BOLTON, Mass – With the PGA Tour taking a week off, LIV Golf had the men’s world stage to itself over Labor Day weekend, and it made the most of it at the International Golf Club, about 20 miles northwest of Boston. A three-way 15-under par tie at the finish between Dustin Johnson, Anirban Lahiri and Joaquin Niemann ended in dramatic fashion on the first playoff hole, the par-5 18th at the club’s newly refurbished Oaks Course.
Dustin Johnson rammed a 45-foot missile putt at the hole with enough TNT that it might have run right off the surface. But it hit the hole, popped into the air, and fell into the cup for an eagle to the tune of a $4 million payoff, the largest single paycheck of his future Hall of Fame career.
A Sunday crowd estimated at 10,000 seemed to enjoy the fireworks. With its 54 holes, 48 players, 12 teams, no cuts and shotgun start format, the three days resembled the old joke about going to a hockey fight only to have a game break out. With music streaming on most of the holes, the bass beat thrumming afar, and hot weather making for good playing conditions, LIV Golf trotted out its newest recruits — Niemann, Lahiri, Harold Varner III, Cameron Tringale, Marc Leishman and most notably the 2022 Open Championship winner Cameron Smith.
Cam Smith reportedly accepted a $100 million contract to join LIV Golf, which probably took him bout ten seconds to make a decision whether to join. He fired a final round 7-under 63 and fell one shot shy of the playoff. Before the day’s play, the LIV Golf commissioner, Greg Norman, watched as Smith crushed balls on the range. I remarked to Norman, “Quite a plum, eh?” Norman simply agreed: “Indeed.”
Harold Varner presumably signed for less than Smith, but he felt it was enough that he’d be able to do good for young people with the money coming his way. In a LIV Golf press conference he boldly said he joined for the money, but he also admitted he didn’t take others’ advice to avoid looking at social media, where he was raked over the coals after making the move.
“It sucked. Who likes to be hated? It’s terrible. I hate being hated. I’d rather not be—not even be known, than be hated. So yeah, it was terrible,” said Varner at the pre-tournament press conference.
But on Sunday Varner, who tied for 30th place at 3-under, walked off with $152,000. Not so terrible. Even Sihwan Kim, who finished dead last, earned $120,000 for his 16-over effort. Phil Mickelson, who played in shorts for the second consecutive day (another LIV Golf innovation) finished in a tie for 40th at 2-over and a $134,000 payday.
The wads of cash being thrown at the LIV Golf players are frankly staggering. And there are further bonuses thanks to the team format. The 4 Aces, the four-man team of Johnson, Patrick Reed, Pat Perez and Talor Gooch won their third consecutive LIV Golf event, splitting a $3 million team prize.
Pat Perez, critical of the LIV Golf endeavor before he became part of it, said in a team press conference after winning that in his three LIV Golf events to date he had more than doubled his earnings in 25 PGA Tour events.
The question was put to Perez, “There’s a lot of talk on social media about how people are saying these are more like exhibition matches. What would you say to the people out there that think this isn’t a real tour?”
Perez bluntly said, “Exhibition match don’t pay $4.75 million.”