Miami Herald

PGA Championsh­ip gets its turn in spicy tussle between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf

- BY BRYCE MILLER The San Diego Union-Tribune


The spiciest of the mudslingin­g, back-stabbing, greed-soaked reality shows hits overdrive this week.

It’s not the Real Housewives of Poway. Forget the 177th season of “Survivor.”

It’s golf, the supposedly refined, civilized and wellmanner­ed game.

When the PGA Championsh­ip tees off at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Ky., on Thursday, it’s not just Rory McIlroy against Brooks Koepka. It’s the PGA Tour against LIV Golf. In the minds of many, it’s the club-swinging version of good versus evil.

Right in the middle of it is San Diegan Phil Mickelson, who used the 2021 PGA Championsh­ip to pen one of the greatest feelgood stories since Old Tom Morris began chasing a ball around St Andrews.

It was thrilling to walk alongside Mickelson, at 50, as he redefined what’s possible by becoming the oldest player to win a major at blustery Kiawah Island.

When hundreds streamed past the ropes on 18 and Mickelson and

Koepka wiggled through the masses like the ghost players who suddenly appeared from the cornfield in “Field of Dreams,” he was beloved for turning back the clock.

A year later, Mickelson enraged and disappoint­ed many of those same people by leaving the Tour for the shadowy Saudi-backed LIV Golf and the disturbing human rights record that came along for the ride.

The sense of it: Mickelson was delivering a blow to a tour that had provided him a platform and riches for three decades, while offering more legitimacy to the invading horde that could threaten the sport.

Mickelson claimed he was hunting for leverage over the rigid limitation­s of the Tour, which eventually forced the front offices to share more of the money pie with the people making it possible. That’s not a bad thing, but it also has pumped mountainou­s uncertaint­y into the game.

In one moment, megastar Jon Rahm was defending the traditions and history of the Tour. Then, after succumbing to a blizzard of bucks, he feigned amnesia and changed teams.

McIlroy, who became the staunchest defender of all things PGA, got blindsided by the Tour’s awkward handshake with LIV that still is being sorted out.

Anger. Bitterness. Avarice. Hypocritic­al pivots.

Reality show stuff, indeed.

Fast forward to 2024. Mickelson is back and will be at the same PGA Championsh­ip as Tour-backing legend Tiger Woods for the first time since golf was tossed into a blender.

Koepka, another LIV check casher, is the defending champion. McIlroy, betrayed by his own tour, tees off as a big-time threat. Scottie Scheffler is the best player and the world and the Tour’s most convincing and visible example of still being the best collection of golfers on the planet.

Each of the majors moving forward, the Masters, the U.S. Open, the British Open and, this week, the PGA Championsh­ip becomes validation for one side or the other.

Good versus evil.

Pop the popcorn.

“It’s hard for me to not sit up here and feel somewhat like a sacrificia­l lamb and feeling like I’ve put myself out there and this is what happens,” McIlroy said in June 2023 after news the groups would partner in some ways moving forward.

The saltiness needed to come with a sodium warning: “I still hate LIV,” McIlroy said. “Like, I hate LIV. I hope it goes away.”

There’s also an inescapabl­e truth that LIV has too much money to go away easily or without a fight that could further damage the Tour. The group also senses traction, especially after luring a player with the résumé of Rahm.

Backlash is coming for Rahm after his comments at Valhalla on Tuesday.

“You guys keep saying ‘the other side,’ “Rahm told the assembled media. “But I’m still a PGA Tour member, whether suspended or not. I still want to support the PGA Tour, and I think that’s an important distinctio­n to make.”

Support it? By leaving for a rival group?

So, the PGA Championsh­ip becomes the latest proving ground. The Tour has results and history on its side. LIV has youngupsta­rt momentum and untold wealth to ride out the choppy waves.

It’s still unclear where golf goes from here.

But it’s sure interestin­g to watch.

 ?? EDGAR SU Reuters / USA TODAY NETWORK ?? Brooks Koepka is out to defend his PGA Championsh­ip, which begins Thursday at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville.
EDGAR SU Reuters / USA TODAY NETWORK Brooks Koepka is out to defend his PGA Championsh­ip, which begins Thursday at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville.

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