Golf faces a civil war in a time of revolution for sports in general

James Gilbert

USGA

Englishman Matt Fitzpatrick, who is 27 but would still get carded in a pub, hit the shot of his life from the 18th fairway Sunday and minutes later was hugging his mum and dad — the US Open victory his in Brookline, Massachusetts. His first major win was also his first professional win on American soil.

sweet story.

For a minute, golf almost seemed normal again.

Golf is anything but.

Brooks Koepka, one of the PGA Tour loyalists (at least for now), said a “black cloud” hovered over this US Open, the first battlefield, really, in the sport’s sudden civil war. The cloud is there because Saudi Arabian megamillions, thing business as the upstart LIV Golf Invitational Series, is betting on greed and winning.

Bryson DeChambeau is one of the defectors. His agent, Brad Falkoff: “Professional golf as we know it is changing., and it’s happening quickly.”

He could be talking about sports in general, because what we are seeing coming out of the pandemic, all around, is the biggest tumult in sports history.

College football teams hop from one conference to another with regularity now, as players flood the transfer portal. The new Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) rules take a sledgehammer to the last quaint notion of amateurism at the collegiate level. The grip of the NCAA disintegrates before us.

The Olympics and individual sport governing bodies grapple with the growing issue of transgender athletes. Just Monday, FINA, which rules swimming, drew backlash for its new “gender inclusion policy” that bans biological men from competing in women’s events — as Penn swimmer Lia Thomas has with such success — unless they had transitioned before age 12.

A European Super League led by powers Barcelona, ​​Juventus and Real Madrid threatened to disrupt and redefine international soccer until collapsing under its own weight, the threat dormant, not disappeared.

Sports is all over the map on how to handle athletes from Russia and Belarus in the wake of Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine. Wimbledon has banned such players, including the world’s No. 1-ranked male. No such ban in the NHL, where Tampa Bay’s Russian goalkeeper is in the Stanley Cup Final.

Athlete empowerment embodied by LeBron James and others frays at the very notion as free agency. Mental health is a growing issue in all sports. NFTs are a new revenue stream.

Now, as nobody seems bothered by the NBA’s massive financial ties to China and the next FIFA World Cup plays out this fall in human rights-violating Qatar, the PGA Tour begins to rend at its seams as the lure of Saudi riches buys golfers willing to sell their souls by engaging in that kingdom’s blatant sportswashing.

The challenge to the PGA Tour makes one wonder about the ability of the ATP and WTA tours in tennis, for example, to fend off a similar hostile takeover. What prevents world’s richest man Elon Musk from seeing what’s happening in a golf as a fun opportunity in tenns? Nothing, is the short answer.

It is happening in golf despite the obvious deterrent:

Saudi Arabia has abhorrent laws criminalizing the LGBTQ community. The CIA believes the Saudi government murdered Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The group 9/11 Families United sent a sharply critical letter to Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and other prominent defectors to LIV Golf reminding that Saudi Arabian ties to the 9/11 catastrophe of 2001 included the fact 15 of 19 hijack pilots were Saudi.

The PGA Tour and commissioner Jay Monahan have drawn mostly praise for taking a hard line against the LIV defectors, an us-or-them-but-not-both edict that included indefinite suspensions of the defectors who played in the inaugural LIV event outside London last week.

The US Open, independent of the PGA Tour, allowed the defectors to compete this past week, but, interestingly, only four of 15 who did made the cut in Brookline.

Whether the four golf majors will fall in line with the Tour against the LIV defectors remains to be seen. As does the golf war’s impact on the beloved Ryder Cup. Now LIV commissioner Greg Norman says the rogue tour will apply for Official World Golf Ranking points, which would be a major step toward legitimizing it.

The bitterness between PGA Tour loyalist players and those volunteering as Saudi pawns for the guaranteed money showed when loyalists Rory McIlroy won the PGA Tour event preceding the Open.

He made an emphasis to note with delight that, with the win, he surpassed Norman in career Tour victories.

Golf is an unlikely landscape for a civil war.

This is the gentleman’s game, one of decorum, tradition, “Quiet Please” signs and reverent adherence to persnickety rules.

Money talks, though. check that. It screams. And it is a common denominator across the tumult in sports.

In golf now, the money is screaming so loud a man might misplace his soul chasing it. All it took for Mickelson was $200 million from the Saudis, guaranteed, as a sign-on bonus. Johnson sold out for $125 mill.

When the money behind LIV Golf is this loud and the well of it this deep, well, the civil war has only just begun.

No ‘Quiet Please’ sign will stop the noise an obscenity of riches can make.

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Greg Cote is a Miami Herald sports columnist who in 2021 was named top 10 in column writing by the Associated Press Sports Editors. Greg also hosts The Greg Cote Show podcast and appears regularly on The Dan LeBatard Show With Stugotz.

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