By the time Team Trump reached the 10th tee, the acolytes were waiting in line. “That swing looks like another four years!” bellowed one as Donald carried the water with a decent drive. “You think Biden could do that?” asked the 45th president of the United States. “He wouldn’t even reach the [ladies’] tee.” Neither could Eric Trump, who topped his shot into an alligator-infested pond. The War on Drugs blared out in the background, secret service agents patrolled the fairways. We really are experiencing the wildest and weirdest of golfing times.
It is poetic that this $50m finale to LIV Golf’s maiden season is taking place at the Trump-owned Blue Monster at Doral. Many believe Saudi Arabia has created one with this ostentatious scheme, which finds itself in direct and frequently vicious conflict with golf’s traditional ecosystem.
The Doral Open was a PGA Tour event between 1962 and 2006, when Tiger Woods won the second of back-to-back titles. Woods prevailed again in 2007 in what had been rebranded as a World Golf Championship; the series of events created in part to stave off a Greg Norman-led challenge to the status quo. Norman, now front and centre of all things LIV, must chuckle at the coincidence of it all. Gone are the WGC-branded hats in the pro shop. In their place, Make America Great Again caps are $36 a pop.
The final staging of the WGC‑Cadillac Championship came in 2016, with a switch to Mexico City prompting a furious reaction from Trump. “I hope they have kidnapping insurance,” he said. Some believe LIV has stolen this sport’s heart. What is undeniable is that this body has shaken golf to its very foundations.
The assistance of $2bn from Saudi’s Public Investment Fund naturally helps with that but the sight of major champions carrying out media duties here in the past few days endorsed the sense that LIV has proven a lot of sceptics wrong. Trump played with two of those marquee names, Brooks Koepka and Sergio García, over successive nines on Thursday.
“It was fun, I enjoyed it,” said Koepka. “He didn’t give me any tips because he didn’t want me to beat him. But we had a great time, it’s always fun playing with him. He is actually a pretty good putter.” Professional golfers in the United States typically lean to the right, it should be noted.
Koepka had played his nine‑hole stretch in six under par, which served as a reminder that not every LIV golfer is bound for the knacker’s yard. It is clear the contingent in southern Florida have grown tired of questions about the morality of them accepting Saudi riches, feuds between tours and broken relationships. “I don’t have a problem,” said García when asked whether friendships had been broken beyond repair by LIV’s emergence. “You’re asking the wrong person. That’s all I’m going to say. I don’t have a problem with any one of them.”
This marks tournament eight of LIV’s controversial existence. Others, staged between London and Bangkok, have drawn intrigue without anybody outside hardened golf fans seeming particularly aware about winners or losers. A key problem for LIV is that it remains without a main broadcast deal, which limits its visibility. The continuing failure to receive acceptance from the Official World Golf Rankings is another fundamental barrier to progress, albeit LIV could argue with a degree of legitimacy that it has fallen victim to bruised egos on existing tours.
Adrián Otaegui, earlier a peripheral figure on LIV, won the DP World Tour’s Andalucia Masters and was promptly hauled back into the breakaway tent having become a useful commodity. It is the most fierce of power struggles. Trump, who was embarrassed by the WGC switch, is a willing participant. Norman continues to lurk in the shadows, which is intriguing given the scale of his LIV role.
Analysis of this weekend’s format – entirely based on teams – can trigger a sore head. LIV is not making golf simple again. Friday sees teams seeded from five to 12 – the top four have received a bye – compete in both individual and foursome matches. The higher ranked teams selected their opposition. With teams one to four joining Friday’s winners on Saturday, four groups will progress to the “Team Championship”. Day three is of stroke play, with the lowest aggregate score marking the overall winners. For their troubles, a share of $16m before LIV enters cold storage for the remainder of 2022.
Phil Mickelson, a haunted figure for most of this year, finally looks at ease. Koepka, who has battled persistent injury issues, does not have the demeanour of a man harbouring regrets. “I didn’t really have expectations coming into this, I was just happy to see how it went,” added the four-time major winner. “It has been great. You see a lot more smiles on peoples faces. I think everyone is genuinely happy. Caddies are treated like human beings, which is nice. I have seen both sides and not everyone has done that. The way everybody is treated is fantastic.”
Koepka’s sentiment will cause many to roll their eyes. There is scepticism over the extent to which LIV can grow into next year and beyond. An unmistakable truth, though, is that this has developed into sport’s ultimate disruption plan. Trump’s involvement merely adds to the sense of theatre.