It didn’t take long for Henrik Stenson’s decision to join the Saudi-funded LIV Golf Invitational Series to pay off.
Less than a fortnight after the even-keeled Swede was stripped of Europe’s Ryder Cup captaincy with immediate effect for defecting to the controversial Saudi-backed circuit with a $50m signing fee , Stenson carded a final round 69 on Sunday afternoon to win LIV Golf’s third event by two strokes over Dustin Johnson and Matthew Wolff at Trump National Golf Club in the leafy township of Bedminster, New Jersey, 45 miles east. western New York.
“I guess we can agree that I played like a captain,” said Stenson, who netted $4 million for beating the pitch and another $375,000 for his team’s second-place finish, eye-watering sums that helped make up for the scathing reviews he endured. since reneging on his March promise by accepting the captaincy to fully support the DP Tour.
“I think there was maybe a bit more motivation this week,” he added. “When we as players have that, I think we can bring out the good stuff. I guess that’s been a bit of a theme over my career, I think, when I really want something, I manage to dig a little deeper, and often we manage to get there.
On the surface, he hit all the notes of a feel-good tale: a hard-earned return to the winner’s circle for a 46-year-old ranked 173rd in the world who hasn’t been there often since his record-breaking triumph at the 2016 Open. But as Stenson accepted the trophy alongside Donald Trump in a pepper fireworks ceremony that was oddly omitted from the official broadcast, while Donald Trump Jr declared it’s “the greatest F/U in the history of golf,” a prevailing gnawing sense of boredom that even the Chainsmokers’ post-game gig near the 10th hole couldn’t dispel.
The opprobrium that has come to define the Saudi sovereign wealth fund-funded upstart circuit was only amplified at the Bedminster Golf Club owned by a former US president whose role in fueling the US Capitol riot made still under investigation by a select committee of the House. Controversial, but stronger.
Trump drew attention throughout the proceedings, consistently drawing the biggest crowds of the weekend as he watched the competition from a custom-built terrace along the 16th tee with a rotating cast of VIPs that included Sunday Fox News pundit Tucker Carlson and far- brandon right Marjorie Taylor Greene.
The uncut 54-hole competition — devoid of significant stakes with no significant history or world ranking points at stake — felt more like a soft launch for Trump’s 2024 presidential race than an authentic sporting experience. Never more than in Sunday’s final round as the spontaneous chants of “Four more years!” and “Let’s go Brandon!” — a coded vulgarity among Trump supporters — reverberated throughout the Old Course.
The renegade circuit has lured some of the biggest names in the sport with eye-watering $25 million purses and nine-figure signing fees. It has also drawn strong reactions from critics who accuse the Saudi government of using sport to whitewash the kingdom’s dismal human rights record, alleged links to the 9/11 attacks, a harsh crackdown on human rights of women and LGBTQ+ and the 2018 murder of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal. Khashoggi.
But it doesn’t take an accountant to figure out why LIV Golf – despite sparse crowds in Bedminster and its modest streaming audience in the absence of a TV deal – has continued to poach one name after another from touring. established in golf. Consider Johnson, a two-time major champion who would have joined the $150 million signing fee, who has earned over $5.2 million in prize money in three LIV events so far. Splashy handbags don’t stop at the top of the charts either. Australian Jediah Morgan, who finished 14 times over par for the weekend, gaping 25 shots behind Stenson and dead last, took home $120,000 for his troubles. Good job if you can get it.
LIV Golf is here to stay, it seems. Next step: the Oaks course at the International near Boston in September. But Bedminster’s eerie scenes only showed how far he has to go to win over his doubters and bridge the gap in golf’s growing civil war.