Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Fire Pit Collective, a Golf Digest content partner.
The opening salvo came by way of email from the R&A. The heading alone was ominous:
STATEMENT ON THE R&A CELEBRATION OF CHAMPIONS
The Celebration of Champions is a parade of golf’s greats, heading down the first and second holes of the Old Course and then playing their way home on 17 and 18. How on God’s pale-green earth could that require a statement?
It actually did, and the terse four-sentence announcement may be regarded as the first public salvo in a golf war that is starting to look like this: the Golf Establishment vs the Outlaw Tour. Not on the legal front, but on something that will ultimately resonate more meaningfully than that: the social front.
The R&A statement, in all its Oxbridge glory:
“In response to enquiries regarding The R&A Celebration of Champions field and the Champions’ Dinner, we can confirm that we contacted Greg Norman to advise him that we decided not to invite him to attend on this occasion. The 150th Open is an extremely important milestone for golf and we want to ensure that the focus remains on celebrating the Championship and its heritage. Unfortunately, we do not believe that would be the case if Greg were to attend. We hope that when circumstances allow Greg will be able to attend again in future.”
These are the people who bring you, “On the tee, from USA, Patrick Reed.” Without a hint of sarcasm.
These are the people who bring you, on Sunday night, in the most spectacular baritone you’ve ever heard, “The winner of the gold medal, and the Champion Golfer of the Year, is Louis Oosthuizen.” With the most exquisite and perfect pronunciation of his Afrikaners’ surname there could be.
In other words, these people do proper like nobody’s business. Uninviting a person to a public event and a private dinner to which he has earned the right to attend (twice!) is a serious, serious statement.
What it is saying is this: You, Greg Norman, though you have won this great championship two times, though you are one of the most accomplished figures in the history of the game, are now a golfing pariah because of your central association with this LIV Golf Series, which is not just a disruptor, but a game-changer.
On a personal note, I don’t see it. Augusta National had the good grace to represent that the club did not disinvite Phil Mickelson to this year’s tournament. The truth, as I know it, is he was persuaded to see what he could ultimately see himself: it would do neither him, nor the tournament, any good for Mickelson to play this year.
It would have been awkward, maybe, to have Norman at the dinner in St Andrews, alongside Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. But he had the right to be there. So why are Mickelson and Oosthuizen, former champions and LIV defectors, still on the invitation list? They, unlike Norman, are not the face of this upstart tour.
As for the golf, Norman would have just played the four holes and waved to the crowd. He might have worn a LIV emblem. He wasn’t going to carry a placard that said, “Make LIV, Not War.”
Some months ago, when Fred Ridley, chairman of Augusta National, declined to take a meeting with Norman, who wanted to explain the whole LIV series to him, that was a statement. The divide was announced, in exquisite privacy. But this is as public as public can get.
I don’t think it will work. I don’t think the R&A is helping its cause here. Golf has never been about Us vs Them. Now it clearly is. If this move does anything, it will make public sentiment lean in LIV’s direction.
But you have to admire that the R&A is standing straight up for what it believes.
There’s more here than meets the eye. Rory McIlroy, in a recent interview with the BBC, suggested that golf is in a place where there might need to be some sort of compromise and melding between the needs and desires of the PGA and DP tours and the LIV Series. True, the R&A would not have a seat at that sort of meeting, just as the USGA would not. Neither would the PGA of America.
But the bigger picture is this: the leaderships of the R&A, the USGA, the PGA of America and the European and American tours, plus Augusta National, are ultimately joined at the hip. In the end, they speak as one. They have stood as one on every major issue golf has ever faced, from the size of the ball to non-discrimination standards for clubs that want to host events. (Though it must be noted that Augusta National was granted plenty of time to finally admit women members.) If the R&A is already saying it will have nothing to do with Norman as a person and LIV as a golf enterprise, the other bodies will say the same.
Does that mean the Major events will find a way to keep LIV players out of their fields? Yes, by way of Official World Golf Ranking points. (LIV events, at 54 holes, will ultimately not qualify for points, is my guess.)
The LIV tour will have two events at Trump courses this year. Next year, when the schedule expands to 14 events, it could be more than two. The PGA of America, the PGA Tour and the R&A have already frozen out Trump. A road to détente, as McIlroy suggests, is already complicated by the LIV–Trump Golf relationship. And complicated is a bit of British understatement.
The statement was neat and tidy. The stormy sea beneath it is rising.
Michael Bamberger welcomes your comments at [email protected]
TOP/MAIN PHOTO: Peter Dazeley