For all the talk of calm weather and vulnerable old strips of land, it’s been impossible to ignore the louder conversation on the sides – the one about storms and a vulnerable old game stripped of a few pretenses.
We have long been conditioned to golf’s superior mind greatness and yet here at his spiritual home for the 150th Open Championship, the dirty side of his coin will catch the sun.
It will be presented via the controversial presence of 24 players who won the money to join Greg Norman’s merry band of sidekicks and sponges. It will be highlighted by the cheeky LIV logos on the sleeves and Patrick Reed’s cap. It will be presented in the absence of sponsors on the equipment of Phil Mickelson and that of the other human wrecks.
Phil Mickelson’s Unsponsored Open Gear Will Showcase Golf’s Dirty Side
The political and moral chaos wrought by their defection to a Saudi-backed golf series in the sportswashing business has successfully hijacked one of Britain’s sporting great opportunities.
Tiger Woods, normally so reserved in these briefings, spoke about it. Just like Rory McIlroy, more convincing than ever. And when the R&A got involved yesterday, they came in with spikes showing – that was par for the week.
As Martin Slumbers, Managing Director of R&A said, “Professional golfers have the right to choose where they want to play and to accept whatever prize money is offered to them. I have absolutely no problem with that.
“But there is no free lunch. I believe the pattern we have seen (in the first two LIV events) is not in the best long term interest of the sport as a whole and is driven entirely by money.
Patrick Reed donned three LIV Golf tour logos while training at The Open on Wednesday
“I would also like to say that in my opinion the ongoing commentary that it is about ‘growing the game’ is simply not credible and, on the contrary, harms the perception of our sport.”
He has. And so we keep waiting and wondering what will happen next in this horrible civil war. What happens to the Ryder Cup? To the points of the world ranking? And will the PGA Tour’s ban on LIV golfers stand up to legal scrutiny?
If so, will this be the backdoor through which the majors impose a barrier on rebels, on the grounds that those whose tour is suspended could be declared ineligible? Sportsmail understands that such an avenue is under consideration, and if successful, will this Open at St Andrews be the last in the foreseeable future to boast all the best players in the world?
Reed joined Pat Perez in blaming the PGA Tour for their exit to the Saudi breakaway
That would mean tournaments without six men who have shared 10 of 29 majors since the last Open here in 2015 – Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau, Reed and Sergio Garcia.
Old or on the slide, was the whispered retort. But really? In his time, Johnson is arguably the best player in the world. In galleries, Mickelson is the most popular outside of Woods. At each other’s throats, DeChambeau and Koepka were a miniseries. At a Ryder Cup, Garcia is second to none. Reed? Keep it.
The conversations are no less frantic around Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter, also present. Inescapable in all of this is the fear that, regardless of what the lawyers decide, golf will come to resemble boxing. Not only for the bruises, but also for the fragmentation of governance that deprives us of the best by facing the best.
Norman, a character more ridiculous by the day, and ostracized this week from a tournament he won twice, didn’t include that in his speeches that sound like the ravings of a cult leader.
Which is not to say that it is the only entity ruled by self-interest in this mix of politics and morality: the DP World Tour took Saudi money, the R&A Golf Saudi listing as an affiliate and the PGA Tour have always had their own burning. craving for gold.
What should therefore not be too confused is the ethical debate around Saudi money, as this is a separate issue and obviously not part of the factional squabbles.
Stars like Bryson DeChambeau (pictured) risk being banned from all four major tournaments in 2023 for defecting to the Saudi-backed LIV series, as revealed exclusively by Mail+
It brings emotion and outcry to their cause, which may be helpful, but it’s not their battleground. The crux for them is competition – tours don’t want a hostile rival that would weaken them.
It was interesting on that front to watch Slumbers’ response to Sportsmail’s questions on Tuesday.
As commendable as he had been about the LIV threat, he bordered on the larger question of whether golf in general should be taking money from a country where human rights abuses man are also pronounced, finally declaring: “I am very comfortable in golf on a world scale”. more and more people and sport being a force for good.
It’s the kind of line that can make you sigh, even though it’s become the standard response in so many sports.
R&A chief Martin Slumbers slammed LIV defectors ahead of start of 150th Open
No doubt golf will be more than enough of an antidote this week. Woods is back, who should be cherished for as long as we can tell. McIlroy will bring the usual question of whether his brilliance can be sustained for four rounds.
Matt Fitzpatrick will swing with the confidence of a new big winner. Will Zalatoris, so close so often for a 20-month tour newbie, has the form and the game to beat them all. There are so many stories to tell.
And what will this famous and beautiful old course and its small par-fours offer among them? Is it a relic at the mercy of modern technology in calm weather? Is a round of 59 expected if the weather is as good as expected? And is that even a problem?
Compared to other threads, not really.