MIAMI – A US$50-million (S$70.3 million) purse may be serious money but there was a laughter-filled start to the LIV Golf Series finale at Trump National Doral Golf Club on Wednesday as the Saudi-backed venture prepared to crown a first team champion.
While US$50 million represents the sport’s biggest-ever pay day, fun, not money, has been the reason most often given by players for jumping from the established PGA Tour to the controversial rebel circuit that brands itself as “Golf, But Louder”.
LIV Golf has challenged the traditions of the sport, opting for a rock-and-roll party vibe that offers a departure from classic golf etiquette and promising “Good vibes, great eats and live music” including Snoop Dogg on stage at the LIV party at a Miami Beach venue.
Play gets under way on Friday at the Blue Monster course with 12 four-man teams hunting a US$16-million winner’s prize but for the eight captains on the dais on Wednesday, including Major winners Phil Mickelson, Brooks Koepka, Cameron Smith and Bubba Watson, landing a good jibe seemed more important than money.
“You probably don’t know this because you’ve never been No. 1 in the world,” said four-time Major winner Koepka to Mickelson.
“That’s a beautiful green shirt. Do you have a green jacket?“ shot back three-time Masters champion Mickelson.
“I do not, but I will, though, don’t worry,” returned Koepka.
LIV Golf, bankrolled by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, reportedly paid out nearly US$1 billion to lure some of golf’s biggest names, such as Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau, away from the PGA Tour.
On top of his signing bonus, Johnson comes into this week having already banked US$13.6 million from seven events and Patrick Reed US$8.2 million from six tournaments.
World No. 1 Rory McIlroy, enjoyed the best year of his career last season, winning US$8.6 million from 16 PGA Tour stops.
Trying to replicate the excitement generated by hugely popular team competitions such as the Ryder and Presidents Cups, LIV Golf incorporated a team component into all eight events.
Mickelson’s team is called Hy Flyers GC and with the format forcing captain versus captain in the quarter-finals, he will face British Open champion Smith of Australia, the captain of Punch GC. The format is two singles matches and one foursomes alternate shot.
The stake on Friday is a place in Saturday’s semi-finals but those playing on losing teams will have the pain of defeat eased by a cheque for US$250,000 each.
The same format is used for Saturday’s semi-finals, where the losing teams will head out with US$3 million – US$750,000 for each of the four players.
Sunday’s final round is stroke play, with all four scores counting. The winning four will divide up US$16 million between them, dropping to US$4 million to the fourth-placed squad.
While innovative, the concept and an unfamiliar format has yet to establish itself.
Mickelson, once an anchor of US Ryder Cup squads, candidly described the LIV team event as a fun competition.
“There’s some elements of those team events that can apply, that knowledge and experience can help, and there’s some that simply don’t,” he said. “We don’t have anybody sitting out, and we don’t have the rich history and probably the pressure that those other events have, whereas this is really a fun event. Like we’re having a blast.” REUTERS, AFP