Golf ogre that killed Australian tour before LIV war

“Rebel league’s bombshell move.” It’s been the favorite headline this year on any website that covers golf, including this one.

The arrival of LIV Golf has divided the sport like never before, with a host of high-profile names banking very large checks to ply their trade on the Greg Norman-run tour.

It’s been fashionable to treat LIV Golf with derision. A group of has-beens and never-weres who’ve signed up to Saudi Arabia’s sportswashing charade.

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And while the human rights issues in the gulf state can’t simply be brushed aside, let’s not pretend the PGA Tour is a fine, upstanding corporate citizen. In short, referring to LIV Golf as the “rebel” tour needs to stop, if only because it incorrectly implies the PGA Tour is running the game.

For those not across the finer details of how golf is organised, it’s important to note the PGA Tour is not the governing body of the sport. It’s simply the biggest, richest and most powerful golf tour on the planet, and right now it’s doing everything in its power to protect its own interests.

And that’s perfectly fine, but lets lose the pretence that the PGA Tour is the moral compass of the sport.

The reality is the PGA Tour is simply there to look after itself, and if it tramples everything in its path, then so be it. According to a Golfweek report, the PGA Tour had expected revenue of $2.2 billion in 2022.

Its move to a wraparound schedule, where the new season begins in September each year, effectively killed off golf in Australia.

Once upon a time, the Australasian Tour was a small, but thriving, tour. The Australian Open was the flagship event, but the now-defunct Australian Masters always drew a respectable field.

The Australian PGA has survived, but who remembers the Canon Challenge? The Heineken Classic? The Greg Norman Holden International? All gone, and with it, a generation of golf fans in this country starved of meaningful tournaments featuring the big names of the sport.

If the rumors about LIV Golf bringing a tournament to Australia is true, that can only be good for the game in this country. Outside of the Presidents Cup, which has been to Melbourne three times in 24 years, fans in Australia have little opportunity to see players of the ilk of Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson and Sergio Garcia, who are all major champions.

That’s because golf is really about four weeks a year. The Masters, PGA Championship, US Open and Open Championship. The four major tournaments, four Sundays each year when golfers are playing for their place in history.

The rest of the year, let’s be frank, is mostly about golfers lining their pockets. Does anyone really care who won the Honda Classic? Of course not. What about the Corales Puntacana Championship? No.

For those wondering, those particular PGA Tour events this year were won by Sepp Straka and Chad Ramey. Yup. Enough said. Both golfers, while fine players, could walk down George St in Sydney or Swanston St in Melbourne without being recognised.

It’s important to note the PGA Tour has no involvement in the running of the major tournaments, a fact that riles the executives at Ponte Vedra Beach no end.

Some have dismissed LIV Golf’s limited field, 54-hole, no-cut, shotgun start format, forgetting that golf has constantly evolved. The traditionalists scream that because LIV tournaments aren’t contested over 72 holes, with a 36-hole cut and 140-plus players, they somehow aren’t legitimate.

By the same token, those “traditionalists” would presumably be happy to wipe the 1860 Open Championship from the record books, given it was contested by just eight players who played three rounds of 12 holes each. It wasn’t until 1892 that the Open was played over 72 holes.

Likewise, while the other three majors now have fields of 156 players, as an invitational tournament the Masters almost always has a field of somewhere between 90 and 100, including the aging former champions who have no chance of winning.

Cameron Smith, the reigning Open champion, is rumored to be picking up a check for $140 million to sign with LIV Golf. Good luck to him. As a professional athlete, he’s there to make as much money as he possibly can. The argument exists that he also has a responsibility to the sport to give something back, to leave the game in a better state than when he started.

The Americans may not agree, but LIV Golf may do exactly that. As former player, now respected commentator, Mike Clayton, told Wide World of Sports earlier this year, the PGA Tour is in desperate need of a makeover.

“One of the consequences might be that golf is in a better spot, because it might blow the PGA Tour up and force them to look outside the United States for once,” Clayton said.

“A legitimately funded world tour, that had to meet commercial expectations would be the best thing for golf ever.

“The PGA Tour has survived because they’ve had the best players and the most money, but they’re incredibly complacent.

“Their product is very old and tired, it’s the same thing week after week,” he added.

“No mixed events with the women that they should do at least a couple of times a year, mediocre golf courses, stale formats, no teams events. It’s the same thing every week and I think people are losing interest.”

The Saudi Arabian link to LIV Golf cannot simply be swept under the carpet. From the human rights issues, to possible links to the 9/11 terrorists, and the likely involvement in the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Saudi Arabia’s record is deplorable.

But the PGA Tour also sanctions the WGC-Champions tournament, held since 2005 in China, another country known for various human rights atrocities. Anyone heard from Peng Shuai lately?

It’s why the PGA Tour is in no position to claim the moral high ground, and the whole mess looks to be far from over.

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