Schwartzel celebrates as golf power struggle deepens | Golf News

ST ALBANS (UK): Charl Schwartzel’s victory in the first round of the rebel LIV Golf series ended one of the most dramatic weeks in the history of a sport now in turmoil.
The independent circuit, led by former world number one Greg Norman and funded by the Saudi sovereign wealth fund, is now a real and present threat to golf’s established circuits.
The stars of the opening tournament away from London, which ended on Saturday, included six-time Major winner Phil Mickelson and two-time Major champion Dustin Johnson.
But there were also other big names in the 48-man field, including big winners Schwartzel, Sergio Garcia, Martin Kaymer, Graeme McDowell and Louis Oosthuizen.
At the event at the Centurion Club in St Albans, organizers trumpeted the signings of 2020 US Open champion Bryson DeChambeau and former Masters winner Patrick Reed.
Organizers have vowed to “supercharge” golf, offering 54-hole tournaments without cuts, simultaneous “shotgun starts” and a team element.
Play began on Thursday but was quickly overshadowed by a blunt statement from the US PGA Tour banning Rebel golfers, who had been barred from playing in the LIV tournament.
Ten of the 17 registrants had already resigned from their membership.
PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said the “same fate applies” to any players competing in future LIV events, with Reed and Bryson DeChambeau due to be on the field in Oregon later this month.
There was uncertainty heading into the inaugural event as to who would be on the field.
Norman himself had previously said the tournament didn’t need the biggest names to be an instant hit, arguing it could be a showcase for future stars.
But the Australian has managed to attract enough big names for the sport’s power brokers to sit up and take notice and he can now count nine big winners on his books.
A number of top players had already pledged allegiance to the PGA Tour, including Johnson and DeChambeau, before turning their backs.
Others remain loyal, at least for now.
Four-time major winner Rory McIlroy, who currently competes in the PGA Tour’s Canadian Open, said Monahan simply applied the membership rules and “did the right thing”.
The dispute could head to the courtroom if any of the PGA Tour banned players pursue legal action.
Norman’s big pitch is for a ‘free and open market’ in golf and he has pledged to support his players all the way, even saying LIV Golf will pay any fines.
Ryder Cup star Ian Poulter plans to appeal against the PGA Tour ban, saying it makes “no sense” to limit player choice.
The DP World Tour, formerly known as the European Tour, has yet to react, but LIV players have been reassured that they can compete in the US Open next week.
Another unknown is the issue of World Ranking Points, currently unavailable in LIV tournaments.
Points are crucial as they help players qualify for the four major tournaments, which are the showpiece tournaments of the sport.
Apart from the bitter power struggle, two issues dogged the players at the St Albans event – accusations of greed and questions about Saudi Arabia’s human rights record.
The money involved is undeniably mind-blowing.
There was a record $25 million prize at the Centurion Club and there is a total of $255 million on offer across the eight tournaments this year.
Mickelson did not dispel rumors that he was receiving a $200 million honorarium for competing, while Johnson would receive $150 million.
Norman said last month he had secured an additional $2 billion to turn the first eight-event invitational series into a 14-event league by 2024.
Mickelson faced uncomfortable concern from reporters on the eve of the tournament over Saudi funding, but insisted he “does not condone human rights abuses”, adding that the golf could be a force for good.
Amnesty International has renewed its call for players to speak out against “human rights abuses” in Saudi Arabia, rather than being “willing minions of Saudi sport”.
Questions are unlikely to go away as LIV Golf heads to the United States, with the sport gearing up for the next installment in a gripping drama.

Michael C. Ford