Pro Golf becomes a circus

LIV Golf Invitational - Jeddah, (Photo by Joe Scarnici/LIV Golf/Getty Images)
LIV Golf Invitational - Jeddah, (Photo by Joe Scarnici/LIV Golf/Getty Images) /

I spend way too much time thinking about golf.

I read books about course architecture. I pour over equipment data. I have a folder with over 250 bookmarks of golf websites. I plan golf trips for my friends. I’m addicted to golf X/Twitter. I listen to podcasts, watch YouTube lessons, and have more golf shoes than any sane person should own.

And, of course, I love watching golf. Some of my all-time fondest sports memories are from a Sunday on the couch watching a Major.

I’m old enough to remember watching Watson chip in at Pebble in ‘82, Jack win at Augusta in ‘86, and Tiger lap the Masters field in ’97.

I have been all-in on pro golf for a long time.

Now, for the first time in my golf-obsessed life, I feel that changing.

What has transpired over the last two years, and particularly in the last two weeks, feels like a mortal wound to my fandom.

I’d love to claim some moral high ground and tell you it’s about Saudi human rights issues or funny money destroying the meritocracy of the sport – though those certainly hurt my opinion of the pro game.

But I was struggling to put my finger on the source of these feelings and that bothered me. My gathering malaise towards the pro game has been a confusing journey. I have a visceral dislike for LIV Golf and all it represents. Why?

After quite a bit of reflection, the answer finally dawned on me.

For my entire life watching and playing golf, I’ve always viewed the game through a lens of individual journey and achievement. There is something very appealing to me about the lone competitor battling a course, other players – often battling themselves – to capture victory.

Is that an overly romantic way to view golf? Perhaps. But that has been the lens through which I’ve always seen the game – for better or worse, right or wrong.

The Duel in the Sun, Ouimet at the 1913 US Open, Ken Venturi fighting off heat stroke, Hogan after the car crash, Tiger on a broken leg, Crenshaw winning for Harvey Penick – these are the legendary stories that formed and focused my lens.

Watching golfers go through these trials and emerge on the other side cemented a connection between my heart and the game. These stories, and others like them, transcend golf. They reflect the heroic journeys, big and small, upon which life takes all of us.

That lens, in the new realities of pro golf, is irreparably cracked – spiderwebbed in a distorted pattern of half-truths.

The new lens is greed. I didn’t choose that lens. It chose me. If I could take it off I would. But watching the Greek tragedy that is professional golf these days, I would guess there are no pleasant lenses to choose from.

Mention Phil, Brooks, DJ, Bryson, Cam, now Rahm – any LIV golfer – and all I see in my mind are selfish, spoiled brats. They aren’t playing for history or legacy. Heck, they aren’t even playing for money now. Who needs a 12-ounce beer when you’re sitting on a full keg?

Every LIV golfer, especially those who took big signing bonuses, has squarely put their interests above the game. Without an ounce of self-awareness or guilt, they created an unsustainable model that already crashed the PGA Tour.

“Screw you, I’m getting mine.”

Still, I can’t fault them for that. I want to, but I can’t. The money is absurd. Who among us wouldn’t shuffle the deck of our ethics and morals for half a billion dollars?

But I don’t have to support it. Supporting it means I agree with it. I don’t agree with anything LIV Golf is doing or their empty promises of growing the game.

Viewing golf through this new lens of greed I’m confronted with new realities.

LIV and the Saudis aren’t growing the game.

They are taking it away from the places that support it the most. A barnstorming global tour is bad for TV and punishes the places that have long supported pro golf.

Pro golf has no sustainable economic model moving forward.

Supporters think the Saudis are happy to lose $1 or 2 billion a year forever. They can… but I don’t think they want to. Their goals are not aligned with growing golf. Theirs is a public relations campaign and those do not go on forever.

Advertisers and sponsors are tapped out.

Some are just walking away. The greed of the players has outstripped their value. The pro golf product is becoming a bad investment. The Saudi bailout is all the evidence we need. Sponsors who want actual ROI aren’t getting it.

Executives who run the Majors and the governing bodies have abdicated their responsibilities to the game.

They are quickly moving the way of the NCAA through poor decision-making and a false sense of importance. Fracturing into irrelevance looks unavoidable. They all look like rats scrambling off a sinking ship. What if the Saudis don’t like the rollback? Do you think the rollback still happens? The people with the money make the calls, not the broke guys with crests on their blazers.

Fewer people will be watching golf in the US.

Viewership will drop in the US – whether it’s the time difference or a lack of interest in the new product. Turning away from golf’s most lucrative and important market is not a good growth strategy.

The rollback will increase costs and anger players.

To add insult to injury, the ills of the pro game have infected the amateur game with the rollback. It’s already angered manufacturers and other stakeholders in golf. The USGA and R&A may have a revolt on their hands.

Who is going to stop people from playing the current ball well past the 2030 deadline? Imagine the havoc that will create in the handicap system. All because about 25 pros hit the ball too long.

The future doesn’t look bright for fans.

These are just some of the reasons I believe things are headed, inexorably, in a bad direction. And it all happened because Greg Norman hates the PGA and Phil Mickelson blew all his money gambling. Without those two, LIV doesn’t exist. I hate to put too fine a point on it, but there you have it.

They see it as a badge of honor. It’s not. It’s a scarlet letter.

LIV Golf lands a Whale. dark. Next

The only good news in all this is that I don’t have to worry about hurrying home on Sundays to watch. I can just play an extra nine.

It will be a change in routine for all of us golf nuts. Change isn’t all bad. Growth requires change. But I suppose destruction does, too.

I’ll be watching from afar, sitting on the patio with a beer and waving as the contrails of the traveling pro golf circus stream off into the horizon.