Inside the Icons Series: New golf event to pit sports stars in match-play battle

icons series

It's Team USA and Freddie Couples against Team Rest of the World and Ernie Els.

Courtesy Icons Series

Looking for something new in the world of golf? Who isn’t these days?

Fred Couples, Ernie Els and a host of world-class athletes from sports other than golf are looking to deliver just that next week with the debut event of the Icons Series, June 30-July 1, at Liberty National GC, just across the Hudson River from downtown Manhattan.  

The Icons Series is a Presidents Cup-style event, pitting a mix of 12 active and former brand-name athletes from the U.S. against their international counterparts in a six-session clash. Couples and Els will captain each squad. 

Who’s in the field?

Team USA: Michael Phelps (former Olympic swimmer), Michael Strahan (former NFL defensive end), Ben Roethlisberger (NFL quarterback), J.R. Smith (former NBA guard), John Smoltz (former MLB pitcher), Andrew Whitworth (former NFL tackle), Ivan Rodriguez (former MLB catcher), Reggie Bush (former NFL running back), Robbie Gould (NFL kicker), Marshall Faulk (former NFL running back), Golden Tate (former NFL receiver turned minor-league baseball player)

Michael Phelps plays a shot during the celebrity challenge match ahead of the 2018 Ryder Cup.
Michael Phelps in 2018. getty images

Team Rest of the World: Harry Kane (Premier League soccer player), Canelo Alvarez (Mexican boxer), Ash Barty (Australian tennis player), Pep Guardiola (Premier League manager), Ab De Villiers (South African cricketer), Brian Lara (former Trinidadian cricketer), Ricky Ponting (former Australian cricketer), James Milner (Premier League soccer player), George Gregan (Australian rugby player), Yuvraj Singh (former Indian cricketer)

harry kane on golf course
Harry Kane, the star striker for the Premier League soccer club, Tottenham Hotspur. getty images

Shrewd observers will note just 11 players named on the U.S. team and 10 on the International side. The remaining players will be added to each team in the coming days.

“These guys are all really good golfers,” Els told Colt Knost and Drew Stoltz this week, in an interview that will appear on next week’s episode of Subpar. “Some of these guys are scratch golfers. We’ll see how serious they take it. Being so competitive in their sports field, I think the competitiveness is going to come through as the tournament goes on. I don’t think anyone wants to lose in this thing.”

Where will it take place? 

Liberty National. The 2017 Presidents Cup host site, which has also been the venue for FedEx Cup playoff events, is back hosting a team competition. Will this one be as big of a blowout as the U.S.-dominated ’17 Cup was? Unlikely! But we’ll have to see how Freddie’s team handles the pressure. The event will take place June 30 and July 1, with a practice day on June 29.

What’s the format? 

The six-session series will take place over two days, with three 10-hole match play sessions per day and the event culminating in head-to-head singles clashes. You read that correctly: 10-hole match-play sessions. That means the squads won’t be competing on the Liberty National layout as we know it. Check out the adjusted course map below:

course map for icons series
The 10-hole setup for the Icons series at Liberty National. Courtesy Icons Series

Day 1 will begin and end with five matches of fourballs, where the best score from each tandem of players is their team score. Sandwiched in between the fourball sessions will be a greensomes session, which is similar to foursomes. The difference with greensomes is that each player hits a tee shot, and the two-player teams select their favorite tee ball and play alternate-shot from there in. Day 2 will follow the same format with the exception of the third session, which will feature 12 decisive singles matches.

How can I watch it?

Viewers at home can tune in to the action on the second day of the matches — that’s Friday, July 1 — when the broadcast will stream on NBC’s Peacock app from 2-6:30 p.m. ET. 


May I attend?

You may indeed. New York City-area fans who would like to see the action in person can do so with grounds tickets that are $25 per day or $40 for a two-day pass. Spectators 17 and under will be allowed in for free with a paying ticket-holder.

Why should I watch?

Umm, did you see the lineups? There are athletes representing nearly every major sport: NFL, MLB, NBA, tennis, boxing, Premier League soccer, even cricket! Also, the match-play format changes things a bit. We’re used to sporting figures and celebs competing in pro-ams under stroke play. Now, we’ll see them competing as teammates in a match-play format, in front of fans and cameras on a playing field that is much different from the ones they’ve dominated for years. The nerves alone should be enough of reason to tune in.

Is this the start of something bigger?

That’s the plan. The Icons Series is aiming to host future events in Australia, Asia, Europe and the Middle East. No dates have been announced for those sites, but they’re coming.

Sean Zak Editor

Zak is a writer at GOLF Magazine and just finished a book about the summer he spent in St. Andrews.