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Time out

For pro-golfers the allure of the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Tour is not just about the money

Time out
Cameron Smith tees off during the first round of the LIV Golf tournament (Photo Credit: Associated Press)

Cameron Smith, the second-ranked golfer in the world, is unlikely to ever become the world number one. At least not if the status quo pertaining to world ranking points prevails. As of now, players on the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Tour do not accrue any world ranking points for their performances on that tour. That means past Major winners like Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood, Louis Oosthuizen, Bubba Watson, and now Smith, to name a few, will not be able to tee it up in the Major Championships once their exemptions run out. Last week, the Open Champion—Smith—announced, to no one’s surprise, that he’s signed up for Greg Norman’s Tour. So has our very own Anirban Lahiri, along with Australian Marc Leishman.

In their press interactions post the move, a number of players, including Smith and Lahiri, have spoken about more time at home with friends and family being a crucial factor that influenced their decision. There is, undoubtedly, more than a grain of truth in that assertion. As privileged as pro golfers are to be able to play the game for a living, their lives are anything but easy. One of the more prolific players in this regard, Jeev Milkha Singh, used to play an average of 40 weeks a year around the world. The hardest part of being a pro golfer is the jet lag and recovery, the time away from family, and living out of a suitcase for most of the year. And then there is the matter of playing well enough to make the cut. Scheduling of events to address players’ concerns is one of the issues the USPGA Tour should have addressed long back. On the contrary, over the past few years, the Tour has become even more stringent about the minimum number of events the players need to compete in to keep their cards.

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The calendar for the upcoming season has a record amount of prize money and eight invitationals where players will compete for prize money that ranges from $15 to $25 million. While the money has increased significantly—three bonus pools totalling $145 million—players have been upset with the punishing schedule. When the schedule was announced in February this year, pro-James Hahn took to Twitter to air his anguish. “Take a look at the new PGA Tour schedule and you’ll understand why players are upset. Vegas to Japan to South Carolina to Bermuda to Mexico? For the viewers, it’s a flick of a remote. For us, it’s 20-hour travel days and tens of thousands of dollars in expenses,” he tweeted. When you consider that the PGA Tour is no longer confined to the United States—with legs as far afield as Japan and Malaysia, and the gulf, then we’re talking about a pretty hectic schedule that is bound to wear anyone down. Imagine doing that for years on end, and then a new tour comes along, which offers a confirmed payday, fewer mandatory events, and consequently more free time. It’s certainly not an easy proposition to turn down.

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Gary Player, the South African legend is famous, among other things, for being one of the most travelled golfers in the world. The player racked up millions of miles during his career, circumnavigating the globe many times. He’s been pretty vocal about the ‘war’ between the LIV Golf Tour and the PGA Tour of late. “I wouldn’t take a billion dollars for my nine majors on both tours,” the 86-year-old player told the BBC. “The only man to win the Grand Slam on both tours. I worked hard. I had a desire. I travelled the world. It was an education. I met wonderful people,” he added. The player continues to travel intensively for his golf course design projects. It appears that younger pros today don’t share the player’s enthusiasm for being on the road, and spending weeks and months away from their families. Lahiri, in particular, has alluded to the loneliness of being on the road all by himself, and the inability to spend time with family as one of the biggest challenges he’s faced while playing on the PGA Tour.

Too much golf isn’t a problem for most of us. It’s the sporting equivalent of a first-world problem if you ask me. I remember the time one of the top-ranked players in the world had whined about the disruption caused to his schedule because of a weather-delayed event being extended to a Monday. It meant changing flight schedules for his private jet and paying additional hangar fee and so forth. You get the picture. Golf can be pretty time-consuming, even for amateurs like us. Most of us can’t really imagine a situation in which, when shooting par or better, golf feels like a bit of a drudgery. I’ll put it down to a problem in the parallel universe that pros inhabit. We amateurs, on the other hand, are unlikely to ever become that good that we take the game and our performance for granted. Or yearn to spend time at home when we’re playing well. Time with the family is lovely, but a well-struck drive? That’s real joy.

A golfer, Meraj Shah also writes about the game

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