SPORTSPEOPLE OF THE YEAR: THE LOYALISTS WHO WANT LIV TO DIE
The sham golf tour, funded by blood money, isn’t moving the U.S. needle — and eventually, as the PGA establishment keeps attacking, the Saudi sportswashers will lose patience regardless of wealth
LIV and let die. It’s a takeoff on a tune, written by Sir Paul McCartney, that was composed for a James Bond movie and later desecrated by Axl Rose. It now should serve as our death-wish theme for LIV Golf, the collective of greedy, geopolitically ignorant traitors who’ve taken the blood money of Saudi Arabian killers, only to realize during a lost weekend in Oregon that they have no sporting relevance beyond their avarice.
Who won the breakaway tour’s first event on American soil? Branden Grace, a journeyman from South Africa who never has moved a needle, much less one in a haystack. How many viewers watched? It’s safe to say more people booked reservations for bays at Topgolf — the wildly popular, swing-and-suds tech experience with 86 locations in six countries — than saw any portion of a live stream on LIVGolf.com, YouTube and Facebook. How many spectators found their way to Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club? Seems organizers were too embarrassed to announce an official figure, but, hey, there were plenty of jugglers on unicycles.
“What a great day,” gushed Grace, clearly speaking only for himself after pocketing $4 million, or $1.3 million more than Scottie Scheffler claimed in the highest-ever winning payout at this year’s Masters.
All of which only should nourish the campaign of the sport’s loyalists, who deserve our undying admiration in their passionate anti-LIV outcry. If we haven’t already ceded Sportsperson of the Year to Steph Curry, keep an eye on the traditionalists trying to save golf from Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau and rogue ringleader Greg Norman. Every time a PGA Tour defector drops a sickening comment about aligning with a Saudi government aiming to deodorize its human rights atrocities — golf billions won’t fumigate the stench, as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman should be apprised — a hero steps up with a reminder: The essence of sports, now more than ever, should center around a deep love of the game.
It should not revolve around a row of dollar signs followed by nine digits and two commas, as gifted by the worst people imaginable. And the more we absorb from LIV’s clumsy takeover attempt, it’s more obvious that the words of love-the-game, hate-the-greed romantics such as Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm — along with the conspicuous silence of Tiger Woods — ultimately will carry the most weight in golf’s holy war. Yes, the Saudis have no shortage of oil billions to throw at sportswashing. But at some point, even they will run out of patience if the masses aren’t paying much attention, and as long as the best current players remain true to their word and reject LIV riches, the renegade circuit won’t resonate.
Fact: LIV has failed to poach every player in the top 15 of the official world rankings, including Rahm, McIlroy, Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth and the two top Americans, No. 1 Scheffler and No. 4 Collin Morikawa. Fact: LIV doesn’t have a network TV deal and won’t for a long time, if ever, because U.S. media companies have longstanding relationships with the PGA Tour and the major championships. Fact: Mickelson is an old, bitter man capable of gambling away his $200 million fee. Fact: The best years of Koepka and Johnson — and most others funded by the Saudis — are behind them. Fact: If you want to watch the elite golf experience, in a sport considered niche as it is, stick with the traditional viewing platter of majors mixed with PGA events and the Ryder Cup.
In due time, the faux tour will expose itself as the sports version of Theranos.
The LIV propagandists returned with full thunder in recent days, as a small town on Portland’s fringes angrily held its nose for the first U.S. installment of the shameless money grab. First up was DeChambeau, a reported $100 million-plus richer and now seen as a revolutionary for all the wrong reasons. “Golf is a force for good, and I think as time goes on, hopefully people will see the good that they are doing and what they are trying to accomplish rather than looking at the bad that's happened before," he said, brazenly defending the murderers who took the lives of thousands on 9/11 and more recently killed journalist Jamal Khashoggi. “I think moving on from that is important, and going and continuing to move forward in a positive light is something that could be a force for good for the future of the game."
Imagine, DeChambeau advising us to “move on” from a world-altering terrorist attack when he can’t figure out how many protein shakes to gulp. Next to speak was Koepka, another American betrayer, repeating the same “force for good’’ mantra brainwashed into their heads. “People are allowed to have their opinions. You know, we’ve heard it,” he said. “But, look, like we said, our only job is to go play golf, and that’s all we’re trying to do. We’re trying to grow the game, do all this other stuff. And we’re trying the best we can.”
Pathetic truth be known, they aren’t trying hard at all. The turncoats took the easy path to filthy riches, and all are lying if they claim today that they love the game more than their swelled bank accounts. To call them “sellouts” is the understatement of the century. Sergio Garcia actually said, “If we can help any country or any place in the world, that’s what we are going to do” — and then announced a new logo and nickname for the team competition, as if it mattered, with Johnson and his Four Aces squad winning the hokey sideshow over rivals such as Niblicks, Majesticks and Cleeks. And did well-traveled Pat Perez, who is 46 with only three career PGA Tour wins, show up at a LIV welcome party with a shirt emblazoned with $100 bills?
“This opportunity,” he said, “is like winning the lottery for me.”
Fortunately, the backlash against LIV’s moral failings is coming from more than disgusted media and outraged fans. Quick to point out that LIV events — each offering $25 million in total purse — only invite tank jobs and complacency, the PGA establishment continues to pillory the scam.
“To be perfectly honest, I just wish one of them would have the balls to say I’m doing this for the money,” said Thomas, two-time majors winner. “Like, I personally would gain a lot more respect for that. But it’s just the more the players keep talking and saying that this is for the betterment of the game, the more agitated and irritated I get about it.”
The vast majority of loyalists honors the PGA Tour as the mechanism that enabled their one-percenter lives. They acknowledge that monopolies aren’t healthy for sports and need competition — seen decades ago when the AFL and ABA successfully challenged the NFL and NBA and forced mergers. The obvious difference: Dirty money wasn’t involved. That’s what disgusts a lifer such as Hall of Famer Fred Couples, who now considers Mickelson a former friend. “These guys — you’ve seen their interviews, right? Have you ever seen Phil look so stupid in his life? They know it’s a joke,” he said. On cue. U.S. Ryder Cup team Zach Johnson was warning American golfers in the LIV series that they likely won’t be chosen for next year’s matches.
The loudest critic continues to be McIlroy, who ripped Johnson for flip-flopping from his original anti-LIV stance. “I’m surprised about a lot of these guys, because they say one thing and then they do another. I don’t understand,’’ he said. “It’s pretty duplicitous on their part to say one thing and then do another thing, in public and in private.”
The Open Championship arrives next week at St. Andrews, where Woods plans to limp around his favorite course in his latest show of post-accident perseverance. Before he does, expect him to deliver a vigorous rebuke of All Things LIV, which offered him close to $1 billion to be its public face. For now, nothing matches the fury of Rahm, the world’s third-ranked player behind Scheffler and McIlroy.
“Truth be told, I could retire right now with what I've made and I'd live a very happy life and not play golf again. So I've never really played the game of golf for monetary reasons,” he said. “I play for the love of the game, and I want to play against the best in the world. I've always been interested in history and legacy, and right now the PGA Tour has that.”
They won’t have to talk much longer. All it takes, to remind the world of LIV’s shame, are continuing appearances by family members and survivors of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. They gathered at a news conference on the tournament’s first day and fired wicked tee shots at the defectors, with Brett Eagleson — whose father was one of nearly 3,000 victims on 9/11 — taking aim at Mickelson. “Be a man, step up, accept the truth of who you’re getting into bed with,” he said. We’re only 21 years removed from the horror that traumatized most of us, but the LIV mob has chosen to ignore the haunting truth — 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi Arabia citizens.
Nor was it a good idea to have the first U.S. event in Oregon, where a Saudi college student struck and killed a 15-year-old pedestrian, Fallon Smart, in an alleged 2016 hit-and-run. Before the student could face charges, the Saudis arranged for him to flee back home. “Fallon Smart, 2000-2016,” read a sign held by a protester outside the front gate.
If the LIV rebels think the most vocal hatred is behind them, consider the site of their next event on July’s final weekend.
Trump National Golf Club, Bedminster, N.J.
I’d rather go to Topgolf. You too?
Jay Mariotti, called “without question the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes general sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts and shows in production today. He is an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and talk/podcast host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects.