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Rival golf league puts cards on the table

Updated August 9, 2022 - 7:55 pm

In late April, I flew to Puerto Vallarta on a Southwest Airlines flight out of Phoenix. Sitting in the back row of the packed flight was Pat Perez, heading there for the PGA Tour’s Mexico Open.

Perez is flying commercial no more.

Shortly after that tournament, Perez joined LIV Golf, where he’s treated to private jet travel and lavish pre-event parties.

Perez has played what could generously be called mediocre golf in his two events — 5 over in Portland, Oregon, with a final-round 80, and 6 over in Bedminster, New Jersey — yet has raked in about $1.5 million for those efforts.

Perez is symbolic of the Saudi-backed tour. A 46-year-old who made a good living on the PGA Tour for many years, won a couple of times, but was insignificant to most golf fans. A grain of sand on the tour, as Fred Couples described him.

Perez is one of several LIV players who fall into that category (Hudson Swafford, Charles Howell III, Matt Jones). They are joined by those past their prime (Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia); malcontents (Patrick Reed, Bryson DeChambeau); and the constantly injured (Brooks Koepka, Paul Casey).

With the possible exception of Talor Gooch, Abraham Ancer and Jason Kokrak, nobody playing LIV Golf has an arrow pointing up. Dustin Johnson remains a great but disinterested player who hasn’t won in nearly two years.

The LIV tournaments are a joke: 54-hole events, shotgun starts and 48-player fields, giving off an exhibition atmosphere rather than competitive events.

There is no TV contract, sparse crowds — tickets for the Bedminster event were available for $1 on Stubhub — and no reason for fan interest to grow.

And now after just three events, 10 of the players are suing the PGA Tour to get back in. Two months into this grand experiment, their cards have been shown. This is little more than attempt to break the PGA Tour. Thankfully, a federal judge shot down the first attempt Tuesday, denying Gooch, Jones and Swafford an injunction to allow them into the FedEx Cup playoffs.

As players have departed, their reasoning has been flimsy at best: grow the game, more time with family, but never about the money. Sure, the Saudis reportedly have paid more than $1 billion in signing bonuses and $75 million in prize money in only three events, but it’s not about the money.

Right.

Grow the game? There are no clinics put on by the players, no attachment to the First Tee or any such program. There are no charities for the communities where events are held.

Simply look at the millions raised for Shriners Children’s Hospital over the years at the Las Vegas event as an example of what happens weekly on the PGA Tour.

As for playing less and spending more time with their families, that’s bunk as well. PGA Tour players must play 15 events a year, 15 events of their choosing. Play well enough to secure your card, and you can bypass tournaments any time you wish.

LIV players, on the other hand, will have a 14-tournament schedule in 2023, and the players will be required to compete in all of them. Not the ones they want. And not conveniently scheduled.

LIV players claim they are independent contractors who should be able to play whenever and wherever they want on any tour. Sorry, but that’s not the way the world works.

The PGA Tour can decide eligibility for its events. Imagine working for any company in any business, leaving for company B, but demanding the right to come back for Company A’s retreat in Orlando or lavish holiday party simply because you used to work there.

These players knew for months the consequences of leaving. They just don’t want to deal with it. They see events taking place they can no longer be part of, and they’re watching their world rankings drop weekly.

So LIV players, enjoy your unlimited cash, private planes and exhibition golf. It’s what you signed up for, and it’s all you deserve — along with your growing irrelevance in the game.

Greg Robertson covers golf for the Review-Journal. He can be reached at grobertson@reviewjournal.com.

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