The disruption tour otherwise known as LIV Golf is back in action this coming week, with a double dose of drama expected as its next event will be held at a Donald Trump-owned course in New Jersey. A Saudi Arabia-backed tournament playing in the shadow of where the Twin Towers once stood was enough for the activist group 9/11 Justice to write a letter to the former president expressing its “deep pain and anger” over his hosting of the tournament.
Those emotions are understandable and valid, underscoring from the beginning of this deepening fissure in the sport how much the provenance of the money fueling LIV Golf has tainted anyone’s decision to choose it over the existing PGA or DP World Tours. At each stop, be it the initial two in London and Portland, or these next two tournaments in Jersey and then Sept. 2-4 right here in Boston, the debate hasn’t just been about moving to an upstart rival league, but moving to one backed by a regime with a history of egregious human rights violations.
Again, rightful outrage. But if we move beyond the emotion, there is also a growing crisis specific to the competition of golf, particularly as it threatens one of the game’s most compelling international events.
What is to become of the Ryder Cup?
While it’s impossible to predict what might happen between now and September 2023, when the indelible, emotional, glorious roller coaster ride of golf will next be contested in Rome, it is just as impossible to believe there aren’t a few more seismic changes in the offing. Yet to be determined are whether the LIV golfers will have a path into the four majors or if those fields have been permanently diluted by the departures of past major winners such as Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Patrick Reed, Brooks Koepka, and Sergio Garcia.
But as of now, the LIV golfers are likely on the outside of the Ryder Cup, with the PGA and the DP (formerly European) Tours holding fast to a decision to ban LIV players. The stance was reaffirmed this past week when Henrik Stenson was stripped of his captaincy by Ryder Cup Europe after the Swede was poached by LIV. That Greg Norman and Co. even wanted the 46-year-old, 171st-ranked player in the world speaks to a level of gamesmanship, as they surely knew the disruption it would cause to the Ryder Cup.
Team Europe’s statement cited Stenson’s inability to “fulfill certain contractual obligations … that he had committed to prior to his announcement as captain,” a terseness that surely reflected Stenson’s promises back in March, when he was named captain and asked directly about potentially jumping ship.
“Yeah, there’s been a lot of speculation back and forth, and as I said, I am fully committed to the captaincy and to Ryder Cup Europe and the job at hand,” Stenson said. “So we’re going to keep busy with that and I’m going to do everything in my power to deliver a winning team in Rome.”
Not anymore. Five of the 12 golfers on the 2021 European team beaten by the United States are now with LIV, which led Stenson to write in his ensuing statement: “It is a shame to witness the significant uncertainty surrounding the Ryder Cup, who will be eligible to play, etc. I sincerely hope a resolution between the tours and its members is reached soon and that the Ryder Cup can act as a mechanism for repair amongst various golfing bodies and their members.”
There’s not a lot of optimism. Former European Ryder Cup captain Tony Jacklin, in an interview with Express UK, was blunt: “It’s the end of the Ryder Cup as we know it, it’s bound to be.”
Jacklin continued, “You cannot call it a credible event anymore, and you can say the same for the Presidents Cup now, too. Once the teams involved are not represented by the strongest players and individuals, the credibility of the competition is spent. The whole thing is screwed up.”
The fissures are just getting bigger. Commentators are involved now, too, with Charles Barkley putting his TNT work in jeopardy if he joins LIV, with Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee continuing a war of words with Norman, with David Feherty reportedly on his way to the LIV world, and with reporters getting blowback for even asking British Open champion Cameron Smith if he was contemplating a move (Smith’s non-denial is another potential tidal wave of change).
I keep thinking back to the final round of the US Open, when two young golfers electrified the final 18 at Brookline. Matthew Fitzpatrick, the 27-year-old Englishman with nerves of steel, whose amazing approach on the final hole would secure his first major title. Will Zalatoris, the 25-year-old American whose second-place finish in a third-straight major left him heartbroken but driven for more. The two going back and forth with such skill and such drama, so much so that our great Globe editor and devoted golf fan Jim Hoban dropped me an e-mail that said, “I envision some great Ryder Cup matches with Fitzpatrick and Zalatoris.”
Only now, even if they are there, so many others might not be, which would change the Ryder Cup forever.