The PGA Tour, through agents, speaks to the legacy, leaving moral gymnastics to others. Meanwhile, the big-handed striker stumbles upon predictable metaphors like game development and “golf, but louder” (that’s something on the LIV Golf website, look for it).
Unheard of in this great cacophony of deception are the real heroes – the players. After years of veiled threats and ghostly shapes moving through the shadows, the face of LIV Golf (8:20 p.m. ET on Tuesday, for those following the course) has emerged.
Dustin Johnson was the partial fielder for the first LIV event next week in London. It was a complete stopping moment considering that the DJ pledged allegiance to the PGA Tour as recently as February.
“Dustin has been considering this opportunity on and off for the past two years,” David Winkle, Johnson’s director of Humbrick Sports, said in a statement. “In the end, he decided it was in his best interest and in the best interests of his family to pursue it. Dustin had no trouble with the PGA Tour and is grateful for everything he gave him, but in the end, he felt this was too compelling to miss.”
Without Phil Mickelson, who was closely associated with LIV Golf but still in exile from his making, the DJ is the star power of the much-needed Saudi-backed LIV event, a draw, however old, that the PGA Tour cannot ignore. All his legacies and morals aside, DJ brings credibility to the breakaway circle. But on a macro level, Greg Norman, CEO of LIV Golf, should not be tempted by this particular ally.
Millionaires circumventing the status quo to raise millions more by sponsoring a murderous and repressive regime is exactly what Mickelson set his voice for earlier this year when he said the quiet part out loud.
“She’s a scary mom…to be involved in,” Mickelson told Fire Pit Collective. We know they were killed [Washington Post reporter and U.S. resident Jamal] Khashoggi has an appalling human rights record. They execute people there for being gay.”
Mickelson also pulled the PGA Tour off at the same time for what he called “manipulative, coercive, and force-arm tactics.” But it was the admission from someone who seemed to be chained to the fortunes of the LIV that this was nothing more than a sporting wash, that gave the Tour a valuable upper hand. The best player in the game can’t ignore the obvious moral ambiguity for millions of others, right?
The answer is expected to be more complex than that.
Bargaining his ethics DJ for the millions is an ugly business that won’t play well on social media and beyond. But what about the 41 other players, metaphorically speaking, who cornered LIV Golf late on Tuesday?
Rory McIlroy has been the most vocal critic of all that LIV Golf stands for among the pay-to-play group. In 2020, when the oldest remnants of the league emerged, it was the Northern Irish who dug the toughest streak in the sand.
“I’d like to be on the right side of history with this one, kinda like Arnold [Palmer] McIlroy said. “I value a lot of other things over money, and that’s kind of my attitude toward it at this point.”
As recently as February, when DJs and the vast majority of the game’s stars moved in line with the Tour, McIlroy bluntly dismissed LIV Golf: “Who else do you have to fill the field?” Asked.
But on Wednesday at the memorial, McIlroy put a human face on those who decided to take their trade with LIV Golf, which Norman was unable or unwilling to show. For McIlroy, this was suddenly personal. He didn’t name names, but it was clear his mind raced with his former European Ryder Cup teammates Graeme McDowell, Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter when asked about the LIV field.
“I have some very close friends who are playing at this event in London, and I certainly don’t want to get in their way, to do whatever they feel is right for themselves,” McIlroy said. “It’s not something I do personally. But I definitely understand why some players are going, and it’s something we’ll all be watching and seeing over the next few weeks.”
This is a good minute far from being “on the right side of history”, but McIlroy has proven throughout his career that he is thoughtful and ready to evolve and learn.
For McIlroy, it’s less about DJing and the potential for other stars to join in as it’s about building a choice. The likes of McIlory and Johnson are wealthy enough to allow themselves the luxury of a moral decision, but most of the names on the LIV golf field’s list are not.
Fun and quick-witted, 49-year-old Richard Bland of Burton-on-Trent, England, is enjoying a late comeback thanks to his victory in the British Masters last year. Bland earned $7.2 million in her career on the DP World Tour that began in 1998, which may seem like a fortune to some, but when she travels the world and loses often, it goes fast.
For Bland, this was not a decision that would give him the luxury of a high moral standing.
“I have the opportunity to make the next part of my life very comfortable. I understand people think I can still do it playing DP World [Tour]but look at it. I’m turning 50 in six months,” he told Golf Channel last week. “I’m a very realistic guy and I know it won’t last, so sometimes you just have to take chances right in front of you.”
For Bland and most players in the LIV field next week, it’s not about a legacy or a graduated measure of moral resilience. This is about the best for him and his family.