NORTH BERWICK, Scotland — The golf world has been breathlessly anticipating this week’s action at the Renaissance Club.
Here in East Lothian, Scotland, there has been anticipation surrounding the arrival of Ian Poulter, the headliner of four players who won their way into this tournament through a British court just days ago. Anticipation followed the unveiling of tee times, to reveal how the tournament might handle four late additions to the field. Most of it built through whispers on the driving range. And then, very much a non-whisper.
“We’ll be seeing you later,” one writer said to Billy Horschel on the driving range Tuesday morning.
“Oh, you’ll definitely be seeing me later,” Horschel replied.
Horschel was the first player to take to the podium this week, and he lived up to his promise, issuing a 891-word rant about LIV Golf players fighting their way into the field. It reached its nadir at words 297-300, when he said “Leave us alone, honestly.”
“They keep talking about PGA Tour doesn’t listen to them,” he continued. “The last week’s events I’ve been really frustrated by because there are a lot of guys that are hypocrites that are not telling the truth and lying about some things that I just can’t stand to sit here anymore and be diplomatic anymore about it as I have been in the past.
“I don’t fault anyone for going to play the LIV Tour. I don’t have any ill will for anyone going to play the LIV Tour. I don’t feel ill will about the comments they make, comments that Jay Monahan doesn’t listen to PGA Tour [players] or that Jay Monahan doesn’t listen to us. Jay Monahan and everyone at headquarters is the PGA Tour. They work tirelessly for us to reap financial rewards and have all the opportunities that we have.”
With that statement setting the tone for the week, the focus heading into yet another PGA Tour event is centered around the governing bodies in charge of the future of the game and player’s opining about that future — all while the actual tournament lurks in the background.
Part of the field seems perturbed by that, eager to discuss something else — “It’s not my business,” Jon Rahm said — and perhaps annoyed the storyline has dragged on this long, successfully crossing the Atlantic Ocean. Collin Morikawa was asked if Poulter earning a last-ditch entry into the event he was once suspended from is a shame. Instead, Morikawa suggested the media shift its focus elsewhere.
“You guys write the stories, every one of you guys here, right, and you guys can write the stories about anyone else,” he said. “We hear a lot of stories about players that are here that come to these press conferences but you guys maybe don’t write stories about other people that are interesting.”
It’s completely within Morikawa’s rights to want to talk about other things at the moment. But he’s also never played in a field of 160 players due to four late additions via a court injunction. These are bizarre times, and as annoyed as he may be, plenty of players brim with curiosity.
Keith Mitchell, in the middle of hitting balls on the range Monday, whipped around to ask, “So, Sean. What’s your take on all this?” This was one of our first-ever interactions, but it was rooted in him yearning to know a bit more about a thing that everyone seems just a little confused about. Mackenzie Hughes leaned in later in the afternoon to ask, “Do you have any more details on all this lawsuit stuff?”
Journalists know some of the information — LIV Golf seems eager to stay in the news — but not everything. Are caddies who join their defecting players endorsing the controversial source of LIV’s funding? Just how much money is Pat Perez going to earn each year he plays for LIV? These are some of the conversations taking place in between swings. Everyone seems willing to discuss it on the range, not so much on the record. And so it’s natural we arrive at what happened to Morikawa two weeks ago.
“It’s just funny that you can wake up one day and your life completely change,” he said. “My life didn’t change at all. I just woke up to people saying I was going somewhere when I obviously wasn’t. So [I] had to shut it down.”
The fairest reason for those rumors is the precedent set by Johnson, Koepka, Perez, DeChambeau, et al. Strong opinions one day have suddenly taken 180-degree turns just days later. The more that spreads around about Koepka’s about-face, the more it sounds like he was probably telling the truth: his conversations about signing with LIV weren’t that serious until late U.S. Open weekend, and then progressed extremely quickly. The questions keep coming during these Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays because the news keeps changing. When Poulter finally arrived at Renaissance Club Wednesday, he was given a bit of the paparazzi treatment, with a Getty photog snapping photos of him the instant he exited the tournament registration office.
“It’s all created a divide,” one caddie said at Renaissance Club Tuesday afternoon. “It’s become a bit Us vs. Them.” Rory McIlroy, speaking over in Ireland, admitted much the same: “Right now, it’s sort of messy and all the narrative isn’t good. It’s splitting the game instead of everyone coming together and I think everyone has to try and come together a little bit more.”
They’ll come together on the leaderboard Thursday once the golf begins again, everyone in the field sharing the same goal. That will last for exactly 72 holes, barring a playoff. Then it will start back up again in St. Andrews.