BEDMINSTER, New Jersey – Nothing in the history of pro sports league expansion rivals the impact the LIV Golf tour has made in just its second season of operation. It sparked political controversy in its first season because it is backed by the Saudi Arabia Political Investment Fund, and the massive amount of money that suddenly flooded into the game of golf created a schism in the traditional PGA Tour when it paid Phil Mickelson a $200 million bonus to defect to LIV, gave Dustin Johnson a $150 million deal and paid to attract other top players such as major winners Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau and Sergio Garcia.
LIV Golf failed to land the big fish when Tiger Woods turned down a $1 billion offer to join the upstart tour, but the handwriting was on the wall for the PGA Tour, which reacted by creating a series of designated events with enhanced purses of $20 million. The hammer dropped last June when PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan suddenly engineered a deal for a merger between the two tours. Several prominent members of the PGA Tour criticized Monahan for the secrecy sounding the merger, the details and structure of which still are murky.
The second-ever LIV Golf event at Trump Bedminster Golf Club starts on Friday, and defending champion Henrik Stenson appeared at a news conference on Wednesday, where he discussed the whirlwind of events over the past year. “I was surprised,” Stenson said of the proposed merger. “It actually was on the 6th of June, which is the Swedish national day. All of a sudden, someone showed me an Instagram post…and I had tons of messages and phone calls. I realized it was for real.
“I had heard rumors there might have been a meeting going on, but I was surprised that it happened that quickly and was all kept very quiet as well. I think it’s good overall for the world of golf to kind of calm down a little bit. At this point, it’s hard to predict what’s going to come out of it and how it’s all going to look.”
Stenson said the original controversy over the LIV-PGA Tour merger might have been avoided, and he inferred the PGA Tour was to blame for not sitting down with LIV Golf even earlier. The defending Bedminster champion also agreed with recent comments by Mickelson, who suggested most LIV players are happy where they’re at and aren’t anxious cross back over to the PGA once it’s determined how many events players are eligible for on each tour.
At the age of 47, Stenson said he’s happy to play 14 LIV events this season and other world-wide events for a total of around 25 per season. “I’m not looking to add a PGA Tour schedule of 15 events even if I had the opportunity,” Stenson said.
Garcia echoed that sentiment about not being eager to return to PGA Tour events if that is part of the future structure. “I wanted to come here to LIV not only because of the product but because I wanted to play less,” Garcia said. “If the possibility of playing the PGA Tour comes, I doubt I would play because I don’t want to play more.”
Garcia said the influx of LIV Golf money has made the game better. I feel like the competition is better,” Garcia said. “Everyone is taken care of better. Competition is good…I think that’s what LIV brought to golf.”
The PGA Tour claimed the moral high ground when LIV Golf began. Some described Saudi Arabia’s investment as a means of “sportswashing” its image as a country that denies human rights. But the PGA Tour ceded that position when it merged with LIV Golf to share in the wealth.
Describing the breakup with the PGA Tour, Lahiri said, “We were the outcasts, the black sheep, the disruptors. Everyone will look back in two or three years and say LIV Golf is the best thing that ever happened…Both tours can co-exist side-by-side. There’s room.
“I think a lot of people are going to get over their prejudice. They’re going to get over the colored glass that was put in front of them to view LIV Golf…I have a huge belief in what we’re doing here. I’m a part of something that’s potentially going to revolutionize or change golf 10 years from now.”