunday did not exceed a few thousand. .

The average PGA Tour event draws about 20,000 fans daily. LIV Golf officials declined to release attendance figures. A weekend pass to the event can reportedly be purchased for $2 on the second-hand ticket market. The main financial backer of the rebel circles, which is Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, could certainly contribute to the modest fan turnout. In the opening seconds of the event on Friday, as Phil Mickelson prepared to hit his first shot, he was interrupted by someone who shouted, “Do it for the Saudi royal family.”

Overall, the new tour also doesn’t yet have enough big-name golfers to attract big crowds. Mickelson is tied, but limited, as he has played some of the worst golf of his illustrious career since opting to join the Rebel circuit. And with Koepka, Johnson, several golfers getting through their first games, and Bryson DeChambeau also struggling, the average golf fan looking at the leaderboard this weekend might have been confused.

On the ninth hole Saturday, Justin Harding, ranked 123rd in the world, hit a golf ball onto the green where it landed near the mammoth concession stand. The bars were well-attended for three days, and as Harding faced a difficult uphill chip to the green, about 20 spectators spilled out of the bar to stand almost beside Harding as he tried to save himself.

After Harding deftly stood within three feet of the hole and began to walk, a young boy nearby turned and asked, “Dad, who’s that?”

Dad said, “I have no idea.”

It can be chalked up to growing pains, and LIV Golf officials also personally argue that the real key to success is developing an appeal for the team element of competition that goes along with the individual competition. They are teams of four, some built along nationalist lines, such as a collection of Australians, Japanese, English, South Africans. In theory, this could help sell the LIV tour globally.

Inside a small merchandise trailer in the event’s fan village, which had the laid-back feel of a county fair, sales racks were filled with T-shirts, hats and golf shirts promoting the team names: Aces, Crushers and Majesticks, among others.

But there is no precedent for American golf fans fielding teams of any kind other than the biennial Ryder and Presidents Cups. That may change, but on Sunday, the merchandise trailer racks still had plenty of team apparel. The top sellers were the ‘Bedminster’ emblazoned T-shirt and the white LIV Golf cap.

It’s also likely that once the primary PGA Tour season ends at the end of August, there will be another wave of displacement on the breakaway circuit, which will continue to host cash events around the world until the end of October. And then all eyes will be on Augusta National Golf Club, which will host the Masters in April. There have been signals, as there have been from the governing bodies of other major championships, that many LIV golfers may not be particularly welcome at Augusta.

Or would the rival tours have started some kind of negotiations by this time that could lead to coexistence?

Late Sunday afternoon, as another event in the LIV Series was winding down, a cavalcade of golf carts was getting ready to take the players back to the clubhouse. Not everyone would laugh along the way, but no one would go home with empty pockets.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.