Golf is a person sport, so any year-end reflection goes to be in regards to the individuals who stood out.
But this yr most of the top names who defined the yr in golf are past their prime or don’t play professionally.
Pride of place goes to Greg Norman, the previous world No. 1 and two-time major champion whose last PGA Tour win got here 25 years ago on the 1997 NEC World Series of Golf. In that victory, Norman beat a young Phil Mickelson, who was just at the beginning of his profession that will include six major championships and greater than double the PGA Tour victories of Norman.
Now the pair are linked within the creation of the Saudi-backed LIV Golf and roiling the established PGA and DP World Tours. LIV made headlines as much for paying golfers tens or tons of of thousands and thousands of dollars to affix the league because it did for the source of the support, Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund.
Add to that a rollout and public relations campaign that was bumpy — including one golfer who took $200 million to affix LIV, while saying their move was to grow the sport — and it made for a really unexpected yr.
“Golf was puttering along in its normal boring sport way, after which every little thing exploded,” said Alan Shipnuck, whose book “Phil: The Rip-Roaring (and Unauthorized!) Biography of Golf’s Most Colourful Superstar” and subsequent reporting for The Fire Pit Collective, a golf news site, was at the middle of the story. “This was probably the most fascinating and chaotic season in golf history. The gentlemen’s game has never seen this sort” of stories conference sniping.
The league brought fresh attention to the human rights records of Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s crown prince. It also held several events at golf courses owned by former President Donald J. Trump, who didn’t draw back from criticizing the PGA Tour.
While a rival golf league had been talked about for years, just as LIV was set to start out at first of the yr, Shipnuck published an interview with Mickelson on The Fire Pit Collective that criticized the Saudi government over its human rights record.
“Knowing all of this, why would I even consider it?” Mickelson said. “Because this can be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour operates.” He joined LIV in June.
From that moment, the story on the lads’s and ladies’s game has been Saudi money and LIV Golf.
It overshadowed Rory McIlroy becoming only the second player to win each season-long events on the PGA and DP World Tours in the identical yr. Henrik Stenson, who now plays on LIV, was the primary in 2013.
It put the sport’s administrators, Jay Monahan, commissioner of the PGA Tour; Keith Pelley, chief executive of the DP World Tour; and Peter Dawson, chairman of the Official World Golf Rating, front and center.
It spilled over to women’s golf, where talk focused on what might occur if the Saudis took the same interest in top L.P.G.A. players. (The consensus has been Saudi money would decimate a tour that doesn’t have the financial reserves or lucrative television rights to fend off a rival league buying up players the way in which the PGA Tour has.)
And it got young skilled and amateur players enthusiastic about their future in skilled golf after a number of unproven players — namely the 2019 and 2021 U.S. Amateur Champions Andy Ogletree and James Piot and a top-ranked college player Eugenio Chacarra — took LIV money and bypassed the standard route of attempting to make their way on the PGA or DP World Tours.
“I spoke to some friends and coaches who said if LIV contacts you go there,” said Filippo Celli, who won the silver medal because the low amateur at this yr’s British Open and is attempting to play his way onto the DP World Tour.
“You go there and even in case you finish last within the tournament you may earn $150,000, which is a variety of money, especially at 22 years old,” he said. “Once you’re young you’re enthusiastic about the cash. It’s normal. My dream is to play on the DP World Tour after which the PGA Tour.”
But the specter of a rival league forced changes on each of the principal men’s tours. Lots of those changes were announced after an August meeting of PGA Tour players in Delaware before the BMW Championship.
The increased money was the principal issue, more prize money for the highest players and likewise guaranteed minimum pay for golfers still making their way. That helped defer six-figure costs simply to compete, and the cash was a carrot to the elite players.
After all, plenty of fine players haven’t been asked to go to LIV and have said they are usually not interested. Sam Ryder, who has played on the PGA Tour for six seasons, is certainly one of them.
“I’m not on the players council of the PGA Tour,” he said. “I’ve been attempting to stay in my lane and play good golf. I’ve not been concerning myself an excessive amount of with all that’s been occurring. I just know that every little thing will sort itself out.”
His playing status on the PGA Tour has earned him a latest multiyear sponsor this yr: Ryder, the transportation company. “Each Ryder and Sam Ryder remain committed to the PGA Tour,” said J. Steve Sensing, president of supply chain solutions for Ryder System.
A few of the top players haven’t been as politic of their rhetoric. McIlroy, who reclaimed the world No. 1 spot this yr, became the de facto player-defender of the PGA Tour. He and Tiger Woods were at the middle of the meeting in Delaware, and he’s spoken forcefully in defense of the tour. Recently, McIlroy and Woods called for Norman to step down as LIV commissioner as a mandatory first step in negotiations.
But there are knock-on effects of losing older but well-known players, like the long run of PGA Tour Champions. It’s where most of the game’s greats go to play once they turn 50. Annually the tour gets marquee players who’re suddenly relevant again. This yr, it was Padraig Harrington, a three-time major winner and Ryder Cup captain, who won 4 times on the Champions Tour.
Yet a few of the first players who went to LIV were near Champions Tour eligibility, including Lee Westwood, Henrik Stenson, and Ian Poulter, with players like Sergio Garcia and Paul Casey not too far behind them. It’s those big names that sell tickets.
At a news conference in August for a Champions Tour event in Jacksonville, Fla., Jim Furyk, the 2003 U.S. Open champion and the tournament’s host, talked in regards to the course and the fan experience. He even talked about Notah Begay III, a former player turned Golf Channel commentator who was returning to skilled golf on his fiftieth birthday.
What Furyk or anyone else on the event didn’t discuss was the previous yr’s winner: Mickelson. That victory was his third win in 4 starts on the Champions Tour and augured well for his transition to the tour, and for the tour itself.
But without delay, the main target is on the principal tours and seeing what LIV does next yr. There was little interest in actually watching LIV events. The league has no television contract and worldwide viewership numbers for streaming have declined with each event, particularly after the initial player announcements were made.
Still, the PGA Tour, which had been slow to reply at first, appears to be taking no possibilities. It recently hired a lobbyist in Washington who’s near Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader who hopes to turn into speaker when Republicans take control of the chamber in January.
“The tour has at all times been all powerful,” Shipnuck said. “Now there’s a contest.”