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    LIV Golf Threw a Sport Into Chaos. It Also Changed It.

    The Saudi-backed golf series, which will expand next year, has forced the PGA Tour to redesign its economic model. The drama between the two golf entities seems far from over.DORAL, Fla. — To hear the 52-year-old Phil Mickelson’s account, whatever happened this year in his golf career — a greed-fueled rupture, a simply-business parting of ways, an inevitable estrangement, a lucrative exercise in denial and downplaying — has yielded something close to sublime.“I see LIV Golf trending upward, I see the PGA Tour trending downward and I love the side that I’m on,” Mickelson said this month in Saudi Arabia, the country whose sovereign wealth fund bankrolled the new LIV Golf circuit, including a Mickelson contract believed to be worth about $200 million.As the series closes its first season Sunday, when its team championship event is to be decided at Trump National Doral Golf Club and a $50 million prize fund divided, it can credibly claim that it has disrupted men’s professional golf more than anything else since the late 1960s, when what would become the PGA Tour emerged.It has done so with a checkbook that seems boundless, nearly unchecked brazenness and self-assurance, and the political cover of a former American president who has looked past Saudi Arabia’s record on human rights. It has not, though, been a romp without resistance or an instantaneous and definitive dethroning of the old order.The PGA Tour, now redesigning its economic model so urgently that it is tapping reserve funds, still commands the bigger roster of current stars and the loyalties of the tournaments that matter most to history. The tour, less tainted by geopolitics, has lucrative television deals; LIV Golf is on YouTube. Players earn world ranking points at PGA Tour events; they drop in the rankings the longer they compete in the new series. Dustin Johnson knows this well, as he is now No. 30, down from No. 13 when he signed with LIV in May. (But perhaps Johnson does not mind all that much: He captured LIV’s individual championship and has won at least $30 million on the circuit this year, after accruing about $75 million in career earnings during a PGA Tour tenure that started in 2007.)Dustin Johnson’s world ranking has fallen to No. 30 from No. 13 when he joined LIV Golf in May.Ross Kinnaird/Getty ImagesWhat many golf executives are figuring out, though, is that it is possible to revile much about LIV, from its financial patron to its devotion to 54-hole tournaments to its defiant dispensing of starchy atmospheres, and yet recognize that the PGA Tour had left itself vulnerable to at least a spasm of drama. Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, who ascended again to the world’s No. 1 ranking after a tour event last weekend, have been two of LIV Golf’s foremost critics — and two leading architects of a new strategy to fortify and reinvent a PGA Tour that had some popular players feeling undervalued and some younger ones struggling for financial breakthroughs.A Quick Guide to the LIV Golf SeriesCard 1 of 6A new series. More

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    Augusta National and U.S.G.A. Drawn Into Justice Department Antitrust Inquiry

    The Justice Department is investigating the PGA Tour for anticompetitive behavior in its dealings with LIV Golf, the breakaway Saudi-backed league.DORAL, Fla. — The Justice Department’s antitrust inquiry into men’s professional golf — a sport splintered this year by the emergence of a lucrative circuit financed by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund — has in recent months come to include the organizers of some of the most hallowed and influential tournaments in the world, according to people familiar with the matter.The United States Golf Association, which administers the U.S. Open, acknowledged on Wednesday that the Justice Department had contacted it in connection with an investigation. Augusta National Golf Club, which organizes the Masters Tournament, and the P.G.A. of America, which oversees the P.G.A. Championship, have also drawn the gaze of antitrust officials.The federal inquiry is unfolding in parallel with a separate civil suit filed in California by LIV Golf, the new Saudi-backed series, accusing the PGA Tour, which organizes most of the week-to-week events in professional golf, of trying to muscle it out of the marketplace. Moreover, LIV has contended that major tournament administrators, such as Augusta National and the P.G.A. of America, aided in the PGA Tour’s urgent efforts to preserve its long standing as the premier circuit in men’s golf.LIV, for instance, has accused the leaders of the R&A, which runs the British Open, and Augusta National of pressuring the Asian Tour’s chief executive over support for the new series. LIV also said that Fred S. Ridley, the Augusta National chairman, had “personally instructed a number of participants in the 2022 Masters not to play in the LIV Golf Invitational Series” and that the club’s representatives had “threatened to disinvite players from the Masters if they joined LIV Golf.” (A handful of golfers, including Phil Mickelson, joined the lawsuit but later withdrew their names from it, content to let LIV Golf wage the courtroom fight.)LIV executives have also fumed over perceived stalling by Official World Golf Ranking administrators to award ranking points to LIV players, who include Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Cameron Smith. The ranking system’s governing board includes executives from each of the major tournament organizers, as well as the PGA Tour.A Quick Guide to the LIV Golf SeriesCard 1 of 6A new series. More

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    PGA Tour Accuses LIV Golf of Interfering With Its Contracts

    The PGA Tour filed a counterclaim against the breakaway, Saudi-backed LIV Golf series, which has accused the tour of antitrust violations.The PGA Tour filed a countersuit against LIV Golf on Wednesday, the latest turn in a winding legal battle between the tour and the Saudi-backed circuit that has drawn a number of top players.In its counterclaim, the PGA Tour, which LIV is suing for antitrust violations, said the upstart series had “tortiously interfered” with the tour’s contracts with golfers who had left to join LIV. It added that LIV had “falsely informed” its players that they could break their contracts with the tour “for the benefit of LIV and to the detriment of all tour members.”“Indeed, a key component of LIV’s strategy has been to intentionally induce tour members to breach their tour agreements and play in LIV events while seeking to maintain their tour memberships and play in marquee tour events like The Players Championship and the FedEx Cup Playoffs, so LIV can free ride off the tour and its platform,” the PGA Tour said in its counterclaim.The PGA Tour, which declined to comment on Thursday, asked for a trial by jury, which was set for January 2024. The tour also seeks damages for any lost profits, “damages to reputational and brand harm” and other legal costs.In a statement on Thursday, LIV said the PGA Tour “has made these counterclaims in a transparent effort to divert attention from their anti-competitive conduct, which LIV and the players detail in their 104-page complaint.”A Quick Guide to the LIV Golf SeriesCard 1 of 6A new series. More

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    How Bryson DeChambeau Saved Long Drive Golf

    The sport is gaining fans among the public and professional golfers, many of whom have adopted its techniques for their own games.In August 2021, long drive was on the brink of collapse. The niche sport — in which competitors drive golf balls as far as humanly possible, often more than 400 yards — had endured a difficult year, disrupted by the pandemic, and registrations for the world long drive championship were dismal.That’s when Bryson DeChambeau, the winner of the 2020 U.S. Open and a member of the 2018 and 2021 U.S. Ryder Cup teams, entered the competition, sparking a surge in interest and dozens of new entries.“He saved us, that’s for sure,” Kyle Berkshire, a two-time world long drive champion, said.DeChambeau’s participation was not a total shock: In recent years, more and more established pros, increasingly obsessed with driving distance, have become unabashed fans of long drive, with PGA Tour winners like Justin Thomas, Tony Finau and Cameron Champ expressing support. Berkshire has become a go-to training partner and sounding board for many of these pros, sharing tips on swing technique, stretching, fitness routine and more.“Back when I was in college, everyone thought the long drive guys were the clowns of the golf world,” Berkshire said. “That whole perception is changing.”DeChambeau has played a major role in that, and after finishing seventh in the 2021 competition, he’ll be back for this year’s world championship, which begins Tuesday.DeChambeau made headlines in 2020 by bulking up and drastically changing his swing, increasing his average driving distance by nearly 20 yards to lead the PGA Tour. He ultimately won that year’s U.S. Open, and he has not been shy about crediting long drive — particularly its emphasis on swing speed — with much of his success.“I actually watched the 2019 world long drive championship, and that’s what inspired me and got me thinking,” DeChambeau said in a recent phone interview. “These guys were swinging the golf club 40 or 50 miles faster than me, so I thought, what if I could add just 15 percent to my swing speed and use that on tour? That’s how it started, and then I got addicted to hitting it farther and farther.”With the help of Berkshire and other long drivers, DeChambeau adopted a common long drive practice method: overspeed training, in which competitors swing the driver as hard as possible, with no regard for accuracy, in the hopes that it will also improve the speed of their more typical, controlled swings.The method worked incredibly well for DeChambeau — so much so that now, he and Berkshire said, it has become a standard training routine for many professional golfers.“It’s sort of a new revolution,” Berkshire said. “At this point, it’s almost required for professional golfers, since everyone is doing it.”According to Mark Broadie, a Columbia University professor and golf researcher who helped coach DeChambeau in 2020, the embrace of long drive within the golf world is a logical next step. Years ago, Broadie invented the “strokes gained” metric, which analyzes the impact of every shot throughout a round of golf in relation to the rest of the field. His analysis ultimately found that even marginal gains in driving distance could have a major effect on scores.“It’s true for all players: If you drive it 20 yards longer, even with a little less accuracy, you can gain a stroke per round,” Broadie said. “So it feels like a natural evolution for long drive to be more accepted. If you want to drive the ball as far as possible, then you clearly want to talk to the long drivers, the guys who have optimized that throughout their careers.”Long drive has existed, in some form or another, since 1949, when a driving competition was held in conjunction with that year’s P.G.A. Championship. A more formal long drive world championship would form in 1976, and various professional leagues have taken shape since the 1990s.One of the most recent iterations of a long drive league — the World Long Drive Association, sponsored by Golf Channel — essentially disbanded in 2020 after canceling its season because of the pandemic. In its wake came a spiritual successor, the Professional Long Drivers Association, which has hosted a number of tournaments, including the 2021 world long drive championship.While the association’s administrators are happy to be gaining acclaim in golf circles, they are also hopeful it will translate into mainstream acceptance.“This year, we’re getting a really big response from players wanting to compete, and more fans are coming out to watch our events,” said Bobby Peterson, the association’s managing partner and majority owner. A former long drive competitor, Peterson has been a part of the sport since 1992, and he said there had never been as much enthusiasm surrounding it as there is this year, including interest from possible corporate partners. “This isn’t just hyperbole,” Berkshire said. “Based on the talks I’ve been involved in, this sport is in the best position it’s ever been in.”Long drive’s recent ascent comes at a time when golf is reckoning with a major disruption in the form of the LIV Golf Series, whose major shareholder is the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia. In its first season, LIV Golf poached some high-profile golfers from the PGA Tour, including DeChambeau, and implemented innovations aimed at enhancing the fan experience and changing how viewers watch golf, including shorter tournament structures and a team format.David Carter, a sports business professor at the University of Southern California, said long drive could ultimately be an intriguing acquisition or partner with either the PGA Tour or LIV Golf, as both look to add content in the years to come.“It’s all about this next generation of consumer: younger people who want short-form, digestible content,” Carter said. “Something like long drive could be curated in a lot of different ways, whether online, through social media, or in conjunction with tournaments.”As long drivers prepared for this year’s world championship, Berkshire was grateful for DeChambeau’s continued support. He said he nearly had to pinch himself when he thought of how far long drive had come in such a short time.“Just a year ago, I had never seen a sport in such a bad position,” Berkshire said. “Now, I’ve never seen one poised for such a bright future. It’s just an exciting time all around.” More

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    These Left-Handed Golfers Are Content to Go Their Own Way

    ROTHERHAM, England — If anyone questions Alan Haines’s left-handed golf swing, he jokingly reminds them that he happens to be the one standing on the right side of the ball.Haines, 73, was sitting in a clubhouse here recently, waiting for a fellow lefty to tee off on the first hole on what was a rather overcast day. After that player had driven on the downhill par 4, another golfer with a left-handed swing followed. Then another. And another — until, eventually, 36 consecutive players had teed off with their right shoulder toward the target.“When you get a lot of us together,” said Chris Birch, 60, “people do notice.” Birch said his grandfather, father, son and grandson were (or are), like him, left-handed.Another player, Frank McCabe, 84, concurred. “We’ve been playing and someone has said, ‘Crikey! I’ve just seen four left-handers playing together,’” McCabe said. “I’ve had to say, ‘Well, no; there’s actually 30 of us.’”Haines, McCabe and Birch help run a solidaric group known as the British Left Handed Golfers Association, or B.L.H.G.A., a decades-old society that aims to promote left-handedness in a sport whose sinistral figures don’t necessarily reflect those of everyday society.Alan Haines, right, has been a member of the British Left Handed Golfers Association for more than 40 years, and its secretary for nearly 30. Duncan Elliott for The New York TimesWhile around 10 percent of the world’s population are believed to be left-handed, their presence on golf courses is far more rare. The P.G.A. of America estimated that only about five percent of PGA Tour members play left-handed, and since 1860, only four — Bob Charles, Mike Weir, Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson — have won a major. Only one woman, Bonnie Bryant in 1974, has ever won an L.P.G.A. event while playing left-handed.Many left-handed players put such figures down to two main obstacles from years gone by: access to equipment and the availability of left-handed coaching.“Going back 50, 60 years, you could never find a set of left-handed golf clubs in a pro shop,” Charles, who became the first left-handed major champion when he won the 1963 British Open, said in a telephone interview. “The clubs were not readily available.”McCabe, the chairman of the B.L.H.G.A., described how, when he was taking up the sport in the 1960s, his local golf club required new players to submit to lessons with the club pro before playing a practice round with them. “He only made it through two holes,” McCabe said of the latter requirement, “and then we stopped because he wanted to try out my putter, which, to him, was the other way around.”As a result of this environment, many lefties opted — and some still opt — to play right-handed, while a select few continued fighting the good fight for their preferred side of the ball.Events celebrating left-handed golfers are hardly new; some of the earliest examples date to the 1920s, when lefty tournaments were reportedly held in New England and Washington state. The National Association of Left-Handed Golfers (N.A.L.G.) was established in 1936, resulting in an organization that today has around 270 individuals on its mailing list and local affiliates in 12 American states, according to Sid Miner, the chairman of the N.A.L.G.Clockwise from top left: Chris Birch, Alan Lines, Alan Haines and Frank McCabe.Duncan Elliott for The New York TimesIn Britain, a trophy for left-handed golfers known as the Mees Cup was first contested in the 1930s, before a newspaper notice attracted a number of lefties to meet on courses in and around London in the 1950s. These gatherings resulted in the founding of the B.L.H.G.A. in 1959.Today, members pay an annual fee of £20 (about $23) for the privilege of being part of a society that prioritizes camaraderie over competitiveness. The group plays on eight courses a year, each handpicked to even out travel for members, around half of whom are retired, and to make sure as many as possible can attend events.“The thing I enjoy most is that the only qualification is to be left-handed,” said Alan Lines, 78, who was selected as the group’s captain for 2022. He had joined 12 years earlier, after learning of its existence through word-of-mouth.Lines said he hoped to one day play in the world championship for those with his unique swing, a multiday event that is overseen by the World Association of Left Handed Golfers (W.A.L.G.). That organization was formed in 1979, after the first global competition was held in Sydney, Australia.The W.A.L.G. website contains contact details for 21 national organizations, each with similar grass-roots backgrounds to that of the B.L.H.G.A. An association in the Republic of Ireland, for example, emerged in the 1980s after fliers were sent to clubs recruiting any left-handers who were willing to respond. An organization in Japan reported membership numbers of more than 1,000 in the 1990s. National groups also sprung up fin countries as far-flung as Sri Lanka, France, Taiwan, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Sweden.B.L.G.H.A. trophies. Don’t even think about it, right-handers.Duncan Elliott for The New York TimesBut while such societies rose from circumstances of the past, some have more recently expressed concerns about declining attendance numbers, and the future of their events. The players who turned up in Rotherham voiced similar worries.“I think it’s easier now” for left-handers, said Terry Sims, a pro who runs a shop out of Silvermere Golf Complex in Surrey, southwest of London, that is dedicated to selling only left-handed equipment. “There’s a lot more package sets made left-handed. It’s also not taboo now to learn left-handed.”Sims, whose left-handed brother was initially forced to take up the game right-handed in the 1980s, said that since he opened his store in 2004, most major manufacturers have started making their right-handed models available to left-handers, with the exception of the odd putter and some hybrid clubs. Online ordering has helped, too, he said, making the sort of clubs that local pro shops might not stock available at the click of a button. Yet even in the internet age, secondhand options are still difficult to come by.Organizers at some societies have blamed their declining numbers at events on factors seen elsewhere in golf: a lack of interest in joining societal groups from younger players; cost; and the ripple effects of the coronavirus on travel.Haines sees it as even more straightforward than that: The growth of society golf, he said, had its heyday in the ’80s and ’90s, and many of those players are aging out.Clubs are no longer so hard to find for left-handed players. The players themselves, though? They’re still a rarity.Duncan Elliott for The New York TimesHaines has been secretary of the B.L.H.G.A. since 1995 and a member for more than 40 years. In the group’s heyday, he said, it counted around 300 members. Over the past few years, that figure has ebbed at around 150. But those that remain play on.After their afternoon round at Rotherham Golf Club, the group of British lefties regrouped for their annual general meeting, which would involve dinner and a discussion of the agenda for the year ahead. While other courses may rotate on the group’s calendar, Rotherham — with its Neo-gothic clubhouse and it status as the home course of the former Masters champion Danny Willett — has been a constant for more than 50 years. That regularity, Haines admitted, removes one amusing element of confusion that the group has previously seen when new courses have been added to their rotation.“Sometimes, we go to golf courses where they put the knife and the fork the other way around at the table,” he said. “That always brings a smile to our faces.”The clubhouse at Rotherham Golf Club, home to an annual left-handed championship and a Masters champion not eligible to play in it.Duncan Elliott for The New York Times More

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    BMW PGA Championship Brings Players From PGA Tour, DP World Tour and LIV Golf

    Players from the PGA Tour, DP World Tour and the upstart LIV Golf series will all be competing at this week’s BMW PGA Championship in England.All but a half dozen professional golf tournaments — out of hundreds of events held each year — rely on a marquee sponsor and dozens of other co-sponsors to pay millions of dollars for each event to happen.There are a few notable exceptions: the Masters, the United States Open, the P.G.A. Championship and the British Open.But even an event as prestigious as this week’s BMW PGA Championship at the Wentworth Club in Surrey, England — one of the top events on the DP World Tour — relies on the German carmaker plus another dozen sponsors, like Zoom, Rolex and Hilton, to fund the event, pay the players and have something left over for charity.There’s just one problem. The BMW PGA Championship will have more than a dozen players from the rival Saudi Arabia-backed LIV Golf series in the field, including fan favorites Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood and several players that could win the event like Kevin Na, Patrick Reed and Martin Kaymer.Unlike the PGA Tour, which has suspended members who have joined LIV and barred them from playing in PGA Tour events, the DP World Tour has a slightly different policy. Members who qualify for tournaments, like Wentworth, based on their world rankings or other criteria, are allowed, for now, to play in the event.Given the amount of money sponsors pledge to an event on the DP World Tour, the PGA Tour or any of the other tours around the world, they want something in return. Corporate perks and television coverage for sure, but they also want great players to create compelling drama. That’s what happened in the final round of the Tour Championship on the PGA Tour on Aug. 28, when Rory McIlroy beat his playing partner, Scottie Scheffler, by one stroke to win the FedEx Cup, the PGA Tour’s season-long points competition. (Southern Company, Coca-Cola and Accenture are sponsors of the Tour Championship, not to mention FedEx, who as a season-long sponsor of the PGA Tour contributes a large part of the $18 million first-prize check.)And having a winner from LIV Golf creates a difficult situation for sponsors and the DP World Tour itself, which is a strategic partner of the PGA Tour but has allowed LIV players to compete.Before the tournament even started, the LIV presence at Wentworth was criticized by top tour members like the U.S. Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick, who called the LIV presence “disappointing.” Billy Horschel, who won the BMW PGA Championship in 2021, said the LIV golfers shouldn’t be allowed to play on the DP World Tour at all: “They decided to go play on that tour and they should go play there.”Greenskeepers working on the 18th hole at Wentworth Golf Club on Sept. 6.Andrew Redington/Getty ImagesIts sponsor has remained neutral. “The focus of the BMW Group is to host a world-class event and provide a premium experience for players, fans and enthusiasts at all our sport engagements,” said Tim Holzmüller, a spokesman for BMW Group Sport Engagement.Great players bring in fans and television viewers at home. And a battle between a LIV golfer and a PGA or DP World Tour member would certainly juice ratings. But what happens afterward for sponsors would be hard to say.The traditional measure of a tournament is its “strength of field,” which is important to ensure sponsorship dollars are well spent. In layman’s terms, the term refers to the quality of the players committed to playing the event. And for sponsors, the bigger the stars the bigger the audience.The DP World Tour says its marquee event has a strong roster of players.“The field for this year’s event is projected to be significantly stronger than last year’s event,” said Steve Todd, deputy media communications director for the DP World Tour, noting that three top-10 players are in the field — McIlroy, Jon Rahm and Fitzpatrick. The last time that happened was in 2019 — the last BMW PGA Championship unaffected by the pandemic.Todd added that there were plenty of fan favorites to draw in viewers and satisfy sponsors.“The field also features defending champion Billy Horschel and a number of Ryder Cup players including Viktor Hovland, Shane Lowry, Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton, Justin Rose and Francesco Molinari, all of whom have strong records in the tournament and are particularly popular with the Wentworth crowds,” he said. “Also playing is [Ryder Cup] European captain Luke Donald, who won the event back-to-back in front of his home English fans in 2011 and 2012.”Westwood, a three-time winner of the DP World Tour’s Race to Dubai and a winner on the PGA Tour, is now a LIV golfer who is playing at Wentworth this week. He said he didn’t believe it made any difference who won.“Everyone playing at Wentworth has qualified to play by right,” he said in an interview. “It’s the strongest field at the BMW PGA Championship for years.”He added: “If a LIV golfer wins, then he’ll be the person that’s played the best and will fully deserve it. I don’t think the public in general are bothered what tour people play on. They just want to see the best players play great golf.”Andrew “Chubby” Chandler, a longtime agent for players on the DP World Tour, said the competing tours at Wentworth “adds a lot to the event both in star names and intrigue. I don’t see a problem if a LIV golfer wins at Wentworth. I think it possibly shows what might have happened if the [DP World Tour] could have accepted all the LIV golfers as full members when it was suggested four months ago.”The tournament also comes just weeks after the PGA Tour made significant changes on how it operates that may not align with what the DP World Tour is doing.For one, top players on the PGA Tour need to commit to 20 events, which could be challenging for European players. The Tour has also created so-called elevated events with greater prize money. Both are meant to get the top players competing against each other more often.Patrick Reed of the United States plays his second shot on the 1st hole at the Wentworth Golf Club during a practice round before the BMW PGA Championship.Warren Little/Getty ImagesMcIlroy said that sports fans want to see the best in the game when they tune in to watch, drawing a comparison to U.S. football fans wanting to see Tom Brady at quarterback if they’re watching a Tampa Bay Buccaneers game.Yet the up-and-coming players are being given a $500,000 draw against their PGA Tour earnings to help them compete. This goes for both U.S. players who have made it to the PGA Tour and international players who have qualified through the DP World Tour rankings. In other words, it’s helping to end the economic disadvantage that young players have in golf that they don’t in other professional sports.“It’s comparable to how other leagues approach their athlete compensation,” said the PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan at a news conference. “For rookies, coming out here and knowing that that’s payable on day one we think will help put those rookies in a better position to compete because they can invest in the infrastructure they need to succeed.”(Players who miss the cut also get a $5,000 stipend to help cover their expenses.)The PGA Tour’s August announcement also has given LIV players fodder to play both sides of the debate, since what it means for the tour’s partner, the DP World Tour, wasn’t mentioned.“The goal for the DP World Tour is finding a way to get the top Europeans that play on the PGA Tour to come back and play in Europe more often, not just the odd big one or two tournaments where they get appearance money,” Westwood said. “This is all going to be made harder by the new concept that Jay [Monahan] announced that is designed to guarantee 20 strong fields in the U.S. with not much thought given to the DP World Tour and other tours. It’s an odd decision considering the new ‘strategic alliance’ supposedly in place.”But a PGA Tour official who was not authorized to speak because of ongoing litigation involving LIV Golf said the strength of fields on the tour remains strong even without the players who have left.And that, at the end of the day, is what some observers believe companies want. “Sponsors,” Chandler said, “want the best fields at their events so BMW will be pleased.” More

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    LIV Golf Continues to Try New Ways to Be Noticed

    Whether it’s the team concept or a decision to allow its golfers to play in shorts, the breakaway Saudi-backed series so far sees itself as the anti-PGA Tour.BOLTON, Mass. — The LIV Golf event outside Boston was minutes from beginning on Friday, and Greg Norman, the frontman for the insurgent Saudi-backed circuit, needed a new, showy way to make an entrance in the rancorous battle for the future of men’s golf.How about jumping from an airplane and parachuting onto the first tee? Surely, Norman’s nemesis, PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan, had never done that?So it was that the hundreds of fans crowded around the first tee lifted their eyes to the sky to watch as Norman, who was harnessed to a retired military parachutist, dropped across the backdrop of a clear blue sky until he touched down in front of the tee.Separated from his escort, Norman bolted upright and raised both fists triumphantly. As he marched toward the tee, a fan yelled: “Greg, the PGA Tour is done. You did it, baby!”Looking a bit stunned, if delighted, Norman turned in the direction of the voice. He pointed a finger and flashed the widest of smiles.The scene could have been a metaphor for the most turbulent season in modern professional golf history: When LIV Golf suddenly appeared on the horizon this spring, the risk was manifest as the circuit searched for a welcoming place to drop into an occasionally inhospitable sport. In a surprise, LIV Golf has not only landed on its feet, it is defiantly celebrating.Despite the volume of one fan’s shout, the PGA Tour is far from done or even from losing the clash with its rival. Last week, it began a muscular counterattack. But as the fourth LIV Golf event concluded at the International Golf Club on Sunday, the evidence was mounting that the rebel tour was not retreating either. In fact, it continues to find new ways to be noticed.Consider the great dump-the-trousers crusade that unfolded here in Saturday’s second round. In its unceasing effort to be the anti-PGA Tour, which includes not having large tournament crowds or a broadcast TV contract, the LIV Golf leaders decided Saturday to allow players to wear shorts.The PGA Tour does not allow its members to show legs in competition. The LIV Golf decision moved players on the circuit to say they felt freer, an odd choice of words for a group guaranteed at least $120,000 (with expenses paid) for their appearance at the tournament.“This is a long time coming in the game of golf; I think it just takes a disrupter like LIV to get things done,” Phil Mickelson said of wearing shorts.Phil Mickelson wore shorts on Saturday and Sunday after the LIV Golf leaders decided to allow it.Mary Schwalm/Associated PressThere was only one snag in the dress code golfing revolution that LIV Golf was hoping to ignite. The majority of the golfers kept their pants on. Maybe these guys like golf tradition more than anyone suspected.I have now spent six days (two tournaments) inside the LIV Golf bubble since late July, and there are certain evident, noteworthy truths. One is that the rival circuit is clearly attracting a younger, more boisterous crowd than the typical PGA Tour gallery, portions of which can be reserved and sometimes removed, i.e., watching from an air-conditioned corporate box. LIV Golf’s chief motto is “Golf, but louder,” and with a recurring thunderous soundtrack of Beastie Boys, Twisted Sister and AC/DC, the circuit is living (no pun intended) up to its billing.Asked about the thumping music that can be heard on all 18 holes, Sergio García quipped, “I’m trying not to dance too much.”Cameron Smith, who is ranked second in the men’s worldwide rankings and who was the breakaway tour’s splashy new acquisition last week, refuted the suggestion that the music is a diversion or a gimmick. “To me,” Smith said, “it feels like the course has a bit of heartbeat.”The LIV Golf leadership is also convinced that the key to the tour’s success is its team concept, which is new to golf. The goal is to replicate the success of the Formula 1 team model. But the LIV Golf teams had a clunky rollout earlier this year when team members kept changing, which further confused potential fans who already could not identify or remember the 12 team names, let alone their four-man rosters.As an example, I stopped 10 fans on the golf course Sunday and asked them to name just one LIV Golf team. Three could do it, six could not and one grinning guy astonishingly started rattling off the team names one by one until I realized he was looking over my shoulder at a scoreboard with all the team names and scores.But next year, LIV Golf, whose major shareholder is the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia, will expand the number of tournaments, and the four-player teams will remain unchanged tournament to tournament, barring injury. Players on each team may even wear matching outfits of some sort, like a uniform, to drive home the team concept. The plan is also to make teams have a unifying theme: Four Australians led by Smith, a South African team headed by Louis Oosthuizen, and other teams bound by nationality. LIV Golf has heavily recruited Hideki Matsuyama, the 2021 Masters champion, in hopes of heading a Japanese team.The LIV Golf crowds at events are still sparse despite tickets being exceedingly cheap on the secondary ticket market. The attendance, which LIV Golf does not announce, is roughly one-fourth of what would be expected for a PGA Tour event.The LIV Golf version of a fan village alongside the golf course has considerable energy, with myriad golf skill contest booths and food trucks that might evoke a county fair. There also seems to be a bar, with a line, at every turn.But there is something else noticeable about the fan village. A giant screen was showing the golf taking place over on the course. I checked several times over three days, and while there were hundreds of fans standing and sitting around inside the village, it was rare to see anyone even glance briefly at the screen.The competition, for all its newness, does resemble an elite golf tournament with the kind of booming drives and deft short games that only the world’s best players hit. Dustin Johnson won the 54-hole event on Sunday in a playoff over Joaquin Niemann and Anirban Lahiri.But especially early on, some of the usual tension of a PGA Tour event, where the understanding is that a victory can be career-changing, was missing. On the driving range and the practice putting green before play begins, the atmosphere was unusually light and carefree — as if most of them knew that they had already been paid handsomely with guaranteed, upfront money. Which, of course, is the case.But LIV Golf is in its infancy, and its baby steps have included the successful, stunning recruitment of a sizable number of prominent golfers — a flock that very few thought could be assembled so rapidly. The circuit has now played half of its scheduled tournaments, and it is not going away.Monahan, the PGA Tour chieftain, is highly unlikely to consider Norman’s jumping out of an airplane a challenge that he must respond to in kind. But gaudy gestures aside, the new reality of men’s golf is that neither LIV Golf, which seemed to drop out of nowhere, nor the established PGA Tour is backing down. More

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    With the PGA Tour Season Over, LIV Golf Looks to Strengthen Its Foothold

    Cameron Smith, the No. 2 player in the world, is among six veteran players who will make their debuts for the breakaway series at an event outside Boston this weekend.BOLTON, Mass. — Roughly 11 weeks ago in the Boston suburbs, men’s professional golf welcomed the game’s best players to the 122nd U.S. Open. Five days before that event began, the inaugural LIV Golf tournament in England was ending; it was largely treated as an anomalous curiosity.When Phil Mickelson, the well-compensated headliner of the Saudi-backed LIV Golf tour, played his first holes at the U.S. Open, he was greeted politely, but the gallery also loudly snickered when one fan yelled: “Sellout!” At the conclusion of the championship, many in the tradition-bound golf community found amusement in noting the dreadful play of the small gaggle of LIV-aligned golfers, most especially Mickelson, who missed the cut with a score of 11 over par.On Friday, another Boston suburb will host the fourth LIV Golf tournament. But no one is laughing at the upstart circuit anymore.Since the June midpoint of this year’s golf season, the breakaway circuit, financed by the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia, has lured away a deep collection of top golfers from the PGA Tour and coerced the rattled Tour into hurriedly adopting fundamental systemic changes to remain competitive.Even after the more-established PGA Tour ended its 2021-22 season on Sunday, LIV Golf continued to seize the spotlight by announcing its biggest talent acquisition, the signing of Cameron Smith, the world’s second-ranked male golfer and the reigning British Open champion. Smith, 29, was joined by five other PGA Tour veterans, including Joaquin Niemann of Chile, who is 23 years old and ranked 19th, and Harold Varner III, a 32-year-old American who is ranked 46th.Unlike nearly every one of his predecessors who have abandoned the PGA Tour for the rival series, Smith, who was reportedly paid $100 million to join LIV Golf, did not try to shamelessly deny that money played a factor in his decision. But he spent considerable time describing how the shorter LIV Golf schedule would allow him to spend more time in his native Australia, adding that he had not been home in three years. And he harped on a familiar theme — a feeling that LIV Golf offered a refreshing, youthful vibe — that has been preached by other defectors, each of whom did so fully aware that they would be suspended from participating on the PGA Tour.“I think this is the future of golf — I think it’s been the same for a very, very long time, and it needs to be stirred up a little bit,” Smith said. “I think it needs to change. I kind of see this as a new chapter in my life.”Harold Varner III said he was stunned by the negative comments on social media his decision to join LIV Golf engendered.Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesOn Friday, Smith, Niemann and Varner will play in the first of three rounds of the 54-hole LIV Golf event at the International Golf Club in Bolton, Mass., a small town about 40 miles west of Boston.Protests and controversy about LIV Golf’s financial backing have dogged each of the series’ three previous events, which were held outside London, near Portland, Ore., and at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J. A similar reaction may occur in Bolton, a town of about 5,600, which has made a designated area near a golf spectators’ parking lot available to protesters.Varner conceded that when his decision to commit to LIV Golf was announced on Tuesday, he was stunned by the negative comments on social media it engendered. Varner, a popular PGA Tour player and one of the few Black golfers in tour or major championship fields, said he took the time to read each of the derogatory remarks, even though he was cautioned not to.“I’m not ashamed of being Harold,” Varner said, then added: “But it was terrible. Who likes to be hated? I hate being hated. I’d rather not even be known than be hated.”But Varner, who earned $10.4 million in prize money on the PGA Tour, said he took LIV Golf’s upfront signing bonus — his payment has not been disclosed — to protect his family financially. Noting his modest upbringing in Gastonia, N.C., Varner said: “For a kid that grew up where I grew up, it was an opportunity for me to just make sure my kid never would be in that situation — ever — and that means the world to me.”Amid all the buzz and tumult the LIV Golf venture has created, one unequivocal reality has emerged about this summer’s disruption to golf’s status quo: There will be a lot more prize money distributed to virtually every top professional player. Late last month, the PGA Tour suddenly revealed that beginning next season the average purse for 12 of its existing events, plus an additional four tournaments yet to be named, would be $20 million. That’s a sizable jump in player earnings, and, not coincidentally, closely mimics the prize money available at the eight LIV Golf events this year.The PGA Tour also announced it was augmenting the Player Impact Program it began last year that paid 10 top players from a $40 million pool based on their popularity as measured by internet searches, general golf fan awareness, mentions in the media and broadcast exposure. The new program will now reward twice as many players from a bonus pool that has ballooned to $100 million.And finally, the tour plans to guarantee lower-level players $500,000 in annual earnings and a travel stipend for missed cuts at tournaments.Joaquin Niemann of Chile, who is ranked 19th in the world, also left the PGA Tour.Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesIt is entirely conceivable, even probable, that had the PGA Tour implemented these changes a month before this year’s U.S. Open, the LIV Golf series might have largely remained the afterthought that most in golf expected it to be three months ago. Although, upfront payouts of $100 million, or even $200 million, which Mickelson reportedly received, may have changed the golf landscape regardless.As another LIV Golf event dawns, and the PGA Tour goes into what is typically its off-season, much is undecided, and there is intrigue about what will happen next. How could there not be? The sport is in the midst of an unprecedented showdown with hundreds of millions of dollars at stake.But waiting on the sidelines are golf’s most influential power brokers, and they are the leaders of the four separate governing bodies overseeing the men’s major championships: the Masters Tournament, the P.G.A. Championship (which is not run by the PGA Tour), the U.S. Open and the British Open.The leaders of each of these entities have conspicuously avoided praising LIV Golf this year. Some have been downright dismissive and contemptuous of golf’s new tour. These groups may hold golf’s future in their hands, with the reserved, assiduously circumspect officials of the Augusta National Golf Club getting the first opportunity to make a profound statement for 2023.One thing is certain. The severe splintering of men’s golf may have been unforeseen back at the U.S. Open in June, but the brightly colored LIV Golf banners sprouting in another Boston suburb this week — they read, “Golf, but louder” — prove how much has changed in such a short time. More