The second leg of the LIV Golf Series opens Thursday in Portland, USA.
Founded thanks to the petrodollars of Saudi Arabia, this new circuit makes falter the old institutions, which react as they can.
Golfers have already been excluded from the PGA Tour in particular.
But the positive feedback is slow to come.
Each sport has its own burden.
Football has had (and may one day have) the Superleague, tennis is fighting against the new Davis Cup formula Gerard Piqué version, rugby had the absurd idea of integrating the South African provinces into its European Cup and golf has its LIV Tour.
A gargantuan project, created in 2021 and which kicked off at the beginning of June.
It aims to compete with the other circuits in place, and in particular the PGA, based on millions (billions) of dollars.
At the helm, Saudi Arabia, via its sovereign fund, the PIF.
Lagging behind the other Gulf petro-monarchies, such as Qatar or the United Arab Emirates, which have long invested in sport in order to diversify sources of income and no longer depend on oil, Saudi Arabia has launched, almost headlong into battle.
Results in recent months: organization of a Formula 1 GP and the Dakar, takeover of the Newcastle football club and creation, therefore, of this LIV Golf Series.
"There is a very aggressive strategy on the part of the kingdom and not consensual: to create ex nihilo from scratch a competition that did not exist thanks to the financial strike force of petrodollars, indicates David Rigoulet-Roze, associate researcher at the 'Iris, specializing in the Middle East.
It's like making a takeover of the hushed world of golf by changing the codes.
And what better than to line up the tickets for that.
American Bryson DeChambeau has revealed that he has accepted 100 million dollars to participate in the second stage of LIV, which begins this Thursday in Portland (United States).
We are talking about 150 million dollars for Dustin Johnson and 200 million greenbacks for Phil Mickelson.
And that without counting the prize money: 4 million dollars to the winner of one of the nine stages.
In comparison, the American Xander Schauffele, winner of the Travelers Championship on Sunday on the PGA Tour, pocketed the modest sum of 1.5 million dollars.
Times are hard.
“I understand the players and I do not criticize them, especially those who are at the end of their careers to whom we offer gold bridges, assures Pascal Grizot, the president of the French Golf Federation.
The same goes for some young people who say to themselves that, thanks to this circuit, they can play tournaments with significant prize money.
This is particularly the case of Travis Smyth.
, the 28-year-old Australian golfer, used to the Asian Tour, enjoyed himself alongside Mickelson, Garcia and Johnson, whom he had only seen on TV until then, during the first stage in London :
The players were received in an extraordinary way, which is not always the case on the circuits.
The first three years of my career, I spent a lot of money to make sure I got it right.
Now, with the LIV, with a little more money, it will allow me to continue to do things properly, by paying a professional caddy and having a little more freedom.
I am very happy to have come to this.
And that's thanks to the LIV.
The PGA retaliates harshly
“The Saudis were opportunistic, because golf is a sector that has no unions, the players were a bit left alone, develops Romain Aby, doctor in geopolitics.
The players themselves are looking for profit.
But the club return was not long in coming for those who accepted the Saudi tickets: the PGA Tour decided to expel them from its circuit.
The European Tour, for its part, sanctioned European dissidents with a fine of more than 110,000 euros and notified them that it would be impossible for them to participate in the European Tour events co-sanctioned with the PGA Tour.
Golfers, like Dustin Johnson with the Royal Bank of Canada, have even lost sponsors after joining the LIV Tour.
Since the first stage, there hasn't been a week without the organizers of the new circuit or the “traitors” who joined it taking a stray bullet.
After his victory in Toronto, Rory McIlroy thus sent Greg Norman, former golfer and director of the Saudi circuit, to graze: “It's a day that I will remember for a very, very long time.
My 21st victory on the circuit, one more than anyone else… It gives me extra motivation.
“On a blacklist of the European circuit”
Some even received warnings from their Federation, like the Spaniard David Puig, who did not respond to our requests.
“We would have preferred that he not play this tournament, explained José Ignacio Gervás, DTN to the Spanish Federation.
We didn't like it, but it's not in our hands.
When you put so much money on the table, it's normal for players, who don't necessarily have solid principles of loyalty, to make this decision.
He was told that there were likely to be consequences, his name being on a sort of blacklist of the European circuit.
Is sport compromising itself by agreeing to go to Saudi Arabia?
via @20minutesSport https://t.co/JMfVrIRDzg
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To avoid ending up naked, traditional institutions have put on overalls.
The PGA has already announced that its prize money will increase next year, without yet competing with the sums paid by the Saudis.
Moreover, if the PGA has decided to expel the belligerents, the Majors, they have not yet made a decision.
What will be the choice, for example, of the Masters of Augusta, against Garcia, Mickelson or Johnson, guests of office because former winners of the tournament.
“All that will depend on the solidarity that will exist between the major tournaments, the European Tour and the PGA Tour, Judge Pascal Grizot.
Because, indeed, if they are not able to align, it will demonstrate that the Saudis are not wrong to want to disrupt.
Discuss to better organize
From there to seeing a threat to the very existence of the PGA Tour?
“We could end up with a format like boxing, with several institutions, a fragmentation of professional sports life, analyzes Romain Aby.
I'm not sure that the PGA will disappear, but I think the goal of the Saudis is to bring the two together.
The president of the FFG, he is counting on dialogue to resolve the situation.
If he has already met Yasir Al-Rumayyan, director of the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, at the latter's request, to explain his ideas to him, Pascal Grizot believes that a viable solution for all can be found:
There would be a lot to be gained if everyone got around the table and if golf could use the money put on the table by the Saudis to find a product that does not disrupt the current system and achieves the objectives that the Saudis, that is to say have credibility in the sports world and give visibility to their country.
Because, for the moment, the second objective is far from being achieved.
With the many negative returns, whether on the sums invested, the format of the competition (54 holes, simultaneous starts from different places, "not attractive", according to José Ignacio Gervás) or the treatment of the press (a journalist fired in London, no interview given in private), the LIV Golf Series has difficulty convincing.
On the contrary, it even revives the criticisms inflicted on the country on human rights.
Discount codes on Instagram
“With each of the investments that Saudi Arabia will make in sport, there will automatically be an initial effect of delivering negative “phenomena” for the country, develops Romain Aby.
If we no longer talked about the Khashoggi affair, we will talk about it again with the LIV Golf Series.
The same goes for the families of the victims of September 11, who accuse the Saudis of being responsible for the attacks.
All of this could ultimately work in favor of the PGA.
And it is not the communication operations launched by the LIV that are likely to change much, like the discount codes sent by Instagram by players like Lee Westwood or Ian Poulter, like vulgar reality TV influencers.
“If, in the end, the organizers receive more criticism than good feedback, they will stop, concludes the Spanish DTN.
If the Saudi government, instead of cleaning up its image, dirties it even more, it will be over.
» LIV me alone.
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