At the Masters, LIV’s war with the PGA Tour feels different than you’d think

phil mickelson collin morikawa shake hands

How did it feel when PGA Tour and LIV Golfers met for the first time at the Masters?

Darren Riehl

AUGUSTA, Ga. — A fistfight always felt unlikely.

Still, the entire golf world has been wondering about the first LIV-PGA Tour clash at Augusta National. The first major of the year also meant the first Masters since the Saudi-backed breakaway league solidified its schedule, format and roster.

But this is golf. And this is Augusta National. Even though every person on property was talking about the dynamic, nobody was going to the penalty box. There is no penalty box. Adam Scott played with Cameron Smith. Jon Rahm played with Sergio Garcia. Old relationships trumped new allegiances, at least for a day. And while not all was well — there were whispers of tempers flaring between managers and media under the tree by Augusta’s clubhouse — most of it stayed below the surface.

So how’d it feel on the ground? Here are three scenes I hope help paint a picture.

I. The Jupiter Alliance

The pin on No. 7 sat on a shelf in the back-left corner of the green. A ball came into view, landing just right of the hole and settling some eight feet away. Then the player appeared: Brooks Koepka, dressed in orange, striding up the left side of the fairway.

Another ball landed a moment later, also just right of the pin; it checked up and spun back on an identical line, kissing off the first ball and settling just inches away. Rory McIlroy appeared a moment later, dressed in a lighter shade of orange — peach, maybe? — and walked shoulder to shoulder up the hill towards the green.

In other years, the scene meant little more than two of the game’s best players prepping for its biggest event. You probably don’t need the context, but here it is: Rory McIlroy is the face of the PGA Tour. Brooks Koepka is LIV’s latest winner. Each has been outspoken about his respective side in the battle for golf’s future. But here they were, accompanied by Vanderbilt sophomore Gordon Sargent, a PGA Tour pro and a LIV pro and an NCAA am, playing golf.

How’d it happen? After Koepka won LIV’s Orlando event last week, McIlroy — who lives near him in Jupiter, Fla. — shot him a congratulatory text. Koepka responded by thanking him and requested nine holes on Tuesday.

“It wasn’t just a random show-up-on-the-tee,” Koepka said afterward, speaking to a couple reporters by the clubhouse.

He tried to shrug off the significance of the moment, offering a reminder that he sees McIlroy at home and the two have “an open line of communication.” As for what they talk about? “I think we’re both pretty honest in where we’re at,” he added.

Cam Smith and Adam Scott were among the PGA Tour-LIV practice round pairings on Tuesday. Darren Riehl

But he also acknowledged the gravity of the pairing. Koepka has four major championships. McIlroy has four major championships. They’re the only two pros to win their fourth major since Phil Mickelson. (We’ll get to him.) And while they used to get paired together with some frequency, they’d hardly be described as fast friends. Did this practice-round rendezvous represent a step forward in LIV-Tour relations?

“I guess you could say that. It’s more just two friends just wanting to play together,” Koepka said.

In McIlroy’s mind, there are LIV players and there are LIV players. Koepka appears to be the latter.

“It’s a very nuanced situation and there’s different dynamics,” he said. “You know, it’s okay to get on with Brooks and DJ and maybe not get on with some other guys that went to LIV, right? It’s interpersonal relationships — that’s just how it goes.”

II. Mickelson, muted

Phil Mickelson declined a full-on media center feeding-frenzy press conference, according to Golf Channel. But he stopped by the quick-quotes area, where a reporter or two awaited and another (me) hustled at the sight of the Hy Flyers captain behind a mic.

With Mickelson, where to begin? He missed last year’s Masters due to some combination of personal leave and PGA Tour suspension. He’s also a three-time Masters champion; this tournament has defined his career. And on Tuesday he was dressed head-to-toe in LIV gear.

He handled the easy questions with ease. It’s fun to be back. Everybody here is so classy. It’s my favorite week. When it came to tackling questions with more contentious subjects, on the other hand? Mickelson gave the impression he didn’t want to say much of anything at all, like the filter between his brain and vocal cords was turned all the way up.

Is this, like Cam Smith said, a big week for LIV? I don’t know if that’s the case or not. I thought he said some really great things, though … I think it will be fun to watch.

Will he play the Par-3 Tournament? Not tomorrow. I’m going to end up using it as kind of like preparation and getting my game sharp.

The unsolved mystery behind Augusta National’s most beloved snack
By: James Colgan

What does he make of the USGA’s distance proposal? I don’t have an opinion yet. I have a lot of questions about how it works…

Is there any message he’d like to deliver to LIV and PGA Tour pros at tonight’s Champions Dinner? No. I think we all are — we’ve had friendships, relationships for a long time. I don’t see it being an issue. I really don’t.

If it was Mickelson’s chance to lay into the Tour or pump up LIV, well, he respectfully passed. We know there’s plenty more he was thinking — I repeat: this is Phil Mickelson — but the only time it felt like he really opened up was to the final question, asked about Scottie Scheffler’s menu.

“It looked pretty good. I always fight the weight demons, and that cookie, that skillet cookie with ice cream, that’s going to be tough for me to pass,” he said, then took a longing pause. “But I got to do it. I can’t be doing that right now.”

III. Tiger’s Thoughts

In his last public appearance, Tiger Woods made it clear he wasn’t sure how the Champions Dinner would go.

“I don’t know what that reaction’s going to be,” he said at the Genesis Invitational. He stressed the importance of honoring Scottie Scheffler while also “realizing the nature of what has transpired and the people that have left, just where our situations are either legally, emotionally, there’s a lot there.”

There’s a lot there. That much remains true. Woods addressed the media on Tuesday, too, sitting for an 11 a.m. press conference that ranged from nostalgic to determined to insightful. LIV hardly came up, with one notable exception: One reporter asked Woods if he specifically directs his management company, Excel, to cut ties with LIV-affiliated pros. No current Excel clients are LIV pros; Thomas Pieters was repped by Mark Steinberg until he joined the breakaway league, at which point Steinberg abruptly dropped him.

“Weirdest thing ever,” Pieters told the Fire Pit‘s Alan Shipnuck. “He’s just gone.”

Does Woods direct Excel’s LIV policy?

“I do not, no,” he said. “I certainly have had my opinion with Steiny and the company, but that’s about Excel and what they want to do. No, I do not have any direct influence with them.”

Indirect influence, then?

Woods smiled. “I have my opinions, yes.”

Exit mobile version