It didn’t take long for Henrik Stenson’s decision to join the LIV Golf Invitational Series to pay off in impressive fashion.
Less than two weeks after the Swede was stripped of the European Ryder Cup with the immediate impact of a departure from the controversial Saudi-backed breakaway ring over a $50 million signing fee, Stenson carded a final-round 69 on Sunday afternoon to win the Leaf Golf event. Third by two points over Dustin Johnson and Matthew Wolfe at Trump National Golf Course. A club in the leafy town of Bedminster, New Jersey, 45 miles west of New York City.
“I think we can agree that I’ve played like a captain” since backing out of the March pledge when I accepted it, said Stenson, who brought in $4 million for the on-field loss and an additional $375,000 for his team’s second place. Captain position to support the entire DP tour.
“I think there may have been a bit of extra motivation there this week,” he added. “When we have that as players, I think we can pull off the good stuff. I think that’s been somewhat of a theme over the course of my career, I think, when I really want something that I can dig a little deeper, and a lot of times we can make that happen.”
Seemingly, it hit all the notes in a heartwarming story: a hard-earned return to the winner’s circle for a 46-year-old ranked 173rd in the world who hasn’t been much since. Record win at the 2016 Open. But when Stinson accepted the trophy with Donald Trump during a fireworks-filled party, it was oddly cut from the official broadcast, while Donald Trump Jr. announce It’s “the biggest F/U in golf’s history,” so deadly was a sense of boredom that even the Chainsmokers’ post-match party could fade away near the 10th hole.
The disdain that has come to define the burgeoning constituency funded by the Saudi sovereign wealth fund was only reinforced at the Bedminster golf club owned by a former US president whose role in fomenting riots in the US capital still being investigated by a select committee of the House. Controversy but louder.
Trump grabbed the spotlight throughout the proceedings and consistently drew the biggest crowd this weekend as he watched the contest from a custom-made balcony off the 16th tee with a group of VIPs including Sunday’s Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson and Away-Right Torch Marjorie included. Taylor Green.
The 54-hole no-cuts contest — absent of meaningful betting with no meaningful history or world ranking points at stake — looked more like a slick launch for Trump’s 2024 presidential tour than an authentic sporting experience. It was no more Sunday during the final round than spontaneous chants of “Four more years!” and “Let’s go Brandon!” — a cryptic vulgarity among Trump supporters — roared through the old road.
The Rebellious Arena has attracted some of the sport’s biggest names with exorbitant $25 million purses and nine-figure registration fees. It also drew a backlash from critics who accused the Saudi government of using sports to whitewash the kingdom’s poor human rights record, its alleged link to the 9/11 attacks, the severe crackdown on women’s and LGBTQ rights and the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal in 2018. Khashoggi.
But it doesn’t take a certified public accountant to understand why LIV Golf – despite Bedminster’s scattered crowds and its humble streaming audience in the absence of a TV deal – has continued to become one household name after another from established golf tours too. Take Johnson, for example, a two-time major champion who reportedly signed on for a $150 million signing fee, and who has taken more than $5.2 million in prize money in three LIV events so far. The tough bags don’t stop at the top of the leaderboard either. Australian Jediah Morgan, who finished the weekend 14 over, 25 shots behind Stenson and in the final kill, took home $120,000 for his trouble. Good job if you can get it.
LIV Golf appears to be here to stay. Next stop: Oaks International’s course outside Boston in September. But Bedminster’s bizarre observations underscore just how far she must go to win over skeptics and transcend divisions in golf’s escalating civil war.