Backed by considerable funds from Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), the new venture threatened to disrupt the traditional organization of golf, to which the PGA Tour reacted strongly on Thursday, banning 17 of its players, including a life member. Phil Mickelson – for his participation.
LIV Golf’s statement in response to the punishment given was nothing but a hunch.
“The era of free will begins,” he said.
And with the funding behind it, the flurry of stars signing up and the length of the new tour to please fans, on the ground in St Albans it certainly looks like the start of something, not a flash in the pan.
Just feet from a massive bar and with loud music playing in the background, a group of young men try their hand at a betting challenge for an all-expenses-paid trip to Miami while two performers, both on stilts and dressed in traditional 19th century British clothing, pose for photos with fans waiting to try on.
A few meters away, the great winners on several occasions Mickelson and Dustin Johnson take the start. The LIV Golf series is certainly making noise.
It took a few years to get here, but, led by former world number one Greg Norman and with an astonishing amount of money behind it – including $250 million in total prize money – the new golf league is here. .
It didn’t come without its bumps in the road. The warnings from the established tours – the PGA Tour and the DP World Tour (formerly the European Tour) – have passed, while many players have expressed their reluctance to abandon the pre-eminent golf establishments and their disappointment at the departure of their colleagues.
“I came to watch the golfers,” said James Bowman. “I’m into golf, so I’ve come to see some of the best golfers in the world. I appreciate the issues involved but, personally, it’s not for me.
“I’m in favor of more tours. I think there’s more opportunity for more people to watch more golf. This is the closest a big golf event has ever come to my house, so I think it’s a good opportunity for more people to watch golf.”
Another told CNN he thinks that while the PGA Tour has been “great” for the game, golfers are “independent contractors” and should be able to ply their trade how and where they want.
“Golf, but stronger”
A row of black cabs wait to ferry a selection of golf’s biggest names to their respective tees for the shotgun tee – where all competitors start at the same time – another change implemented to make the product more appealing to the fans.
Despite the jaw-dropping sums of money behind it all, it’s not all glamorous for the 48 men who sit and wait, stuck in the backs of taxis next to their bags.
As golf’s most ambitious adventure nears its debut, viewers are bombarded with a range of sights and sounds.
There is a flyover of some old planes and trumpet blasts from some members of the British Army Band. They are even entitled to an observation from Greg Norman who came to watch the inaugural tee shot.
As his self-proclaimed motto goes: “Golf, but stronger”.
And at around 2.15pm UK time, they’re finally ready to start.
Hundreds of fans gather around the first tee to watch Mickelson, Johnson and Scott Vincent play. However, around the rest of the course, the story is very different. Mickelson and Johnson on the first tee are a clear draw for fans. But for other players starting on different tees, it was much calmer.
“Right where you started I stood on the third tee for about 10 minutes and there was nobody with me,” Charl Schartzel said after the first lap. “And finally I pulled out my phone and called Graeme (McDowell). I said, ‘Graeme, man, where are you? Am I on the right outbox?’
“It made things very different for me than what you’d be used to being announced on the first tee.”
Ticket sales for the event were slow, with players offering hundreds of fans the chance to win free tickets to attend. The tournament has a cap of 8,000 tickets per day and official ticket sales figures have not been released.
It’s hard to say if there are close to 8,000 fans in attendance, but everyone is in high spirits, especially getting to see a gaming legend like Mickelson work his magic. He is greeted with his usual chants of “Phil!” as he makes his way down the course.
Between its fan zone, team format, fewer rounds, and post-round gigs, organizers have tried to do everything they can to appeal to a wide audience. But not everyone is impressed.
For Paul Stubbens, who says he’s attended the US Open, PGA Championships and Masters, the “immersive” fan zone may not be as special as he expected.
“It’s cool, but it’s no different from the PGA,” he said. “It’s no different. In fact, maybe I expected a little more from this one.”
Just when it looked like golf might become the main storyline, the PGA Tour dropped the hammer, handing out suspensions to 17 players for playing in the LIV Golf series, minutes into Thursday’s first round.
Many affected players were asked about it immediately after their turn, with some, like Mickelson, preferring not to comment, while others only found out on the spot.
Just yards from the mixed zone where Mickelson was grilled, author and golf journalist Alan Shipnuck – whose quote from the six-time big winner on the possibility of joining the LIV Golf series, making derogatory comments about the record of the Saudi Arabia on human rights and claiming the kingdom was responsible for the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi for his upcoming book which led to the golfer taking a break from the sport – was asked to leave the scene.
Norman said he hadn’t heard, before Shipnuck responded with a screenshot of the video with Norman watching the incident in the background.
“You can’t make this shit up! I texted Greg Norman before someone sent me this video – I had no idea he was hiding behind me,” he said. tweeted.
The incident wasn’t the glamorous end to the day that the LIV Golf series would have wanted – and there will be plenty more uncomfortable matters to come – but the new golf competition appears to be living up to its motto.
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