Open Championship 2022: LIV Golf brings fear to the home of the sport

Golf

Through Martin Rogers
FOX Sports columnist

There’s so much to love about the Open Championship in golf, also known as the British Open (for Americans only and to the displeasure of the Brits).

The charm of an event that has now been taking place for 150 years is increased many times over when the cycle switches to the Old Course in St Andrews, home of the historic game, as it did this year.

Tiger Woods fell in love with the place early in his career and still refuses to stay anywhere but Room 269 at the Old Golf Course Hotel, a tribute to the number of shots he made to win the Open in 2000 to win.

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Bunkers, a staple of any course, originated here. And without these craters, created by local sheep huddled to shelter from the howling storms of Scotland’s east coast, they might never have become part of the Gulf fabric.

St Andrews is a sporting pilgrimage site. Golf has been played there for so long that historical figures have tussled around the weather-beaten links – even the pioneering monarch, Mary Queen of Scots, was enamored with the course.

It’s where the game’s disciples flock, and not just at tournament time. Those who have played there say it is golf like nowhere else, as if a magical spell has been cast on the ancient game.

It’s the kind of place that, frankly, should be immune to petty bickering. Unfortunately, when play started at Thursday’s Open, that wasn’t the case.

The fear, of course, revolves around the presence of the group of golfers from the breakaway LIV Tour. It’s “natural” because nowadays no golf story is complete without talking about LIV. This was the furore caused by former Open champion Greg Norman’s group, which is controversially funded by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, amid claims of “sports laundry”.

Norman has poked and prodded the golf establishment at every step, and some of his comments, particularly in defense of his employers, have missed the mark. However, this week at least it is not the League of Upstarts but the hallowed organization of the Royal and Ancient (R&A) – which oversees St Andrews and is also one of the governing bodies of golf – who are behaving in a way that is not theirs his condition.

For the championships, the R&A did not put restrictions on banning LIV players – there are 23 of them here – although bans have been passed on to defectors by the PGA Tour’s angry leaders.

However, St Andrews officials have gone out of their way to give LIV players a metaphorical cold shoulder in a way that comes across as quite silly.

First, Norman was the only former champion not invited to the celebrations surrounding the 150th tournament as the R&A didn’t want a distraction from the event. Of course, Norman’s expulsion had the opposite effect and created a new wave of headlines around LIV.

Next, none of the LIV players were included in the list for the pre-tournament press conferences, even though they included Major winners Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Phil Mickelson and Louis Oosthuizen. The latter two are former Open champions and all four would normally be allotted media time between Monday and Wednesday.

Then the start times and pairings for the first two rounds contained another series of crass bits. In the majors, it’s typical for elite – and popular – players to form groups that have strong fan appeal.

With its decisions, the R&A seems determined to humiliate the breakaways as much as possible.

Mickelson will play his first two rounds with Lucas Herbert and Kurt Kitayama, both good players but also completely unknown to those who don’t follow golf weekly. DeChambeau will star with Cameron Tringale and 56-year-old John Daly, who plays on a former champion’s exemption. Etc.

No golfer should expect a premium groupset and it shouldn’t make much of a difference anyway, but it was nonetheless harrowing to see the R&A stoop to such sophistry.

The golf divide is real and present. It’s up to players to decide if they want to chase the money and accept the resulting backlash. And it’s up to the fans to overcome the moral dilemma and decide whether to take their eyes off what has been a pretty entertaining product so far.

While it’s R&A’s right to partake in the taunts from both sides, it’s also a shame that such a respected old organization is doing so in such a trivial way.

The R&A’s actions, combined with their threat to change the qualification criteria to make it harder for LIV golfers next year, will surely draw cheers from those who see LIV as a devastating threat to the global fabric of golf.

But it’s complicated because the R&A is no purer than pure on this subject.

The government-backed Saudi National Golf Association is a registered member of the R&A. The DP World Tour, formerly the European Tour, is closely associated with the R&A – and last year hosted the Saudi International as one of its key events.

“(It) makes the R&A feel a little bit like Caddyshack,” he wrote Guardian’s Andy Bulland argues that the authorities’ clumsiness could be a ruse that backfires.

These are strange times for golf, where sooner or later something has to give way, which is all the more evident because the tournament is being played at the most traditional venue ever.

The uncertainty is staggering for a game that’s been around for so long, and the rumble of discontent is strong enough – it seems – that even golf’s most famous entities are acting out of character.

Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and author of the FOX Sports Insider newsletter. YHere you can subscribe to the daily newsletter.


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