The first major golf tournament of the year at Augusta National is typically a sign that the season is beginning. But there is something different this year – the inclusion of golfers who have broken away from the PGA Tour to join LIV Golf, a Saudi Arabian-backed golf league. While some golfers, such as Cameron Smith, have found comfort at the Masters, this tension between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf has been creating a real crack in the foundation of the sport.
At the center of the ongoing battle is 4Aces Golf Club, the LIV-backed team started by reigning Masters champion Dustin Johnson. This has caused tension amongst PGA Tour players, with Woods and McIlroy leading a meeting between PGA Tour golfers to combat the growing league. Now, all eyes will be on the performance of golfers from both the traditional PGA Tour and the newcomers from LIV.
LIV Golf is based on the desire for greater financial rewards for professional golfers. The league, headed by Greg Norman with Phil Mickelson as a key figure, promotes significant prize purse, guaranteed appearance fees and smaller, no-cut fields. Despite its attractive offers, detractors criticize LIV Golf’s lack of transparency and reliable information, as well as their ties with the Saudi Arabian government for sportwashing.
Those who have straddled both tours, such as Johnson and Smith, will be judged by the performance at Augusta National this week. Fred Couples, who won the 1992 Masters, has spoken up publicly against LIV Golf, questioning the idea of bashing the traditional tour that has been around for 94 years. At the same time, Johnson and Smith will be sporting their logos on the course and many are interested to see how they perform with the added scrutiny.
Before the start of the tournament, there will be a Champion’s Dinner on Tuesday night hosted by Johnson and Garcia, which will be a time for some reconciliation between the two golf tours. For now, golfers like Smith are encouraging people to focus on the sport itself, without succumbing to the ‘rubbish’ that is swirling around the two leagues. That would be welcomed by all fans of the sport and especially those who will be disturbed by this tension at the Masters in 2023.