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The good, the bad and the ugly of being on the course for the LIV Golf circus | Golf News and Tour Information

BEDMINSTER, NJ — Phil Mickelson played quietly — or as quietly as possible with music blaring from two-stage speakers perched above the green — as he wound up the 18th hole. He’s the de facto face of this operation, and despite his controversial remarks, he lives on as one of the game’s most popular figures. That should be especially true here, because despite having California roots, Mickelson has long been treated as an adopted son of the New York metropolitan area. Yet Mickelson was not the main attraction on Saturday afternoon, not when less than 60 yards away, former President Donald Trump stood on a porch commanding the property’s largest gallery and leading chants of “Four more years!” The only cheer louder than this political rally at a so-called golf event came from the 18th green shortly after, when a hype-man started shooting T-shirts with a cannon.

The folks at LIV Golf who organize this event call it “Golf, but stronger”. Trump calls it a “celebration.” The families who lost loved ones in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, who staged several protests this week outside the walls of this course, call it an abomination. LIV Golf has, frankly, been called a lot of things. But for all the oxygen spent on this entity, its novelty and drama, little discussion has focused on the supposed product at the center of this hype. You know…professional and competitive golf. For all its noise and promise of disruption, the novelty of the nascent circuit will fade and the drama has little juice. Ultimately, the product should speak for itself.

After three events, it is still unclear whether the product has the ability to do so. Or, judging by the events of Trump Bedminster, if golf is even the commodity being sold.

There are a multitude of LIV Golf experiences as a consumer. He has strengths. It has shortcomings. It has strings attached.

Let’s start with the sales pitches, and make no mistake, there are sales pitches. Chief among them is access. If you’re looking for a close, personal connection with your favorite player – or any player – LIV Golf has the edge on major championships and the PGA and DP World Tours. Part of that is due to limited crowds, which depending on who you ask is intentional or a byproduct of dislike, or that word hasn’t been announced to the masses yet that there is a new golf league to see.

Whatever the catalyst, the reality is that there aren’t many fans on site compared to a PGA Tour event, giving those here an unobstructed and intimate view. Even Saturday, when the crowd seemed to double in size from the Friday gate, there were no more than 150 people roaming hole to hole with Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka.

You can hear the conversations of players and caddies. You can hear the sounds you usually only hear on TV. You can see the looks of agony, frustration and joy; heck, it looks like you can feel those pains and pleasures. Except for one hole (more on that in a second), you could be right next to any player on a tee or green, and the strings are generously close to most fairways. It’s damn cool.

There is the link between the boss and the candidate. This is not to pass judgment, but the truth is that most professional golfers during tournament play are inward looking. They will acknowledge applause; the rest of the time, the blinkers are on. In some ways, it can make fans feel like voyeurs, watching someone do their thing without really being part of the encounter. At least at Trump Bedminster, the members of LIV go out of their way to let fans know they see and hear them. Reporter saw more player-fan and player-volunteer interactions in two days than in past eight years on PGA Tour, and from players who don’t necessarily have the best relationship reputation with the gallery.

There was no better example of this than DeChambeau. A number of times on Saturday afternoon the former US Open champion stopped for photos or punches, and on the ninth he went to see a mentally handicapped man in a wheelchair. DeChambeau chatted, posed for a photo and thanked him for coming. Maybe there’s a mandate from above for players to perform on their best behavior. Maybe they’re more relaxed with their signing bonuses and guaranteed paydays. It can be authentic or forced, but for the fans, the impetus doesn’t matter. What matters is the interaction that occurred.

Concession prices are cheap. Tickets are cheaper (starting Saturday morning, a weekend pass can be purchased for $2 from secondary market ticket providers). Autographs are easy to grab and a fan village has no shortage of attractions. The music echoing through the pastoral hills of New Jersey isn’t for everyone, but it’s not a distraction, and a majority of fans seem to enjoy it. It’s a friendly environment at a time when the common fan is being pushed to the periphery by the big sports leagues.

In short, LIV Golf has nailed all the ancillary features and pitfalls of pro sports. Yet, for the zealous golf fan, is that enough to overcome a shaky foundation?

Because while LIV is targeting the real diehards, the actual competition is insufficient. On Trump Bedminster’s 48-man field, there are (generously) half a dozen players who qualify as stars. Fewer are in their primes. As presently constituted, it is a league of injury-prone players, grassroots names, and those stuck in purgatory that is professional golf in its 40s. Even with more players coming – and of course more coming – the dynamic remains the same.

Speaking of dynamics, those around LIV believe that the team component is what gives that stamina. It’s clear that LIV is preparing the breadcrumb trail for these clubs to be regionally focused – with teams representing Australia, South Africa, Asia, the UK and the USA – with sponsors who tie themselves in a similar way to the Formula 1 model. While initially conceding that the team concept is “an intangible whole that is difficult for anyone to grasp”, Mickelson claimed that it was about of a ship to advance LIV. “I notice how much people like to identify with a team rather than individuals, and so…that’s something that I don’t fully grasp how important that might be,” he said. said Friday.

Only, at least in Bedminster, it doesn’t seem like the fans get it either, apparently not knowing the names of the teams let alone who are on those teams. It’s confusing to follow on the spot. And because of the aforementioned field composition, fans don’t seem invested in the blow-by-blow results of the competition. Heck, they don’t know most of the guys inside the ropes. The mood of the gallery is not to watch a competition; it’s seeing professional golfers in person. It’s almost like they’ve gone out for a picnic and stumbled upon a golf tournament. They are there to be entertained, without any attachment to the result.

It sounds too easy to say since it’s been a common criticism of LIV, but it rings true in Bedminster: it feels like an exposition.

The good thing is ! Spoiler alert: Even diehards can’t stand up for the 40+ stops on the PGA Tour. And there are plenty of PGA Tour and sporting event attendees who are there strictly for social purposes. They don’t care if Bryson and Brooks fight or DJ dominate or if Phil can find age-defying performances again. They’re just looking for something to do on the weekend. Maybe it’s not for the zealous, and maybe on purpose. You could argue that LIV does a better job of attracting casuals or non-fans better than most leagues, and that’s a big demographic.

But that’s not all, is it?

Much of the attention on LIV Golf has been given to its backers, the Public Investment Fund, which is Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund. The country has been accused of human rights atrocities, making the PIF’s ties to LIV Golf problematic. In Bedminster, the outcry was slightly different due to Saudi Arabia’s links to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, two of which occurred just 40 minutes away at the World Trade Center.

Players did their best to avoid this minefield. Henrik Stenson offered his condolences to the 9/11 families, but nothing more. Asked about the lack of gay rights in Saudi Arabia, former UNICEF ambassador Paul Casey said he didn’t know enough to comment. They say they are not politicians even though there is nothing really political in the line of questioning. Players want nothing to do with these inquisitions; they just want to play golf and get paid for it, and want us to stop questioning their decisions.

Amplifying the ethical clouds hanging over LIV Golf is her relationship with President Trump. He is the former leader of this country. He is also at the center of a congressional investigation into the attack on the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021. No matter what you think of Trump, it’s fair to say that when he’s involved, everyone takes a step back. Any hope that Trump would stay out of the spotlight this week has been badly misplaced.

You couldn’t avoid it if you wanted to, as Trump has flown the past two days in a golf cart to different parts of the course and held the pitch in a suite adjacent to the 16th tee. Where he goes, the crowd follows him. On Friday he hit the tee in the middle of the competition and on Saturday he was joined by Marjorie Taylor Greene, the controversial Georgia congresswoman, who implored fans to chant Trump’s name while putting down President Joe Biden. Yes, this is the course of Trump. He has his supporters. But whatever your leanings, it seems odd that a golf tournament would turn into a political spectacle. Given that the LIV finale will visit Trump Doral, that’s probably not an outlier.

Of course, that’s what LIV Golf wanted, right? A show unlike anything else in golf. If you want to see the circus for yourself, tickets remain readily available for Sundays in Bedminster and later stops in Chicago, Boston and Miami. There will be guys with T-shirt cannons. There will be curiosities. There will be more protests and ethical questions. There will be a show. And you might even see some golf.