At Trump National, Henrik Stenson’s choice to join the Saudi-backed breakaway tour paid off right away, amplifying the controversy that has defined LIV Golf.
Henrik Stenson’s choice to compete in the LIV Golf Invitational Series quickly began to pay off handsomely.
Stenson shot a final-round 69 on Sunday afternoon to win LIV Golf’s third event by two shots over Dustin Johnson and Matthew Wolff at Trump National Golf Club in the leafy New Jersey township of Bedminster, 45 miles west of New York City, less than a fortnight after the even-keeled Swede was stripped of Europe’s Ryder Cup captaincy with immediate effect for defecting to the controversial Saudi-backed breakaway circuit on a reported $50 million signing fee.
“I guess we can agree I played like a captain,” said Stenson, who earned $4 million for defeating the field and an additional $375,000 for his team’s second-place showing. These staggering sums helped Stenson make up for the harsh criticism he’s faced since breaking a March promise to fully support the DP Tour when he accepted the captain’s role.
This week, he speculated, “I think there might have been a little bit of more drive in there.” “I believe we can bring out the best in ourselves as players when we have that. Over the course of my career, I believe that this has become somewhat of a theme: when I truly want something, I am able to dig a little bit deeper, and frequently we are successful in making it happen.
On the surface, it seemed like a feel-good story: a 46-year-old man who is currently ranked 173rd in the world makes a hard-won return to the winner’s circle after missing out on it frequently following his record-breaking victory at the 2016 Open. But as Stenson and Donald Trump accepted the trophy and Donald Trump Jr. dubbed it “the greatest F/U in the history of golf,” a gnawing sense of tedium pervaded that not even the post-game Chainsmokers concert near the 10th hole could dispel. This ceremony was curiously left out of the official broadcast.
The Bedminster golf club owned by a former US president, whose involvement in inciting the US Capitol riot is still being investigated by a House select committee, only served to amplify the contempt that has come to characterize the upstart circuit funded by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund. Dispute, but it’s louder.
As he watched the game from a specially created terrace along the 16th hole with a revolving cast of VIPs, including far-right firebrand Marjorie Taylor Greene and Fox News pundit Tucker Carlson on Sunday, Trump routinely drew the largest audiences of the weekend.
The 54-hole, no-cut competition appeared more like a soft start for Trump’s 2024 presidential campaign than an actual sporting event because it lacked serious stakes, history, or world ranking points. Never more so than during Sunday’s final round, when Trump supporters’ impromptu screams of “Four more years!” and “Let’s go Brandon!” reverberated across the Old Course.
Some of the biggest stars in the sport have been lured to the renegade circuit by its extravagant $25 million payouts and nine-figure signing-on fees. Additionally, it has sparked a fierce backlash from detractors who claim that the Saudi government is using sports to cover up the country’s appalling record on human rights, alleged involvement in the 9/11 attacks, severe repression of women’s and LGBTQ+ rights, and the 2018 murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a dissident Saudi journalist.
But it doesn’t take a certified public accountant to see why LIV Golf has persisted in luring away household names from golf’s well-established tours, despite the thin Bedminster crowds and its small streaming audience in the absence of a TV arrangement.
Take Johnson, a two-time major winner who reportedly paid a $150 million signing fee and has so far received more than $5.2 million in prize money from three LIV events. Additionally, the flashy purses don’t end at the top of the leaderboard. Jediah Morgan of Australia earned $120,000 for his efforts despite finishing the weekend at 14 over par, dead last and far behind Stenson by 25 strokes. If you can acquire it, nice work.
It appears that LIV Golf is here to stay. The Oaks course at the International outside of Boston will be the next stop in September. But the bizarre events in Bedminster have just shown how far it still needs to go to convince its critics and end the growing civil war in golf.