Trump, alligators and a $50 million prize: LIV Golf’s first season reaches the finals

BWhen Team Trump reached the 10th tee, the acolytes lined up. “That swing looks like another four years!” offered one as Donald carried the water with a decent drive. “Do you think Biden could do that?” asked the 45th president of the United States. “He wouldn’t even reach [ladies’] tee.” Neither could Eric Trump, who topped his shot into an alligator-infested pond. The war on drugs raged in the background, intelligence agents patrolled the fairways. We truly are living in golf’s wildest and strangest times.

It’s poetic that this $50 million finale to LIV Golf’s inaugural season takes place at the Trump-owned Blue Monster at Doral. Many believe that Saudi Arabia has created one with this ostentatious scheme, which is in direct and often vicious conflict with the Gulf’s traditional ecosystem.

The Doral Open was a PGA Tour event between 1962 and 2006, when Tiger Woods won the second of back-to-back titles. Woods was victorious again in 2007 in what had been renamed the World Golf Championship; the series of events created in part to stave off a Greg Norman-led challenge to the status quo.Norman, now at the center of all that is LIFE, has to laugh at the coincidence of it all. Gone are WGC branded hats in the pro shop. In their place, Make America Great Again caps cost $36 a pop.

The last staging of the WGC-Cadillac Championship came in 2016, with a switch to Mexico City prompting a furious reaction from Trump. “I hope they have kidnapping insurance,” he said. Some believe that LIV has stolen this sport’s heart. What is undeniable is that this body has shaken golf to its core.

The $2 billion bailout from Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund helps with that, of course, but the sight of grandmasters performing media duties here in recent days bolstered the sense that LIV has proved many skeptics wrong. Trump played with two of those marquee names, Brooks Koepka and Sergio García, over back-to-back nines on Thursday.

“It was fun, I enjoyed it,” Koepka said. “He didn’t give me tips because he didn’t want me to beat him. But we had a great time, it’s always fun to play with him. He’s actually a pretty good putter.” Professional golfers in the United States usually lean to the right, it should be noted.

Koepka had played his nine-hole stretch at six under par, which served as a reminder that not all LIV golfers are headed to the knocker’s yard. Clearly, the South Florida contingent has grown weary of questions about the morality of accepting Saudi riches, inter-tour feuds and broken relationships. “I have no problem,” García said when asked if the friendship had been broken beyond repair by LIV’s rise. “You’re asking the wrong person. That’s all I’m going to say. I don’t have a problem with either of them.”

This marks tournament eight in LIV’s controversial existence. Others, staged between London and Bangkok, have attracted intrigue without anyone outside die-hard golf fans seeming particularly aware of winners or losers. A key problem for LIV is that it remains without a main broadcast deal, limiting its visibility. The continued failure to gain acceptance from the Official World Golf Rankings is another fundamental obstacle to progress, although LIV could argue with some legitimacy that it has fallen victim to bruised egos on existing tours.

Formerly a peripheral figure at LIV, Adrián Otaegui won the DP World Tour’s Andalucia Masters and was quickly pulled back into the breakout tent after becoming a useful commodity. It is the fiercest power struggle. Trump, embarrassed by the WGC switch, is a willing participant. Norman continues to lurk in the shadows, which is exciting given the scope of his LIV role.

Analysis of this weekend’s format – entirely based on teams – can trigger a headache. LIFE doesn’t make golf easy again. On Friday, teams seeded from five to twelve – the top four have received a bye – compete in both individual and foursome matches. The higher ranked teams chose their opposition. With teams one through four joining Friday’s winners on Saturday, four groups will advance to the “Team Championship.” Day three is stroke play, with the lowest total score marking the overall winners. For their trouble, a share of $16 million before LIV goes into cold storage for the rest of 2022.

Phil Mickelson during the pro-am ahead of the LIV Golf Miami Team Championship
Phil Mickelson was all smiles before the LIV Golf Miami Team Championship at Trump National Doral. Photo: Chris Trotman/LIV Golf/via Getty Images

Phil Mickelson, a haunted figure for most of this year, finally looks calm. Koepka, who has struggled with persistent injury problems, does not have the demeanor of a man harboring regrets. “I didn’t really have any expectations for this, I was just happy to see how it went,” added the four-time major winner. “It has been great. You see a lot more smiles on people’s faces. I think everyone is genuinely happy. Caddies are treated like people, which is nice. I have seen both sides and not everyone has. The way everyone is treated is amazing.”

Koepka’s emotions will make many roll their eyes. There is skepticism about the extent to which LIV can grow into next year and beyond. One unmistakable truth, however, is that this has evolved into the sport’s ultimate disruption plan. Trump’s involvement only adds to the sense of theatrics.

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