LIV Golf is here, and it’s entering with a bang that’s both intended and unintended. Are folks laughing with them or at them or both at the same time? We have team names and logos and a controversial draft structure. On the more serious side, players faced hard questions about their decision to work for the Saudi regime. The amusements and developments, both lighthearted and dispiriting came at a rapid pace as this well-funded and serious challenger league attempts to get off the ground. We’ll try to update pertinent news with our own added insight or voice throughout the week here.
With the inanity of logos and team names out of the way, Wednesday got on with more substantive matters: sating the bosses at a pro-am. The day started primarily with Phil Mickelson’s return to some form of a public golf life and LIV trying to build momentum.
Trolling down the exit ramp
This is deranged behavior, point blank. It’s one thing to take the money, and another to do in some bizarre way that screws over a Tour that’s protected you in the most impactful way possible. That’s apparently the choice the Patrick Reed, and presumably his wife and advisor Justine, made with their decision to join LIV. Tron lays out the timeline:
P and J having some fun.
Tour posted featured groups 21 hours ago, P WD’s yesterday (two hours they announce feature groups), Corrigan breaks news of P’s departure this AM, P reposts featured groups a half hour ago. #PerfectGentleman pic.twitter.com/scEumhEvsU
— Tron Carter (@TronCarterNLU) June 8, 2022
It’s such a bizarre and unnecessary step, but rather expected from a duo that’s alienated almost everyone in the game with derangements and delusions. Whatever side you take in the LIV-PGA Tour struggle, it’s hard to argue this is not bush league.
Perhaps the Tour, which worked so hard to paint Reed as a “good guy” when the contrary was plainly obvious for everyone else to see, could counter strike with the leak or release of some, or the mannnny, tales of from the Reed files. The problem is they may be beyond capable of embarrassment at this point.
Or is he? The showman, chatty Phil might be gone, reserving that entertaining act for his Saudi and Shark superiors. Because his press conference was a flat political bob and weave through questions from the inquiring media. He denounced the murder of Khashoggi, but offered little comment beyond that on the abuses of his new bosses. In his write-up from on-site, Sean Zak described Mickelson as “bordering on tentative.” Perhaps his re-emergence before the press was a success in that way, then, as he didn’t fully debase or expose himself with his words for the first time in this saga.
Mickelson apparently left the personality for the pro-am, which he played alongside Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the governor of the Saudi Public Investment Fund.
I walked nine with Mickelson's pro am group. He was back in his element, telling Ryder Cup stories, charming his playing partners, cracking jokes, cheering on Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the head of the PIV, for hitting "hellacious seeds" with driver. No fans. Felt like a member/guest.
— Kevin Van Valkenburg (@KVanValkenburg) June 8, 2022
The first tee was a crystallization of what this is all about. Can a scene be expected, surreal, and repellent all at the same time? Because this — from the Saudi money men to the shooing meathead security boys to the aging and hesitant golf pros — was a scene that really summed up the entire endeavor at the current moment.
Phil Mickelson & Lee Westwood about to play pro-am with His Excellency Yasir Al-Rumayyan, Newcastle Utd chairman & supremo of Saudi Arabia’s PIF- which is funding highly controversial LIV golf series which starts in Hertfordshire tmrw.
Mickelson reportedly pocketing €200m. pic.twitter.com/NCOSxY5Oc3
— Dan Roan (@danroan) June 8, 2022
Bryson Found the Lord, and the Bag
Just a week after spouting away about he’d found some perspective, religion, and was ready to settle in, Bryson DeChambeau’s agent confirmed a Telegraph report that he was off to join LIV Golf. His representative Brett Falkoff told multiple golf reporters, “Bryson has always been an innovator. Having the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of something unique has always been intriguing to him. Professional golf as we know it is changing and it’s happening quickly.”
Innovator is a new one in this rolodex of rationalizing the acceptance of massive paydays. Though we suppose cooking bacon shirtless is a form of innovation.
In addition to Thicc Boi, the Telegraph also reported Patrick Reed is set to join LIV, which might explain the weird glitch in that briefing document we shared yesterday.
In the briefing deck’s digital mock up of the draft stage and display board, the names are random placeholders that aren’t pro golfers, except for one. pic.twitter.com/Iwyu9syvpy
— The Fried Egg (@the_fried_egg) June 7, 2022
There was a lot from Tuesday, and Phil Mickelson is set to meet with the media early on day two.
Some TFE thoughts on all that happened from day one
Money can’t buy everything
Look, it was expected that this might be a rough take-off given the underwhelming field and, well, the stumble or two at every turn in the months-long build-up to this first event. The money is there, but the organization remains highly suspect. And the entire concept is unfamiliar, and that breeds skepticism. So they were going to be up against it but man, the reveals of team uniforms, team names, team logos, and reasoning behind those gave the entire thing a low-rent traveling circus aesthetic.
— The Fried Egg (@the_fried_egg) June 7, 2022
I know you thought the names were lame but you probably didn't hear the explanations why which totally changes things pic.twitter.com/2iCMM42shF
— No Laying Up (@NoLayingUp) June 7, 2022
There’s also merch with these logos and team names in case you need a late Father’s Day gift.
The low-rent and Fantasy Football or Madden create-a-team jokes were coming fast from Twitter critics and design amateurs. But the larger point is so many of the details around this effort are the butt of jokes and look haphazard in a way that’s not representative of the money being committed here. Maybe the budget for buying players did not leave room for much else.
You can’t fire me, I quit
The morning started with a newsy item that Dustin Johnson had resigned his PGA Tour membership. This appears to be a legally strategic move meant to head off the PGA Tour’s ability to suspend or ban a player, and keep open the possibility of an easier return to that Tour one day . It’s also meant to keep these players’ general status and appeal more favorable in the eyes of the major championships, as disinviting a player who’s “suspended” is an easier bridge to cross.
DJ did take a few sharp questions on resigning from the PGA Tour, including a not completely fair framing that he was choosing “money over country” because of the potential Ryder Cup implications. DJ’s declaration was obviously the headliner, but he joined the early announcing Kevin Na, as well as Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel, Sergio Garcia, and Branden Grace.
With these resignations, have these players, meaning their agents, attorneys, or LIV attorneys, found a suitable end-around or method to blunt the PGA Tour’s biggest threat?
Open means Open
The USGA’s decision to not reverse course on players who qualified for next week’s U.S. Open via their published criteria made sense.
It was expected, and while the USGA and Mike Whan were far from throwing their support behind the Saudi-backed disruptor, it’s still a small victory for LIV, especially image-wise. The majors are left holding so much of the power on whether this effort progresses further, and the first one up weighed in saying it would be against its open nature to start removing players who had qualified. Perhaps it’s not a long-term stance, but it cleared the deck for next week at The Country Club, where the LIV boys will be quite a sideshow.
A Bad Day for Graeme
On the first day of press conferences, none of the players covered themselves in glory or honesty when addressing the pointed but expected questions about Saudi sportswashing. There were the usual deluded rationalizations about not being “politicians” and outright deflections. Talor Gooch tried to punt by essentially calling himself too stupid to answer the question, perhaps one answer with a kernel of truth in it.
But no one came off worse than restaurateur Graeme McDowell. The 374th ranked golfer did actually attempt to answer the question, while deadpan Dustin Johnson and muttering Louis Oosthuizen sat silently on his flanks and watched him ride into the field as cannon fodder. The word “situation” is usefully malleable and ambiguous, but it’s never been worked harder than when McDowell summed up the state-ordered dismemberment and murder of a journalist as the “Khashoggi situation.”
That was the start of a staggering answer that made sure to clarify they’re not politicians, as if that’s germane to anything here, while claiming to be role models. It was amusing that McDowell added an “unfortunately” after saying they’re not politicians, which is a unique instance in which someone says it’s unfortunate his job is not in one of the most universally reviled cohorts. As another quick aside, and I mean this in an uncritical almost endearing Charles Barkley Nike ad kind of way, some of these guys, including maybe the one next to Graeme on the dais, are absolutely not role models, and that was before they got entangled in this disruptor league.
His answer then ends with a perfect distillation of sportswashing, and saying it about as loud as possible with this: “If Saudi Arabia wanted to use the game of golf as a way for them to get to where they want to be, and they have the resources to accelerate that experience, we’re proud to help them on that journey using the game of golf.”
McDowell pretty much explains sportswashing in 76 seconds.
Even throws in a "we're not politicians" while explaining how they're happy to be pawns in the politician's game.
It's about the money. Just say it's about the piles and piles of money.pic.twitter.com/iIzKlX8edq
— No Laying Up (@NoLayingUp) June 7, 2022
That exposed McDowell to follow-up, and the AP’s Rob Harris put it to him with a lengthy question outlining some of his new bosses’ human rights abuses. McDowell and others had to expect these inquiries, but he demurred again, saying he “wished he had the ability to have that conversation” while offering no reason why he’s incapable.
Then, he said, “As golfers, if we tried to cure geopolitical situations in every country in the world we played golf in, we wouldn’t play golf.” But that was clearly not the question. No one is asking him to cure “geopolitical situations” or cure anything at all, just perhaps to not so willingly aid or “wash” one when he had a very clear alternative not to. That willing choice opens him to these kind of questions about his volunteering to “help them on their journey.” And on day one, no one answered worse or more disingenuous than him.
Preparing for the Saudi golf series launch, Graeme McDowell talked about golf being a force for good. I asked how the sovereign wealth funded series will help those who have been killed, oppressed and suffered by Saudi actions.https://t.co/lLxnCCQsqm pic.twitter.com/rtDaetqnG1
— Rob Harris (@RobHarris) June 7, 2022
To LIV’s credit, we suppose, they did at least allow for questions from the media and allow for the subject of the controversial Saudi funding to be broached in those questions. We’re keeping the bar low here given the parties involved. But that didn’t make the press operations controversy-free, with the aforementioned AP reporter Rob Harris getting shouted down and marched out for at least one portion of the media proceedings.
— Kevin Van Valkenburg (@KVanValkenburg) June 7, 2022
Also, in a turn that was somehow both unsurprising and felt like parody, Ari Fleischer — yes that Ari Fleischer — was on hand to oversee the proceedings.
Not All Brands
UPS and RBC are gone, but the equipment sponsors were as visible as ever in Tuesday’s press conferences. The companies that have had their thumb on the scale of the game more than anyone, and with continued outsized influence, are playing with (against?) an entity that can make their payouts and marketing budgets uncompetitive. So there was Louis in his Ping hat next to DJ in his TaylorMade hat next to Graeme in his Srixon hat. Where do these companies stand on their most visible players potentially never playing on the PGA Tour again, or at least playing on a YouTube stream in a lowly-ranked field right now? And that says nothing of the potential moral stance they might make on their brand reps engaging in a high profile and widely panned sportswashing effort? The equipment sponsors, the most incessant brand presence in golf, remained, aside from Phil Mickelson’s continued Callaway “pause.” It would be nice to get their positions on the record soon.
The Fried Egg obtained a briefing memo sent to players on the first LIV draft, and it revealed that there had been some “pre-agreed” shenanigans. So not all of the 36 non-captain players were available for selection by the 12 captains. Lee Westwood, Laurie Canter, and Sam Horsfield had already teamed up with captain Ian Poulter, while South Africans Charl Schwartzel and Branden Grace had already worked something out with captain Louis Oosthuizen.
It was another revelation indicative of the slipshod way this entire thing has come together. The funding is there, but so many of the details to make this as strong a product as possible at launch are such a mess. It is smoke and mirrors, typos and on-the-fly edits.
But the draft proceeded, even with the continued false LIV promotion of “36 picks.” Teams were assembled, and none of them look particularly strong or well-rounded aside from the nationalistic “pre-agreed” squads. A red-carpet show went on, even though it was closed to the media. Greg Norman screamed. Phil came out of hibernation, and promptly and unsurprisingly became a meme.
when it’s been going well pic.twitter.com/vhZVuY0Nan
— BUM CHILLUPS AKA SPENCER HALL (@edsbs) June 7, 2022
Now Phil gets to meet with the media first thing Wednesday.