Charl Schwartzel and the South Africans Dominating the Liv Tour Invitational Tour and Musings on the Change of Golf as we Know It
In the Golf News: Liv Golf Dominated By the South Africans
A historical golfing moment happened this weekend. The inaugural Liv Golf tournament was played, hosted by the Centurion Club in London. After thirty or so minutes of play, the PGA of America announced the ban on all of its members playing in the event. Even though this might have come as a shock to some, most players kind of expected it. These players are labeled as "rebels", but is this really a good label? Money talks.
Even though the tournament hosted a wide range of players from every tour, it felt like a South African event with 9 players from South Africa and one from Zimbabwe.
The top three players were South Africans and with the unique format, a wholly South African team won the team event. The South Africans dominated the field. Charl Schwartzel won the first-ever Liv Golf event, and being part of the winning team, he pocketed $4,750,000 (about ZAR 75 million, GBP 3,8 million). (The total purse amount for each event is a staggering $25 million.) Talk about life-changing! Hennie du Plessis came second, and third was Branden Grace. The team event, captained by Louis Oosthuizen, was won by the "Stingers GC", consisting of the top three players and Oosthuizen.
Some of the major names, like Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson, did not really feature that much. But they got their rumored lump sums of cash!
And this is in some sense where the controversy enters (not even to talk about where the money comes from). How much does money ruin a sport or hobby or event?
Musings About Golf and Money and the Fans
Golf is a game rooted in history. Yet, most tours want to entice the fans to come to their events. If it is not The Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale in Scottsdale Arizona with its gigantic stadiums full of beer and loud cheers, it is a pay-per-view event in which the purse amount is $9,000,000 with two world-class players battling it out in an old styled singles matchplay. The single reason behind all of these events: to entice more players to watch and get into the game of golf.
Golf is no longer a game rooted in history, no, we need to entice people with huge purse money, golf events styled like football and rugby matches with stadiums, drinks, music, and all of the normal capitalistic temptations. We forget the history of golf and we supplant it with a quasi-history rooted in capitalism. Why do I say this?
Golf was a slow sport when I started. It was for older men, it was not yet the glamorous sport it is now. Yes, there were signs of it becoming the sport we know today, but at that stage, it was still rooted in its history; that is, the focus was on respect, values, and the game of golf itself, amongst other virtues, personal betterment, respect for the course and your playing partner, and so on. Now, we have new clubs entering the market on a weekly basis, fashion, money, money and money, and fame.
Do not get me wrong, I am not mad at this development, golf needed the money that entered in the last 10 odd years. But this came at a cost: you cannot keep old ideals that are in tension with capitalistic ideals.
And this is where an interesting problem arises: people from major tours are not happy with the Liv Golf Tour but their own tours are geared towards the same ideals. Most of the major tours want more spectators, more players, more money, and more viewership. How do you get them without going too much into the deep end of (potentially unethically sourced) money? That is a trick question. As a young boy, I remember all of my friends having the notion of golf being an "old man's sport" (yes, sexist claim and all!). Now, we are seeing golf being a multicultural and unisex sport. (In other golf news, Swedish golfer Linn Grant became the first female to win a European (now DP) tour event in a mixed style event.)
But again the tricky question: how do you get golf, a previously old "man's" slow unsexy sport adopted by young people who could have gone into more sexy sports with bigger paychecks? And this is where Liv Golf is coming in: They are paying golfers equivalent to other major sports. Or so they claim. But is this enough to entice more players? We are seeing big names changing from the US PGA tour to Liv Golf, like Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau. Other big names like Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas are backing the US PGA tour.
Now my speculation: only the big names are critiquing the Liv Golf Tour. That is, mostly affluent golfers. (Tiger Woods apparently rejected a $1 BILLION contract from Liv Golf, but this is merely speculation..) Take the runner up of the first Liv Golf Tour event Hennie du Plessis. Making a measly $370,000 on tour in South Africa, du Plessis made $2.875 million in one single event.
That is almost 8 times the amount he has won in his whole career!
Should sports people be paid these amounts of money? That is an open question. Should professional sport be about money? That is an open question. Gary Player, fellow South African golfer, who for example received only $20,000 in 1961 (worth about $200,000 today) for his Master's win, defended the Liv Tour and its grand prize money but in the same breath said the players should be banned from the US PGA.
My opinion, which does not mean much, is that if you want to make sport about money, as most of the major tours are currently doing even though it is not Liv Golf money, you cannot in the same breath complain if there are other tours coming along paying more money. Golf is no longer rooted in history as money infiltrated every tour. If one remembers the history, great players like Bobby Jones never even turned professional. Meaning, that he could never take home prize money if memory serves me right. I am speculating here, and even though the times they played golf were plagued by racial tension and other socio-political problems, it was about the game of golf and not the money.
Postscriptum, or In Other News
Golf is still a game rooted in history, but I think we are losing touch with that history as more and more people are entering the game due to other reasons. Young golfers now want to emulate young pro golfers, they are not necessarily joining golf because of the rich history.
This provides a unique tension that does not have easy answers.
I hope you learned something from this post, maybe you did not even know about the Liv Golf Tour! (You can see every shot on their YouTube channel, as it was streamed for free.)
All of the photographs are my own, except the Liv Golf logo on the first photograph. All of the musings are my own unless stated otherwise (i.e., linked to the source).
Happy sporting, and stay safe!