LIV Golf rebels realise they have paid ultimate price for taking Saudi riches

LIV Golf rebels realise they have paid ultimate price for taking Saudi riches

The Ryder Cup was back at its intoxicating best over the weekend with glorious sights and sounds in Rome as Europre regained the trophy with a 16.5-11.5 win, and LIV Golf’s stars had to watch from home

Patrick Reed, Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau were among the LIV Golf stars who had to watch from afar as Europe regained the Ryder Cup. (

LIV Golf players do not speak with regret, but on the weekend of the Ryder Cup, perhaps some of them learned the true cost of glugging from Saudi Arabia’s relentless fountain of wealth: Irrelevance.

The likes of Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed have become incredibly wealthy men after signing up to the breakaway league when it launched in 2022, but those eight-or-nine-figure deals do not come without strings attached. The same is true for European Ryder Cup heroes Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia and Paul Casey.

It started with parroting the Kingdom’s propaganda about “growing the game” and massaging criticism of its human rights record, but what must surely hurt their egos more is the fact they became nothing more than afterthoughts in an event that moves the needle like no other in the sport.

Sure, there may be some lamenting on the American side that an in-form DeChambeau didn’t get the nod over the struggling Collin Morikawa, Jordan Spieth or Justin Thomas after the fact, but for three days the 2020 US Open champion and his LIV colleagues were on the other side of the glass.

Johnson, DeChambeau and Reed have been among the defining players and personalities of the past decade, but for all but four weeks of the year at the majors, to most general sports fans they are almost anonymous.

The Ryder Cup is golf’s mainstream event. There is little nuance for casual viewers to wrap their heads around, and the narrative could not be more straightforward. It’s red versus blue with bragging rights on the line, with huge crowds, crackling atmospheres and high drama. For those fans who watch golf four or five weekends a year, there are less big-picture thoughts about who is or isn’t there but a captivation by the spectacle in the here and now.

Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm enhanced their legacies at Marco Simone Golf & Country Club over the weekend, Brooks Koepka aside, all that LIV players have enhanced since it launched last summer is their bank accounts. Koepka is the exception; the only LIV player in the field for the 44th edition of the Ryder Cup, earning his place off the back of tremendous performances in the majors in 2023.

Brooks Koepka was the only LIV player at the Ryder Cup and it was a disappointing week for the five-time major winner.

But while playing on good-but-not-great courses in 54-hole shotgun start events on a YouTube stream, the rest of the game has moved on without them. For sportsmen of the highest level, it must be an acute blow to the ego that they remain among the most talented players in the world, but the kudos they once received has largely vanished.

Of all of the names listed, Johnson perhaps cares the least. With multiple major championships and Ryder Cup wins to his name and hundreds of millions in the bank in his late thirties, his absolute prime years have just appeared in the rear-view mirror. He is a man who appears wholly content with his career and his decisions.

For Reed, DeChambeau and the ever-improving Talor Gooch, however, they are five-plus years younger. LIV and the associated drama from the breakaway may have driven massive engagement and conversation. But who is watching the events? After all, there is no UK TV deal and it took until the second season to find any kind of broadcast partner in the US, and low-key PGA Tour events without its biggest stars have attracted audiences vastly bigger than the LIV viewership.

A lack of instant popularity is an inherent obstacle for startups and LIV is no exception – this is not an issue unique to Saudi Arabia’s entry into golf, which will only expand as merger talks with the PGA Tour rumble on. The players had to make peace with the fact their guaranteed millions and the massive prize money would affect their profile, both in terms of credibility and validity.

The Ryder Cup was perhaps the most acute example. European LIV players could not take part because DP World Tour membership is required to be eligible, while the lack of world ranking points made it a huge challenge for American LIV players to force their way in, with wins in the majors the only realistic route to selection.

And last weekend in Rome was the peak of their invisibility. There was no longing for “The Postman” Poulter and company as Europe’s youthful team regained the famous trophy two years on from the Whistling Straits massacre. For the US, they had a new “Captain America” with a different Patrick replacing Reed; Patrick Cantlay was the new villain of the piece after a disputed Sky Sports report and he revelled in that role, performing heroically over the final two days in Rome.

Team Europe has moved on from its heroes of the past 20 years, many of whom joined LIV at the earliest opportunity.

The players who missed out are not the only ones to pay the price in a fractured world of golf. It is undeniable that the presence of Reed and DeChambeau’s personalities would have benefitted the spectacle in Rome, but new stars were born in their stead. Cantlay and Max Home emerged as new heroes for the American side, while the Europeans moved swiftly on from the old guard that delivered many treasured memories but jumped aboard the LIV Express at the earliest opportunity.

And throughout the year, a “Big Three” has solidified of McIlroy, Rahm and world number one Scottie Scheffler, with Viktor Hovland rapidly ascending to that sort of company with his surge to the FedEx Cup title and his epic performances at Marco Simone. What about Koepka or Australia’s sensational Cameron Smith? Playing just 54 holes in 48-man fields, who knows anymore?

Of course, this moment in the shade may prove to be fleeting with the PGA Tour and the PIF around the table and mapping out a new, confusing future for the game at its apex. When all the details are inevitably hammered out and the whole game is Saudi-run, LIV players will shoot back up the world rankings and be eligible for the Ryder Cup.

Maybe then, they will believe their journey into the wilderness was worth it as the roadblocks of golf’s warzone era are lifted. And they still have a chance in the majors, although it is questionable whether LIV’s paper-thin fields and style-over-substance format offer the best preparation. But right now, they do not weigh heavy in golf’s balance of power.

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