LIV golfers, paid upfront, tee off their way around Trump Bedminster

LIV golfers, paid upfront, tee off their way around Trump Bedminster

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BEDMINSTER, NJ – Four-time major golf champion Brooks Koepka sat in a golf cart with wife Jenna Sims on his lap Saturday, both laughing as the cart made its way to the golf course.

It was a snapshot of a great summer in New Jersey.

But what makes this scene special is Koepka’s second round of the LIV Golf Tournament at Trump Bedminster Golf Club. Typically, the first tee shot at a professional golf tournament is full of stress, anxiety, and pressure. After all, the seven-figure payday is online.

The light-hearted Koepka-Sims cart ride, while harmless fun, highlighted the impact of guaranteed nine-figure contracts earned by top players on the Saudi-sponsored LIV golf tour. Koepka reportedly received more than $100 million to join the secessionist circuit.

No wonder he and his wife are laughing.

As LIV Golf wrapped up its third event this year on Sunday, there was an unmistakable air of nonchalance about the action, with everyone thinking they got their money’s worth. That’s because there were dozens, and even the player who finished last was guaranteed a $120,000 payout (with travel and accommodation expenses reimbursed for top players).

Henrik Stenson won the tournament and won $4 million.

Still, for all the attention on big prize money, the LIV Golf experience is enlightening and instructive in other less-than-ideal ways for professional golf. The Friday-through-Sunday vibe in northwestern New Jersey was younger, less crowded and more open to experimentation than the established PGA Tour. This means blasting high-energy music as golfers attempt to execute devilish putts or challenging chips. The Beastie Boys’ “(You To Party!) Fight For Your Right” won Dustin Johnson ($125 million in advance) in his first tee Sunday debut.

His bullet landed in a shield.

But many fans felt the energy in the area.

“You go to a traditional golf tournament and they tell you to shut up,” said Patrick Shields of Hackensack, N.J., after the 16th tee. “This is a sporting event, isn’t it?”

LIV Golf volunteers on the course carried crowd control signs meant to quiet fans, as is customary on the PGA Tour. The cards at the top read, “Zip it up” or “Shhhh.”

Although, just as important, the volunteers never had to come into contact with large crowds. Attendance for Sunday’s final round was a big improvement from the smaller gatherings of the first two rounds – usually only about 30 people around the green – but the total number of fans on the grounds Sunday did not exceed several thousand. .

A quick guide to the LIV Golf Series

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A new series. The launch of the Saudi-funded LIV Golf Series has raised long-standing questions about athletes’ moral obligations and desire to compete and make money. Here’s what you need to know:

The average PGA Tour event draws about 20,000 fans each day. LIV Golf officials declined to disclose attendance numbers. In fact, a weekend pass for the event can be purchased for $2 on the second ticket market. The main financial backing of the rebel circuit, Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, could certainly have played a role in the modest turnout of supporters. As Phil Mickelson prepared to hit his first shot in the opening seconds of the event on Friday, he was yelled at by someone who shouted, “Do it for the Saudi royal family.”

Overall, the new tour doesn’t have enough big-name golfers to draw crowds, at least so far. Mickelson is tied, but it’s decided he played the worst golf of his career after opting to settle for a rebel circuit. And after Koepka, Johnson, a few golfers past their prime and Bryson DeChambeau, who has been struggling to contend, the average golf fan looking at the leaderboard this weekend might be confused.

On the ninth hole Saturday, Justin Harding, ranked 123rd in the world, hit his golf ball onto the green, where it landed near the bar of the Mammoth concession stand. Bars were well-attended for three days, and as Harding faced a difficult uphill chip to the green, about 20 spectators spilled out of the bar as he tried to make a save.

After Harding began to step out of the hole about three feet from the hole, a young boy nearby turned and asked, “Dad, who’s that?” he asked.

“I have no idea,” said the father.

It can be chalked up to growing pains, and LIV Golf officials have also been saying privately that the group portion of the tournament, which runs concurrently with the individual tournament, is providing a real key appeal. They think of four-man teams built on nationalism, like a bunch of Australians, Japanese, English, South Africans. This could theoretically help sell LIV’s tour internationally.

At the county fair’s small merchandise trailer in the event’s fan village, the sales racks were packed with T-shirts, hats and golf shirts, promoting team names: Aces, Crushers and Majesticks, etc.

But other than the biennial Ryder and Presidents Cups, there is no precedent for American golf fans rooting for any group of players. That may change, but on Sunday, the merchandise trailer racks still had plenty of team apparel. Best sellers were the T-shirt emblazoned with “Bedminster” and the white LIV golf hat.

And with the main PGA Tour season ending in late August, there’s likely to be another wave of defectors to the intersectional circuit, which will continue to host sponsored events around the world until late October. And then all eyes will turn to Augusta National Golf Club, where he will host the Masters in April. As there have been in governing bodies at other major championships, there have been indications that many LIV golfers may not be particularly welcome at Augusta.

Or at that point, would the rival tours begin some sort of negotiation that might lead to coexistence?

On Sunday afternoon, as another LIV Series event wrapped up, dozens of golf carts were getting ready to take players back to the clubhouse. Not everyone laughs on the street, but no one goes home with an empty pocket.

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