It usually/always is about money when it comes to professional golf. Why can’t many see that in relation to LIV Golf, which kicks off its tour at the Centurion Club near St Albans today?
I mean it’s not hard to figure out. It’s been going on forever.
It’s how professional golf measures itself: the PGA Tour's Player Impact Program; FedExCup cash, the Race to Dubai, DP World Tour sponsorship; the Rolex Series…
So, you have to laugh at everyone claiming those playing in the LIV Golf London tournament are only in it for the money, just a bunch of greedy tour pros cashing in.
Duh, tour pros trying to stuff as many greenbacks into their back pockets as possible? Who knew?
It’s been ever thus. Tour pros have been money grabbers ever since Allan Robertson was the game’s first professional. That’s why tour pros exist: to make money, as much as possible.
Seve Ballesteros famously fell out with the European Tour over appearance money when European Tour members were banned for taking cash just to turn up at tournments. Yet non-members could play in the same event and earn thousands just for being there.
Top Americans – Nicklaus, Palmer, Watson, Miller, Trevino and others – were paid appearance fees in their day to play in rich European events, and Seve was right to challenge that dynamic.
Greg Norman, the man fronting LIV Golf, made a few shekels too just for adding his name to tournament fields.
Seve eventually got his way and cashed in along with other top Europeans, just as Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau and Dustin Johnson do nowadays. You don’t think Tiger turned up in China, Germany, Dubai, Abu Dhabi and other points around the globe because he wanted to experience different cultures do you?
Ditto for current top Europeans like Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson, Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood, Graeme McDowell, Paul Casey and others. Remember the year when Rory and Tiger turned down the opportunity to play a WGC event in China to play in an exhibition match in the same country? They did so for wads of cash, despite China’s appalling human rights record.
Remember Sun City? It offered the then richest prize in golf, $1 million to the winner with, I believe, $70,00 for last place. The brutal apartheid system didn’t stop star golfers from going down there to grab greenbacks. Yet we’re surprised today’s stars are taking Saudi money?
For the record, I think Saudi Arabia is a reprehensible regime and I wish they weren’t involved in golf. (I do like the fact another entity is challenging the status quo. Surely competition is a good thing? I just wish the money was coming from somewhere else.) However, to think some of the top players were ever going to turn down huge seven-figure cheques is ludicrous.
I don’t want to paint every tour pro with the same brush. There are many who wouldn’t/won’t play for Saudi Arabian money. Fellow Woburn member Meg MacLaren has refused to do so, and all credit to her. I can think of others, male and female, who would baulk at having anything to do with Mohammed bin Salman’s attempt to sports wash his country’s image.
One more caveat, many of our top pros do an awful lot for charity too, including many of those teeing off at the Centurion Club today.
Here's a relevant question, though: what would most of us do if we were offered vastly more money for doing the same job, even if that money came from a repressive regime such as Saudi Arabia?
I’d like to think I’d reply with a firm “no.” Would I if the money was more than I’d ever dreamed of in my lifetime? Would you?
I‘ve got friends who covered/worked in Saudi Arabia for the three years of the Saudi International when it was a European Tour event. Did they want to be there? Hell, no. But when your employer tells you you have to be there then that’s what you do?
It's hard to blame the likes of Richard Bland, Oliver Fisher and other lesser names in the field for cashing in at Centurion. They stand to make as much in one week as took years to win on the European Tour. Wouldn’t you jump at the chance too if you could pad your pension with more money on offer than you ever imagined?
As for the stars, I’ve spoken to several golf insiders who’ve asked the same question: how much money do they need? The answer for some is simple: more, much more. No matter where it comes from.
It’s always been thus, and always will be.
#JustSaying: “I’d hustle anyone for a dollar – or a dime.” Lee Trevino