Why Wentworth can't be turned into LIV Golf 'battleground' in BMW PGA
Seventeen LIV Golf players, led by Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter and Patrick Reed, are in the field for the Rolex Series event, making it the most significant week by far since the breakaway circuit was launched by Greg Norman.
It felt awkward when only four LIV Golf players teed up in the Genesis Scottish Open at The Renaissance Club earlier in the year after a suspension from that event was “temporarily stayed”, with that matter not set to be resolved until February.
Meantime, in comparison, it’s a small army of so-called rebels teeing up on this occasion and, as a result, there can be no denying that it’s going to be an awkward week at the Surrey venue due to the current fragmented state of the game.
Rory McIlroy has already come out and said it will be “hard to stomach” seeing so many LIV Golf players in the field while Matt Fitzpatrick feels it will be “odd, a bit weird and disappointing”.
Martin Kaymer had been due to be among the LIV Golf contingent but one of the 2012 Ryder Cup heroes has decided that he does not want to deal with any animosity that might be in the air.
"There will be friction there, that's why I'm not going," Kaymer told Golf Digest last week. "I don't need to go to a place where, feel-wise, you're not that welcome. They don't say it, but [it's there].
"I do love the European Tour and I do like Wentworth; I think it's a flagship event that people like to participate in, but, under those circumstances, I try to stay in the area where the energy is high, where the energy is positive.”
By all accounts, the energy was anything but positive when Garcia, the Ryder Cup’s record points scorer, launched an expletive-laden rant at DP World Tour players when he teed up in the BMW International Open in Germany earlier in the year.
'This tour is s***, you're all f***ed, should have taken the Saudi money," the Spaniard was reported to have shouted in the locker-room in Munich and he was at it again during last week’s LIV Golf event in Boston, won by Dustin Johnson with an eagle in a play-off against Joacquin Niemann and Anirban Lahiri.
"I’m sure some guys will be tense about it (because) we’re going to go out there and play; what I’m going to do is support the European Tour and that’s all I can do. Whoever doesn't like it, too bad for them," said Garcia on this occasion. Really?
For a variety of reasons, the BMW PGA Championship is easily one of the best events on the DP World Tour and, due to Wentworth being so close to London, the crowds will be out in force on the West Course.
The vast majority will be supportive of the likes of Westwood, Poulter and all the other English players in the LIV Golf camp because, quite rightly, they will always appreciate how well they’ve flown their country’s flag around the world.
Look at every single thread about golf at the moment, though, and you will see the sport has been divided like never before and, therefore, it’s inevitable that the odd unsavoury comment is going to be heard.
Each of the LIV Golf players has been told they would not be welcome to play in Wednesday’s celebrity pro-am while they’ve also been advised not to wear LIV Golf clothing. In addition, they won’t be in featured groups in the opening two rounds.
With newly-crowned FedEx Cup winner McIlroy and US Open champion Fitzpatrick being joined by the likes of Jon Rahm, Viktor Hovland, Shane Lowry, Adam Scott, Tyrrell Hatton, Tommy Fleetwood and 2021 winner Billy Horschel, it certainly doesn’t need to be all about LIV Golf this week.
It’s inevitable, though, that it will command a lot of the focus, with Norman claiming an exciting end to the breakaway circuit’s latest event had given “golf a heartbeat today”.
He’s entitled to his opinion, of course, but, for an awful lot of people, Oliver Wilson’s win in the DP World Tour’s Made in HimmerLand event in Denmark earlier in the day was easily golf’s best story over the weekend.
The Englishman made his breakthrough when springing a huge shock on Scottish soil to win the 2014 Alfred Dunhill Links Championship but, like so many others, discovered golf can be a real bitch.
He’d dropped back outside the world’s top 700 but handled his slide with dignity, never gave up on himself and, helped by holing two outrageous birdie putts on the back nine on Sunday, became a winner again.
His emotional post-round interview was a timely reminder of what this great game should always be about, players grinding it out to achieve goals, whether little or big, and not having a safety net of a guaranteed pay-day.
It will be galling for the majority of 2021 Challenge Tour graduates, including Craig Howie, to be sitting it out at Wentworth this week at the expense of the LIV Golf players. A good week, after all, in the $8 million event could easily have been career-changing.
Though definitely not everyone, lots of others in the field will share McIlroy’s sentiment about such a heavy rebel presence, but one thing simply can’t be allowed to happen and that is our great game being tarnished by bad behaviour.
The sport is not in a good spot right now, but one of the showpiece stages is not the place for oil to be tossed on the fire.
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