Jhe condensed nature of the men’s major championship schedule leaves an unsatisfactory break after final putts are drilled at the Open. To be precise, 263 days will have passed between Cameron Smith holding the Claret Jug aloft at the Old Course and the first tee shots being struck at the 2023 Masters.
There are, however, reasons to wonder what professional play could – or should – look like when it returns to Augusta National next year. Mainstream tours can wish the LIV series all they want and the R&A can try to distract from Smith’s outstanding ’64 final tour, but the fact remains that this major has been dominated by talk. on the rebel league.
In no particular order: Tiger Woods rejected the Saudi-backed concept. Martin Slumbers, the managing director of the R&A, made it clear that he had little time for that either. Greg Norman and Phil Mickelson were absent from past champions events due to their LIV association. Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood took aim at the media. Sergio García did the same to DP World, formerly European Tour. While Smith was in the middle of a trophy presentation, former European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn took to social media to defend himself against García’s claims. The man currently in the role once held by Bjorn, Henrik Stenson, has been consistently linked with a defection to LIV. The same goes for former Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama. A deal for Matsuyama could be worth over $300 million.
When asked directly if he has LIV in sight – and there’s background chatter of an all-Australian team being unveiled – Smith issued a classic no-denial/denial. “I just won the British Open and you’re asking about it,” Smith said. “I think it’s not that good.”
Pressed on the subject, Smith added: “I don’t know, mate. My team around me is worried about all this. I’m here to win golf tournaments. It wasn’t exactly categorical.
A meeting of the Official World Golf Rankings Board, convened in St Andrews, discussed LIV’s application for membership. History in this area dictates that nothing will happen quickly, but LIV can be guaranteed to activate the existing golf ecosystem – including most likely legally – if they believe they are being unfairly excluded. The four majors sit on the seven-member board of the OWGR.
Any idea of it all will be gone by the time of 87e editing the Masters is best left to those in Cloud Cuckoo Land. Augusta National President Fred Ridley finds himself in an odious position. Mickelson, García and Patrick Reed are former Masters champions who play on the LIV circuit. Matsuyama’s successful award, winner at Augusta in 2021, and the Open champion would make it even harder for Ridley to steer his tournament away from the Saudis. Yet for Augusta and the other three US-based majors, this scenario has the potential to be toxic given LIV’s alliance with Donald Trump-owned sites and growing protest from families of 9/11 victims. September against what is happening on golf courses.
Jon Rahm, the world number 5, used his media duties on Sunday to suggest that golf’s warring factions should sit down around a table in a bid to find common ground. It’s hard to imagine how this can happen. PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan adamantly refused to engage with LIV from day one. The DP World Tour has strengthened its alliance with the PGA Tour. García seems so embittered by all things Europe that he quit the Ryder Cup, once seen as the key to his professional legacy. Norman, who wasn’t the most popular figure in golf even before he bowed to the Saudi dollar, now has few people at the top of the game to shoot in public. The late Kofi Annan would have struggled with such a fractured scene.
It’s abundantly clear that many golfers don’t care enough about Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses to ignore LIV’s advances. During last month’s US Open, Graeme McDowell complained of a “smear campaign” against him and his LIV pals. Equally depressing, but in purely sporting terms, is that players once immersed in the spirit of competition think that 54 holes, no discounts and guaranteed money have sporting merit. Stenson fits the profile of many LIV players as past his competitive prime, but it would be a serious blow to Europe’s Ryder Cup scene if a captain could be poached in this way. Which, in turn, is what makes him extremely appealing to LIV.
Nine out of 10 discussions with regular and casual golf watchers during Open week focused on golf’s civil war. This is the consuming scenario. The end of a great year leaves us all pondering the landscape of Georgia in April. Augusta National’s LIV position, surely announced long before, should be a source of fascination.