The story of day one of the LIV Golf International Series, the Greg Norman-backed and Saudi-backed venture that began with its inaugural event Thursday outside London, was never going to be about birdies and the bogeys.
The start of the rebel tour that came with a team element – which posed such a threat to the PGA Tour that the PGA Tour suspended one of its players who participated in it – is not about golf.
Not now anyway.
But first we will eliminate the golf part. Former Masters champion Charl Schwartzel, with a 5-under 65, leads the three-day, 54-hole event entering Day 2.
Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson, the two big names lured into the tour by guaranteed nine-figure Saudi money (Mickelson for $200 million and DJ for $125 million) are tied for seventh at 1 under the normal.
The essence of golf at this event is the players who edge out Mickelson and Johnson. Someone by the name of Hennie Du Plessis is in second place at 4 cents, followed by someone by the name of Phachara Khongwatmai and someone by the name of Scott Vincent, both at 3 cents.
The whole day, watched on a streaming show – available on YouTube, Facebook and the LIV Golf website – looked a bit like a golf tournament you’d watch on TV, but it looked odd, sometimes a little annoying. There were no commercials and lots of golf to watch.
The TV advertisers, paid to play this stuff as if it were bigger than the upcoming 150th anniversary of The Open Championship at St. Andrews in terms of pageantry and significance to the game’s history, did just that. .
And it was a bit comical. The same goes for claims by commentators that massive crowds on the course were watching the golf and how the event was “sold out”.
The folks at LIV Golf declined to announce actual attendance, but there was apparently an 8,000 cap. For context, the US Open at the Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts, next week will have around 35,000 fans per day.
Mickelson’s presence there also seemed strange. A reporter on the course interviewed him on the first tee moments before the first shots were hit and joked awkwardly about how she looked forward to seeing him “hit some bombs” and “see his calves” this week.
Mickelson didn’t wear any corporate logos on any of his clothes (they dropped it after his controversial comments about the Saudis and the PGA Tour were published in February). He too was oddly wearing a vest with a Masters logo that appeared to be blacked out.
The whole atmosphere of the tournament and the broadcast is clearly aimed at attracting a younger audience. The shotgun start for the 48-man field made the day of golf – about 4 rounds of 1.5 hours – go by quickly.
There were 25 black London cabs driving the players to their respective tees.
Speaking of 25, the total purse for the event is $25 million, the richest golf event ever.
Again there is a team element to the event, with team captains (Mickelson’s team is called ‘Hy Flyers’ and DJ’s is ‘Aces’).
But there are no world ranking points involved. There is no cut, not much atmosphere and no pressure since all the players on the pitch are going to make great dough at the end. So what is it? It’s a very expensive exhibition right now.
The strength of the 48-man field is as deep as a baby pool. After Johnson, the world ranking of players drops precipitously. And, quite frankly, there are a number of players on the course even the ardent golf fan would find hard to have heard of. See: Hennie Du Plessis, Phachara Khongwatmai and Scott Vincent, who by the way, was third in the Mickelson-DJ trio and beat them both by two strokes.
In total, 18 of the 48 players present are in the top 100 of the world ranking. This means that 30 are ranked outside the top 100, some well below. Only four players are in the top 50.
Here’s another element that doesn’t align with LIV Golf’s goal of trying to attract a younger audience to the game: only 20 players on the course are under 30 while 10 are over 40. Mickelson, the biggest and most popular name in the field, is also the oldest at 51.
In all honesty, it was just Day 1 of Tournament 1, and more big names are expected to join as this thing continues, starting with Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed, who both reportedly joined forces at Norman and will begin playing in the series’ second event this month in Oregon.
Don’t get me wrong: it’s kind of a spectacle and it’s an eye catcher. It will take some time to determine what its resistance is.