Northern Plains – The new LIV Golf Invitational Series and upcoming event at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club have already produced a lot of drama. When the players blast off at the Portland-area stadium on Thursday afternoon, it will be the start of their first weekend.
Not only will this event be the first in North America for the Saudi-backed Junior League, it will also mark the debut for the many notable golfers who have helped give it credibility. Many of these players defended their decisions to join LIV Golf during an interview session with reporters on Tuesday, when faced with questions about the tour’s relationship to human rights abuses and how it would fit into the future of golf.
Four-time Masters Champion Brooks Koepka, 2020 US Open Champion Bryson DeChambeau and 2018 Masters Champion Patrick Reed are three of the newest players to make the leap from the PGA Tour. Joining the trio of Abraham Anser and Matthew Wolff are fellow PGA Tour winners 32 and under.
Their arrival marks a major victory for LIV Golf in its ongoing dispute with the PGA Tour, which has announced that it will suspend any player taking the course in the LIV event. Tensions increased further on Tuesday when the PGA Tour announced an alliance with the DP World Tour – a move that became public while DeChambeau and Anser Wolf spoke at Pumpkin Ridge.
It is no secret to anyone that the main motive for the split involves money. DeChambeau, at least, made no secret of it. He described his move as a “commercial decision”. Both he is And Koepka, along with the likes of Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson, received contracts of over $100 million to join the new tour.
“For me it was a personal business decision,” DeChambeau said. “I run and operate my own golf as a business, as well as my desire to be one of the best players in the world.”
The source of that money was the main reason for the controversy surrounding the LIV Golf. Al-Douri is funded by the Public Investment Fund, the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia. Critics have accused the Saudi government of trying to use the LIV Golf for “sportswashing,” improving its reputation by distracting attention from its record of human rights abuses. This includes the death of 15-year-old Portlander Fallon Smart, who was hit and killed by Abdul Rahman Samir Noura, a Saudi national, in August 2016. Noura fled to Saudi Arabia and was never brought to trial.
North Plains Mayor Terry Lenahan joined the mayors of 10 other cities in Washington County and signed a letter expressing opposition to LIV Golf coming to Pumpkin Ridge. Oregon Senator Ron Wyden has spoken. And last month, a group of nearly 2,500 survivors and family members of those killed in the September 11 terrorist attacks wrote an open letter to PGA Tour players thanking them for staying loyal to the Tour and not joining LIV Golf.
DeChambeau, Koepka and others were urged about whether they had any concerns about the source of their lucrative contracts and, unlike previous interview sessions, the journalists were not removed. In the exchanges that sometimes became combative, both of them shrugged off worry. The phrase “we are just golfers” has become a consistent imperative.
“They are allowed to give their opinions,” Koepka said, when asked about critics of LIV Golf. “We’ve heard it. I think everybody has it. It’s been brought up. But, look, like we said, our only job is to play golf, and that’s all we’re trying to do.”
DeChambeau, at least, demonstrated an awareness that financial support for LIV Golf is a sore topic and said he plans to use his lucrative new salary – and increased time between events – to give back to the community.
“It wasn’t just, ‘Oh, I’m selfish and I take all this,’” DeChambeau said. “It was more than, ‘How can this be good for the people around me?’ Now that I have this opportunity in front of me, what can I do? Well done in my California community where I grew up and in many other junior golf events and areas and other possibilities going forward? “
Players were more than willing to talk about the less controversial differences between LIV Golf and the PGA Tour — most notably, as DeChambeau hinted, a more player-friendly schedule that includes just eight events in 2022.
They also pointed out some other new wrinkles that will be on display this week. The Portland event will feature three rounds of 18-hole competition, as opposed to the four-day 72-hole format of the PGA Tour events. The start of the gun will see the entire field tee at the same time, scattered through different holes. Golfers will also be grouped into teams of four, with the top three teams at the end of the event receiving cash prizes.
The controversy surrounding LIV Golf and its US debut is unlikely to dissipate once the championship tournaments are over. But Reed expects team competition, as well as Pumpkin Ridge itself, to deliver plenty of drama inside the ropes.
“The golf course is pure,” Reid said. “It’s in immaculate condition. … It gives you so many different opportunities. There are so many different shots to take, you have to be creative in this place, and I really can’t wait for the action to really start, especially with playing on this team. Come on that last day, you have a chance to win, but at the same time, you’re trying to win for your team as well, and I just see this place has fireworks at the end.”
— Mitchell Fordy for The Oregonian / Oregon Live