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LIV Golf Invitational: Centurion Club to host event that threatens to blow up elite men’s golf

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Ian Poulter donned a letterbox outfit after helping Europe beat the USA at the 2018 Ryder Cup in Paris

Ian Poulter cried as he hugged his son Luke on the 18th green of Le Golf National.

The Englishman had just completed the victory over Dustin Johnson to bring Europe within a point of what was now an inevitable Ryder Cup success against the United States.

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“That’s why you train so hard, son,” Poulter whispered in the youngster’s ear as they kissed on that hitting surface – for glorious moments like this nearly of four years.

It seems like a distant memory now.

This week, Poulter is jeopardizing the chance to once again enjoy the unique sporting glory that makes the Ryder Cup the most popular golf event on the planet.

It’s a game where not a penny is exchanged. It’s about winning, losing and participating. It is top sport in its purest form.

Instead, the man they call Mr Ryder Cup – the postman who always delivers for his continent – is one of those receiving. And he said yes to an offer that, in monetary terms, is too good to refuse.

This week, the 46-year-old returns to his native Hertfordshire, in defiance of established tours where he plied his trade with distinction for two-and-a-half decades, with a bloated back pocket overflowing with Saudi cash.

He is one of 48 players who will take part at the Centurion Club, 30 miles north of London, in the opening tournament of the LIV Golf Invitational Series, a project led by former world number one Greg Norman.

He threatens to blow up elite-level men’s professional golf.

He joins other Ryder Cup heroes such as Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia, Graeme McDowell and Martin Kaymer – the German who so thrillingly crowned the ‘Miracle in Medina’ 10 years ago.

Forget the glory – though we never will. Now it’s all about the money and there’s a lot to do.

Ironically, Johnson, the man Poulter beat in France, is the headline, for a reported signing fee of $150m (£119m). That’s ahead of competing in the first of eight $25 million events that offer a first prize of $4 million and a last place prize of $120,000.

This is a big-budget power struggle where Saudi wealth offered by the Kingdom’s vast Public Investment Fund (PIF) aims to shatter the status quo and rewrite the future of golf.

And before we get too romantic about the relative innocence and sporting purity of the Ryder Cup, we must also remember that professional golf, at its essence, has always been about financial rewards.

The very first cash games of the 19th century, the big betting business, led to the establishment of tournaments that paid cash prizes.

They evolved into formalized circuits which led to the creation in 1968 of the PGA Tour and which itself was a breakaway from the Professional Golfers’ Association.

For decades, this preeminent tour seemed an untouchable force, keeping the less lucrative European tour in its place and fending off Norman’s first attempt to institute a world tour in the mid-1990s.

But now the Aussie is back and with a hugely well-funded revenge. The PGA Tour and DP World Tours have both refused waivers from their players to allow them to participate in Norman’s series.

Poulter and co face penalties, possible bans and fines, for their participation – although none are known until players put it on the line on Thursday. Future Ryder Cup roles are in jeopardy for some of the biennial game’s true legends.

It’s a competition that particularly helps support the DP World Tour – formerly known as the European Tour – and while its future is in doubt, the characters who have been at the heart of it may be missing.

More immediately, the LIV impact is felt in the United States. Kevin Na, the 37-year-old American, has resigned from the PGA Tour to put himself out of the reach of possible punishment for joining the LIV project.

Some scoff at the fact that he is a relative non-entity with a reputation for slow play and not a loss. But that ignores the significance of his unprecedented move.

A player who took in more than $37 million in prize money has now turned his back on what used to be the most lucrative circuit in professional golf.

The PGA Tour, like most golfing jurisdictions, is not in a frenzy but there is no doubt that it is busy plotting its next moves knowing that costly litigation seems inevitable and its opponents have extraordinarily deep pockets.

His European counterpart is bound by a formal strategic alliance and the jury is out on whether this is a source of strength or leaves him relatively helpless, crippled and beholden to his American partner.

There is some concern among rank and file players on the European Tour, concerned about limited playing opportunities during the summer months.

“The players are not happy at all,” a DP World player told me last week. “We’re sold down the river.”

He pointed to the dwindling number of lucrative Rolex Series events and that next month’s Scottish Open is now jointly sanctioned with the PGA Tour, which severely limits the number of local players who can participate.

Then there is the moral dimension of the LIV series. Few players have spoken out against the Saudi funding, but it is a regime accused of washing down the sport of a kingdom heavily criticized for its human rights record.

Whataboutery has become more and more prevalent. What about Europe’s ties to DP World, historical ties to the Middle East and the PGA Tour’s trade relationship with China?

What about Saudi Arabia’s forays into other sports such as Formula 1, its ownership of Newcastle United and hosting huge boxing events?

The difference here is that they didn’t try to shake up these sports like they’re trying to do with golf. It is an existential threat to the status quo.

LIV is tearing up the way the professional game is played. Fifty-four (LIV in Roman numerals) rather than 72 holes, a “shotgun” shotgun start to reduce the television viewing window to more manageable proportions and a team element.

This, they claim, will lead to team franchises – Indian Premier League style – an influx of money and for Saudi Arabia ultimately a return on their massive investment of almost £2billion. . Norman says he will have a 14-tournament super league in place by 2024.

If they managed to turn Johnson’s head less than three months after the former Masters and US Open winner pledged his adamant allegiance to the PGA Tour, who else could follow?

Right now, LIV’s cast list is populated by fading stars who are nearing the end of their careers, Richard Bland as well as those former Ryder Cup stalwarts and young hopefuls looking for safety. financial.

But what will become of Oli Fisher, Sam Horsfield and Laurie Canter if bigger names are finally attracted? Yes, they got a living wage, but will they have a place to play afterwards? Perhaps the Asian Tour which is now backed by LIV and staged its first event outside the continent at Slaley Hall in Northumberland last weekend – which is another headache for the DP World chief Tower, Keith Pelley.

Another big unknown right now is whether fans have bought into the new event. Three-day land passes are sold out, according to LIV’s website. Over the weekend, Westwood and Bland both tweeted promo codes offering free day tickets to the first 100 registrants. Monday noon, the codes were still working.

These were tumultuous, unpredictable times when Poulter embraced his son with such emotion and basked in the pure joy of pure sporting success in 2018.

On the downside, it’s hard to see where the glory lies in this week’s event near Hemel Hempstead. Organizers insist it’s in London for global impact, the kind of marketing distortion that comes with doing business in its purest form.

Yes, money has always been the main driver of professional gambling. But, make no mistake, golf has never had a week like the one it’s currently embarking on, let alone the fallout to come.

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