The future of aging LIV golfers depends on Saudi largesse

Sports wax should not have any commercial significance. This is why any normal operating company would see fit to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on a golf break program. The Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF) can try to recreate a kingdom in which murders of journalists and human rights abuses are typical points of reference, with the benefit of little money.

If PGA and DP World Tours find themselves embroiled in a long business battle with the Saudi-backed LIV Series, they know they’ve outdone themselves.

But the events of the past few days have served as a reminder of what the players have benefited from a certain antiquity of Saudi gift-bearing. There is reason to question the point at which a PIF – which by definition is accountable to a person – reflects the value of golfers who have fallen into irrelevance. That day of reckoning will come. It’s just a matter of when.

LIV has understandably announced the recall of Henrik Stenson as Ryder Cup captain. It was a physical blow that landed Greg Norman against the anti-youth golf establishment. Stinson and his representatives acted annoyingly. After agreeing to lead Europe against the United States in Rome the following year, he was contractually obligated to stay away from the LIV.

If the Swedes and their management knew that a change of plan was possible all along, or even used the captain to take advantage of it, they should be ashamed of themselves. If this series of events caught Stinson by surprise, there is a great deal of naivety at play. In a stunning public statement, the 2016 champion tried to paint himself as a victim who somehow slipped out of the captain’s role, despite wanting to combine it with LIV’s performances.

What Norman, Liv’s character, doesn’t want to focus on is that Stinson’s runway show fell off a cliff. Breaking 72 is a win these days. Since finishing ninth at the 2019 US Open, the 46-year-old’s major record read: T20, cut, cut, cut, T38, T64, cut, cut, cut, cut. He has not won since 2017. Stenson serves a purpose for LIV in propositional terms, but adds nothing mathematically. However, it will guarantee him at least $120,000 (£100,000) per tournament, plus an entry fee of tens of millions.

Stenson falls into a category that includes other LIV converts such as Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood, Phil Mickelson, Paul Casey, Sergio Garcia, Graeme McDowell, Martin Kaymer and Charles Schwarzl. Their best days are behind them.

Louis Oosthuizen considered retirement before putting an LIV protest under his nose. Brooks Koepka’s greatness in 2018 and 2019 feels like a long time ago. Bresson Dechambeau’s candid appearance suggested that stories of his death may have been exaggerated, but injury diminished his stature. DeChambeau, like Patrick Reed, had reason to seek a way out of the PGA Tour, which meant LIV’s selection was perfectly timed.

Norman used media duties at the LIV induction to admit he had waited three decades to challenge the PGA Tour. For him it is personal. Finally, the Australian found an entity rich enough to finance his dream. Even better for Norman, he is paid a hefty salary to live on.

The broader picture includes scenes of a party on a private plane. This includes the appearance of Pat Perez in a dollar bill design shirt. There are agents, PR firms and sugarcane makers amassing a small fortune on the back of a model that serves no competitive purpose.

LIV may make many of the noises you love about potential broadcast partners, betting initiatives and the sale of team franchises, but the inevitable current landscape is one of opportunists using Saudi Arabia’s golfing ambitions to line their own pockets. The right and wrong of this choice can be debated, but what is more interesting is how long it takes the PIF to offer such generosity. If Mohammed bin Salman feels he is being taken advantage of, the future does not look good for Leaf golfers.

Validation of LIV’s approach will come if, as suggested, he can agree with newly crowned Open Champion Cameron Smith. A heated exchange between Australian broadcasters last week highlighted the backlash Smith, who has an impeccable reputation, could face at home if he makes the move.

LIV’s need to add a player of this caliber meant an offer of over $100 million in Smith’s direction. That’s a bargain that would be laughed at in any other conference room. The PIF must make sure it is not the person being mocked.


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