Welcome back to the Monday Finish, where our new league, LUV Golf, is looking for funding. Reach out for details. Let’s get to the news!
FIRST OFF THE TEE
Golf has entered America’s Great Culture War.
If there is an enduring image from this week’s LIV Golf event at Trump Bedminster, it’s an assembled crowd of spectators chanting “Let’s Go Brandon” as former President Trump basked in their adulation, flanked by his son Eric, Georgia congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene and Fox News political commentator Tucker Carlson.
For the uninitiated, the chant had nothing to do with Branden Grace (although, to his credit, the South African is the unofficial leader of LIV’s money list, earning nearly $7 million through three events). Instead “Let’s Go Brandon” has become code for “F— Joe Biden,” and, well, you can read more about that backstory here.
That was hardly the only example of the weekend’s buzziest tournament turning into something of a political rally. LIV Commissioner Greg Norman egged on chants of “Four more years!” on at least one tee box. Trump was in constant contact with LIV players; he hosted 20 or so for dinner on Tuesday night, chatted them up at the pro-am party Wednesday, shook hands on the driving range, was a constant presence throughout the weekend and even greeted winner Henrik Stenson post-round.
It’s not just that it was a pro-Trump crowd. It was also, in part, an anti-PGA Tour crowd. Trump’s son Donald, Jr. underscored that sentiment when he tweeted a video of Stenson holing his winning putt.
“The greatest F/U in the history of Golf just happened,” he wrote. Stenson “liked” the tweet.
What a strange place we find ourselves! Nobody would have ever accused the PGA Tour, nor golf more broadly, of occupying any space in the left wing of America’s political spectrum. But Trump’s south Florida course was dropped by the PGA Tour in 2016 in the midst of a contentious presidential campaign. And in 2020, Trump’s New Jersey course was dropped by the PGA of America as PGA Championship host after the storming of the U.S. Capitol. Trump, who had always relished golf’s role in his life, felt scorned by its institutions. He had that in common with Norman, who had a decades-old bone to pick with the PGA Tour. The two were natural allies. Perhaps their union isn’t such a surprising development after all.
Getting Trump on board has brought additional attention to LIV, too. He’s popular with many professional golfers and with many of LIV’s early crop of defectors, including Bryson DeChambeau and Dustin Johnson, his pro-am playing partners on Thursday. And Trump’s endorsement of the breakaway circuit signaled to his followers that they, too, could turn on the PGA Tour. The way LIV has positioned itself even has some similarities to Trump’s own campaign. Traditionalists can’t believe its success. It’s been written off several times, only to survive. There’s no doubt LIV is still gaining momentum. And there’s an anti-establishment bent to the whole thing.
There are strange contradictions at play, of course. Here was the “America First” president hosting a Saudi-backed upstart tour that is threatening the future of the U.S.-based PGA Tour, drawing ethical ire for using the presidential seal in the process. Early LIVers who crowed about how they weren’t politicians were taking part in one of the more explicitly political sporting events in recent history. And while everybody likes talking about LIV, and those who have attended seem pleased with their experience, it’s still unproven how many people are or will be interested in watching it; YouTube viewership is averaging under 100,000 and declined from Portland to Bedminster, per one study. But the checks definitely keep clearing (more on that later) and the names will keep coming, too (more on that much later).
What’s the point? Golf is now a sport divided. Trump has aligned himself with the LIV tour. The “establishment” is aligned with the PGA Tour. To be clear, you don’t have to subscribe to one side of the divide or the other. You can like the PGA Tour and LIV. You can like President Trump and the PGA Tour. You can dislike President Trump and dislike LIV, too! I will leave all options available to you. But the battle lines seem to be hardening. And this was hardly a one-off — LIV’s team finale will go down at Trump Doral this October, just weeks before the U.S. votes in midterm elections.
Who won the week?
Tony Finau, again
Tony Finau won the Rocket Mortgage Classic, making it back-to-back PGA Tour wins after last week’s triumph at the 3M Open. Finau’s win almost counted double; he validated his showing in Minnesota as well as adding another trophy to his shelf. I can only imagine how relieved he felt returning home to celebrations in Utah on Sunday night, having doubled his career win total.
Do we expect more of Finau going forward? Sure. But a four-win career is already nothing to shake a stick at. And he doesn’t have to worry about accusations he can’t close after four back-nine birdies at the 3M and four more at the Rocket Mortgage. Plus there was this winner of a quote post-round:
Ayaka Furue, course record-holder
There’s winning and then there’s winning in style. Ayaka Furue did the latter at the Women’s Scottish Open, firing a course-record 10-under 62 in the final round to leapfrog the leaders and win her first LPGA title. Furue is just 22 years old and has already won seven times on the Japanese Tour. Now she has officially announced her game can travel, too — at least as far as Dundonald Links.
Sean Crocker, Corona drinker
Just a couple hours after Sean Crocker finished off his win at the Hero Open at the Fairmont St. Andrews, he ran into our own Sean Zak at the Dunvegan, the iconic pub just up the street from the Old Course. Crocker missed nine cuts in a row earlier this season. No doubt that only improved the taste of los cervezas on Sunday evening.
Patrick Cantlay had that look about him on Sunday in Detroit, making five birdies in his first eight holes and adding an eagle at No. 14 to get himself into contention in case Finau faltered. Finau didn’t falter, but still — after this ho-hum final-round 66 and a runner-up finish, it feels like we’re getting to Cantlay Szn.
Lydia Ko co-led heading to Sunday but couldn’t find a spark at the Women’s Scottish Open. She stalled out with a final-round 71 to finish T5, but now she’s on to more important matters at this week’s AIG Women’s Open.
Eddie Pepperell came on the Drop Zone podcast last week to talk about LIV but also to talk about where he’d lost track of his golf game. It appears just the process of talking about it was all the golf therapy he needed; Pepperell rallied for a T11 finish after our chat last week and then nearly won this week’s tournament, finishing solo second. His key to success? Eliminating practice rounds. (Yes, seriously.) We’ll gladly take all the credit, and you can listen to the rest of the interview below or on Apple Podcasts:
WHAT WE’RE SEEING
Golfers securing the bag.
Forbes released its list of the year’s 10 highest-earning golfers, measured from July 3, 2021 to July 3, 2022, providing a shocking reminder of just how much cash LIV has suddenly dropped into the professional golf ecosystem.
Phil Mickelson has had an interesting year. But per Forbes’ estimates, he’s come out ahead, at least financially. His $138 million windfall put him at No. 1 for an athlete in any sport and also helped him eclipse $1 billion in lifetime earnings.
While Mickelson was the only golfer to hit nine figures this season, Dustin Johnson ($97 mil) Bryson DeChambeau ($86 mil) and Brooks Koepka ($69 mil) are each LIV golfers who have experienced an influx in cash, too. So much so, in fact, that they’ve out-earned Tiger Woods, who sits in fifth place with $68 million in earnings, just $43,500 of which came on the golf course.
There are other non-LIVers on the list, including No. 6 Rory McIlroy ($43 mil) and No. 8 Jordan Spieth ($39 mil) but it’s jarring to see their names beside No. 7 Sergio Garcia ($42 mil) and No. 9 Patrick Reed ($37 mil) and something more than jarring to see No. 10 Charl Schwartzel ($34 mil) nipping at their heels.
You can see the complete list here.
Three things to watch this week:
1. Tony Finau’s champion’s press conference
You already saw the quote from above. A bigger dose of Champion Finau should do you well.
2. Finau’s celebratory airport greeting
Your reminder that nobody on Tour can move like the champ:
3. The AIG Women’s Open at Muirfield
Get ready for what the locals will call a proper Open at a proper links course: historic Muirfield, which is welcoming the women for the first time. For a sneak preview, here are some snazzy visuals from the Fried Egg:
We’ll see you next week!