Day two of the golf revolution and the headlines kept rolling in. Bryson DeChambeau, the sport’s greatest hitter, has been confirmed as LIV golf’s latest star signing.
It wasn’t a shock. DeChambeau was expected to join the Saudi-funded competition since the beginning of the week, but it was always confirmed with the now usual hype. Greg Norman, the figurehead of LIV, welcomed DeChambeau as an athlete “pushing the boundaries” of his sport.
“Bryson DeChambeau is an exciting addition to LIV Golf’s supercharged style of play,” said Norman. “He is passionate about the sport, innovative in his approach and determined to push the boundaries in the pursuit of excellence. He’s not afraid to think outside the box and supports our mission to do things differently to grow our game.”
DeChambeau is set to join the eight-event tour at its second stop, the Portland Invitational at Pumpkin Ridge later this month. Inside commentator Jerry Foltz was suitably fired up and posed the question he hoped everyone would ask: “If he’s not the captain of Smash, then what are we even doing?”
Smash is the name of one of 12 teams competing for a collective prize of $3 million in addition to the minimum individual prize of $125,000 plus a multi-million dollar signing fee. The innovation of playing on both teams and individually is a clear way in which LIV is trying, in Norman’s words, to energize the sport. But on a glorious summer afternoon at the Centurion Club outside Hemel Hempstead, it wasn’t always so easy to identify how he was transformed.
“It’s still golf, isn’t it,” said Connor McGuigan, one of the youngest fans in attendance Friday. He had gotten a free ticket through a promotional code on a podcast and was enjoying himself. But it was the experience more than the sport that seemed new to him. “Teams don’t matter,” he says, “and golf feels like kicking. A lot of people are here to have fun and don’t really watch golf. It looks a bit like the Hundred if I’m being honest and there’s no way I would have paid for a ticket.
Other people around the course were less caustic, but the themes about the quality of the competition were the same. The leaderboard at the start of day two of the three-day event was led by players such as world number 133 Hennie du Plessis and 126-year-old Charl Schwartzel. Local stars Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter were back in the pack, as were Phil Mickelson and Graeme McDowell. The fight at the top may not have been entirely compelling, but the competition between Team Smash and their rivals was just plain confusing.
If you put the golf aside, the fans on the course have nothing but praise. The sizable fan zone with its big screen, bigger bar and loaded fries (£11 a pop) was a big hit, as was the putting contest, which offered the prize of an all-expenses trip for two to Miami ( slight catch, the specific destination is the “iconic blue monster” at Trump National Doral Miami). Successful putters were regularly greeted with the greatest cheers on the course.
LIV would not release figures on the number of ticket holders on the course, but there was no doubt that the crowds were significantly smaller than at a major tournament. It certainly had advantages: more space for supporters, easier access to facilities, a general feeling of being well supported. On the other hand, only one of those interviewed by the Guardian had actually paid for a ticket and she only did so because the event was close enough to her home to save money on travel.
GOLF BUT LOUD, WELCOME TO THE FUTURE, DON’T FLASH, great brand messages are all over Centurion. How supercharged beyond language really is remains to be seen, but either way the message isn’t really for those soaking up the Hertfordshire sun. As of this writing, 69,000 people are watching the London Invitational from home on YouTube. They are the audience that this tournament woos. Revolution may not yet be televised, but it is certainly streaming.