BROOKLINE, Mass. – LIV Golf is a tournament old.
The US Open will be held for the 122nd time in its turbulent history this week.
And Thursday’s opening round at the Country Club can’t come fast enough for those tired of talking about the Greg Norman-led golf tour of Saudi Arabia and dying to focus on the third major championship of the year.
As for Norman, the CEO of LIV Golf, he’s already had a hell of a week and his tour isn’t even happening yet.
As conversations between players and the media continued to be dominated by LIV Golf, I had this image of Norman as the Austin Powers character “Dr. Evil”, reclining at home, twirling in a swivel chair and enjoying all the attention.
“It’s a shitty situation,” two-time US Open champion Brooks Koepka said during a mildly contentious meeting Tuesday with reporters whom he blamed for sparking the entire LIV conversation. “I kinda hate it. … you [reporters] throwing all this black cloud over the US Open. The more legs you give him, the more you talk about it.”
Lines were drawn between players in the sand traps, fairways and putting greens. They’re either on the PGA Tour or LIV. There is no in between.
Rory McIlroy, who won Sunday’s Canadian Open, has been a standard-bearer on the PGA Tour since the Norman-led tour began attracting attention.
“Putting your name on trophies with legends … that’s something money can’t buy,” McIlroy said Tuesday. “Last week in Canada… LIV will never have that. Last week meant something. What they were doing over there [in London] meant nothing.”
McIlroy was particularly pleased with his victory in Canada because it was the 21st of his career, giving him one more win than Norman – a fact he made clear in his post-round interviews.
“A bit petty, I think, in a way, but yeah,” McIlroy said Tuesday. “Did [knowing he could overtake Norman] Are you helping me win or are you helping me maintain an intensity level? Probably.”
Honesty might be McIlroy’s best virtue, aside from his otherworldly ability to drive a golf ball.
McIlroy said he understands why many of the players have fled to attend the LIV events.
“Because a lot of these guys at Phil’s are in their late 40s [Mickelson] Fall, early ’50s,” McIlroy said. “I find [if you asked] everyone in this room…they would tell you themselves that their best days are behind them. So I don’t understand the guys my age leaving because I’d like to think that my best days are still ahead of me and I think theirs are too. So this is where it feels like you’re taking the easy route [for the guaranteed millions].”
Jon Rahm, the defending champion of the US Open, thinks similarly to McIlroy.
“Yes, money is great, but if Kelley [his wife] and I started talking about it, we were like, ‘Will our lifestyle change if I get $400 million?’ ‘ Rah said. “No, it won’t change a bit. To be honest I could retire now with what I’ve been doing and have a very happy life and not play golf again.
“I’ve always had an interest in history and legacy, and now the PGA Tour has just that. There’s meaning when you win the Memorial Championship. It has meaning when you win Arnold Palmer’s event at Bay Hill. It has meaning when you win LA, Torrey, some of the historic venues. This is very important to me. My heart beats for the PGA Tour.”
Rahm, who is friends with some players who have defected, said it is “not my business or my character to judge someone” who has made the leap.
“For a lot of people … the next three, four years are basically worth their retirement savings [with what LIV is] to give them,” Rahm said. “It’s a very nice balance then to pull back and sail into the sunset. If that’s what you want, that’s fine.”
For now, however, players like Rahm, McIlroy and Koepka want the focus to be on the US Open and not LIV Golf.
“Trying to focus on the US Open, man,” said Koepka, whose brother Chase, a PGA Tour fringe player, joined LIV. “I’m tired of the conversations. I’m sick of all this stuff. We are here to gamble and you are referring to an event that took place last week. You can’t drive and look in the rearview mirror, can you?”
No, but it doesn’t appear that LIV Golf, with its bottomless hole of hundreds of millions, is going away any time soon, so get used to the subject. Rahm is already arming himself.
“I think the [LIV] The events are just far enough apart that when the next one comes up, we’re going to be having the same conversation again, aren’t we?” Rahm asked.