By Charlotte Wilder
FOX Sports Columnist
Welcome to a new edition of “Is It Sports?,” where I, Charlotte Wilder, decide if something is or is not Sports. If you’re confused, read this. Thanks for playing.
Golf likes to pretend that it isn’t dramatic.
The sport has, for centuries, thrived in the highest echelons of society, where people believe they are discreet, private and above mess. These people are, of course, not above anything, but golf has long existed in the old-money fantasy of beautifully manicured grass, people who carry your stuff for you and conversations in hushed tones.
The PGA Tour has long been the only professional golf “league” in the world that really matters, so it hasn’t had to deal with anything purposefully loud or brash. Despite the way the PGA presents itself, however, it has always been riddled with gossip. Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka had the dumbest ongoing feud of all time. Tiger Woods, while definitely the most talented golfer to ever live, was not without his share of scandal (you all know that one, and if you don’t, Google it). John Daly is … John Daly. And nobody likes Patrick Reed.
Yet the PGA kept up a facade of calm competence. Majors such as The Masters smoothed ruffled feathers with pimento cheese and bans on technology. All was well.
Then LIV Golf showed up.
The Saudi-backed, scandal-plagued, unfathomably wealthy entity entered the world of golf like Rodney Dangerfield in “Caddyshack.” LIV took a speedboat right to the wooden hull of the PGA Tour. The crash has left players in the water, clinging to wooden planks while the overlords of LIV toss down gold-plated ladders and say, “Climb onboard. We’ve got caviar in the fridge and champagne on tap, and all it will cost you is your soul.”
So obviously, golf is a sport. But which aspects of the LIV-PGA battle are Sports?
A reminder of the criteria:
1. Does it involve competition?
2. Does it require a significant amount of physical exertion?
3. Can you write about it on a sports website without people asking why you’re writing about it on a sports website?
4. Can you choose sides?
5. Would a majority of people be entertained by watching it?
6. Would you do it for fun?
*7: Does it feel like Sports? (Can override all other criteria.)
Let’s take a look.
The LIV slogan: “Golf, but louder”
This is a very dumb slogan, but it’s also very accurate. Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund is backing LIV, and it plans to put a bunch of gold plating and marble onto the traditional lacquered wood of golf’s vibe. The new venture offers much bigger paydays for winning championships than the PGA does ($25 million per competition) and even more money for simply agreeing to play in tournaments (Tiger Woods was reportedly offered $800 to $900 million, which he turned down).
But this tagline doesn’t fulfill my criteria for Sports, nor does it allow Rule No. 7 to override them. Because it is decidedly lame.
Verdict: Not Sports
Making players wear LIV gear all the time
The Wall Street Journal recently got its hands on some of the contracts for LIV golfers, and they are quite something. Golfers must wear LIV apparel while golfing, they must agree to recruit other golfers to LIV when asked, they must get approval before doing any interviews, and they must get permission to use any logo while competing. They also win $1 million if they win one of the PGA’s four major championships *eyeballs emoji*.
Verdict: It’s never Sports to tell people how to dress. Even at weddings. Let your bridesmaids wear whatever they want.
Anyway, back to golf.
Leaving the PGA Tour for LIV
Possibly the least surprising aspect of the LIV situation is which players have defected from the PGA Tour to join it. They are golf’s villains — or at least the players who’ve contributed to the most drama (some of it fun, some of it not): Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed, Sergio Garcia and more.
Look, before I go further: I get the appeal of ensuring that your descendants have cash until the world ends (unless you have a kid who goes rogue and invests it all in cryptocurrency). It’s difficult to turn down money, and there is very little money in sports (or the world) that is “clean.”
Some golfers also say they are interested in LIV for opportunities to grow the game, to add competition to the sport and to spend more time with their families via LIV’s shorter schedule (which might not actually be shorter than the PGA Tour’s).
But many people have justifiably accused the Saudis of using LIV Golf to “sportswash” their record on human rights. Some families of victims of 9/11 even wrote a letter to Mickelson, condemning him for working with the Saudis.
There’s dirty money, and then there’s … this.
Verdict: Not Sports
Walking across someone’s putting line to snub them
Scottie Scheffler, who, as of this writing, has not joined LIV, recently walked across Cameron Smith’s putting line, thus breaking one of the unwritten rules of golf in an act of delightful pettiness.
Smith has been flirting with LIV, and it has been rumored for some time now that he’s joining.
I am a big fan of public displays of disrespect that could be defended as accidents.
Verdict: Definitely Sports
Withdrawing from PGA events due to “hip discomfort”
Smith, since Scheffler walked across his line, has withdrawn from the upcoming BMW Championship due to “hip discomfort.” Many in the golf world rolled their eyes at the news.
Perhaps this is not an injury but a goodbye to the PGA from the young man with a mullet who just won the British Open.
Verdict: Weak cop-out, not Sports
Banning golfers from playing in the PGA if they signed with LIV
Once players started to defect, the PGA Tour was like, “Hey, you can’t sit with us anymore.” The tour requires that members ask for permission before participating in events that conflict with the tour’s schedule.
So the tour straight-up banned them.
Verdict: Bold move, feels like Sports
Suing the PGA Tour
After the ban, the players were like, “Uh, yes we can sit with you.” And to prove it, a group of LIV golfers sued the PGA, accusing it of antitrust violations.
As of now, a judge has denied their motion for a restraining order and won’t let them play in PGA events.
Verdict: As a rule, lawsuits are generally not Sports, so this is not Sports.
Calling out Tiger Woods in a lawsuit
In the lawsuit, the LIV golfers claim: “The [PGA] Tour also got Tiger Woods to do its bidding and publicly criticize golfers — particularly younger golfers — for joining LIV Golf by suggesting they would never play in The Masters, The Open or other Majors and would not earn OWGR points.”
Woods indeed did this, but possibly of his own accord. He said, “I disagree with those who have gone to LIV. I think they have turned their back on what allowed them to get to this position.”
Woods says LIV players “turned their backs” on PGA
Tiger Woods offered sharp criticism of the golfers who have left the PGA for the LIV tour. Colin Cowherd explains why that stance might be hypocritical and why Woods stands to gain from players leaving the PGA.
Complaining about the GOAT’s opinion is stupid.
Verdict: Not Sports
Suing the Golf Channel
On Aug. 16, Reed sued the Golf Channel (not a sentence I thought I’d type anytime soon!) and commentator Brandel Chamblee for defamation, “misreporting information with falsity and/or reckless disregard of the truth.” Reed claimed that they have been actively defaming him for nine years, since he was 23 years old, to create “a hostile work environment” and “destroy his reputation.”
Reed was penalized two strokes for cheating at the Hero World Challenge in 2019 by improving his position, though he claims it wasn’t intentional. Allegations of cheating have followed him since college. He is arguing that the Golf Channel and Chamblee have stoked fans’ resentment by talking about it, and he doesn’t seem to enjoy being criticized for leaving the PGA Tour to join LIV.
He does not, in the lawsuit, stop to consider whether he and his behavior — perhaps! — had anything to do with his vibe.
Verdict: You guessed it — not Sports
Turning down LIV to stay at TNT
Basketball great and professional TV commercial appearer-inner Charles Barkley was contemplating joining LIV as a commentator. That likely would have meant giving up his job as a member of the “NBA on TNT” team.
If Chuck had broken up that crew to go play with LIV — when he already has what I assume is SO much money — I would have been very, very bummed.
But he didn’t. At least, not yet.
Verdict: Definitely Sports
Giving us drama to follow and shaking up the world of golf, even if the reasoning and people behind it are pretty messed up
Charlotte Wilder is a general columnist and cohost of “The People’s Sports Podcast” for FOX Sports. She’s honored to represent the constantly neglected Boston area in sports media, loves talking to sports fans about their feelings and is happiest eating a hotdog in a ballpark or nachos in a stadium. Follow her on Twitter @TheWilderThings.
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