BEDMINSTER, N.J. — Brooks Koepka, the four-time major golf champion, was riding in a golf cart Saturday together with his wife, Jena Sims, sitting on his lap, each laughing because the cart headed for the golf course.
It was a pleasant snapshot of summer in Latest Jersey.
But what set this scene apart was the indisputable fact that Koepka was roughly two minutes away from teeing off within the second round of the LIV Golf event at Trump Bedminster Golf Club. Typically, the buildup to the primary shot at knowledgeable golf tournament is tense, anxious and pressure-filled. In any case, a seven-figure payday is on the road.
The lighthearted Koepka-Sims cart ride, while harmless fun, underscored the impact of guaranteed nine-figure contracts earned by top players on the upstart, Saudi-backed LIV Golf tour. Koepka reportedly received greater than $100 million to affix the breakaway circuit.
No wonder he and his wife were giggling.
As LIV Golf accomplished its third event this yr on Sunday, there was an unmistakable carefree air to the undertaking, a way that everyone had already gotten their money. That’s because dozens had, and even the player who finished last was assured a $120,000 payout (with the travel and lodging expenses for top players reimbursed).
Henrik Stenson won the tournament and earned $4 million.
Still, for all of the deal with the splendid prize money, the LIV Golf experience has been illuminating and edifying for skilled golf in other less avaricious ways. The vibe from Friday to Sunday in northwestern Latest Jersey was decidedly younger, less stuffy and clearly more open to experimentation than on the established PGA Tour. That meant blaring high-energy music whilst golfers tried to execute devilish putts or difficult chips. The Beastie Boys’ “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party!)” serenaded Dustin Johnson ($125 million upfront payment) at a high volume as he teed off on the primary tee Sunday.
His shot landed in a bunker.
But many fans felt energized within the environment.
“You go to a conventional golf tournament they usually’re consistently telling you to shut up,” Patrick Shields, who lives in Hackensack, N.J., said next to the sixteenth tee. “It’s a sporting event, right?”
LIV Golf on-course volunteers, nevertheless, did carry crowd control placards meant to quiet fans, as is customary on the PGA Tour, too. The placards, held overhead, read, “Zip it,” or “Shhhh.”
Although, just as relevant, the volunteers never needed to take care of sizable crowds. The attendance for Sunday’s final round was substantially improved from the meager gatherings that turned out for the primary two rounds — often there had been only about 30 people surrounding a green — but the entire variety of fans on the grounds Sunday was not more than several thousand.
A Quick Guide to the LIV Golf Series
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A latest series. The launch of recent Saudi-financed LIV Golf series has resurfaced longstanding questions on athletes’ moral obligations and their desire to compete and earn money. Here’s what to know:
What’s LIV Golf? The series is an upstart skilled golf circuit bankrolled by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund. Its organizers hope to position it as a player-power-focused alternative to the PGA Tour, which has been the best level of professional golf for nearly a century.
Why is the brand new series controversial? The event has created sparks inside golf for upending the traditions and strictures of how the sport is played. It has also change into a lightning rod for human rights campaigners who accuse Saudi Arabia of using sports to launder its fame.
Who’s playing it? A lot of the most important names in golf, akin to Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, have stayed away from LIV Golf. But several big names and former major champions, including Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Sergio García, joined. Henrik Stenson of Sweden, who was speculated to lead Europe’s team on the 2023 Ryder Cup, was removed as captain after announcing his move to the series.
What’s attracting the players? The LIV Golf events are the richest tournaments in golf history. The primary tournament’s total purse was $25 million, and the winner’s share was $4 million. The last-place finisher at each event was guaranteed $120,000. That’s on top of the looks fees and nine-figure signing-on payouts some players have accepted.
A median PGA Tour event draws about 20,000 fans every day. LIV Golf officials declined to announce attendance figures. Tellingly, a weekend pass to the event may very well be bought for $2 on the secondary ticket market. The rebel circuit’s chief financial backing, which is the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia, could actually have played an element within the modest fan turnouts. Within the event’s opening seconds Friday, as Phil Mickelson prepared to strike his first shot, he was heckled by anyone who yelled: “Do it for the Saudi royal family.”
Overall, the brand new tour can be, thus far at the very least, lacking enough big-name golfers to draw a big crowd. Mickelson is a draw, but a limited one since he has played the worst golf of his luminous profession since selecting to align with the rebel circuit. And after Koepka, Johnson, just a few golfers past their primes and Bryson DeChambeau, who has also been struggling to contend, the typical golf fan the leaderboard this weekend might need been confused.
On the ninth hole Saturday, Justin Harding, who’s ranked 123rd on this planet, hit his golf ball over the green, where it got here to rest near a mammoth concession stand bar. Venues selling alcohol were well attended for the three days, and since Harding faced a difficult uphill chip to the green, about 20 spectators spilled out of the bar to face almost next to Harding as he attempted his rescue.
After Harding deftly pitched to inside three feet of the opening and commenced to walk away, a young boy nearby turned and asked: “Dad, who’s that?”
Said the daddy: “I do not know.”
It may be chalked as much as growing pains, and LIV Golf officials have also been privately insisting that the true key to success is generating appeal for the team element of the competitions, which go on concurrently with the person contest. They envision four-man teams, some built along nationalistic lines like a group of Australians, Japanese, Englishmen, South Africans. This might, the idea goes, help sell the LIV tour globally.
On the small merchandise trailer within the event’s fan village, which had the laid-back feel of a county fair, the sales racks were filled with T-shirts, hats and golf shirts promoting the team names: Aces, Crushers and Majesticks, etc.
But there is no such thing as a precedent of American golf fans rooting for teams of players of any kind except within the biennial Ryder and Presidents Cups. That might change, but on Sunday, the merchandise trailer racks still had loads of team apparel available. The perfect sellers had been a T-shirt embossed with “Bedminster” and a white LIV Golf cap.
It’s also likely that after the first PGA Tour season ends in late August, there will probably be one other wave of defectors to the breakaway circuit, which can proceed to host moneyed events all over the world until late October. After which all eyes will turn to Augusta National Golf Club, which conducts the Masters in April. There have been signals, as there have been inside the governing bodies of other major championships, that many LIV golfers might not be especially welcome in Augusta.
Or by then, would the rival tours have begun some sort of negotiations that could lead on to coexistence?
Late Sunday afternoon, as one other LIV series event was concluding, a cavalcade of golf carts was preparing to whisk players back to the clubhouse. Not everyone can be laughing on the way in which, but nobody would go home with empty pockets.