DORAL, Fla. — If there were any lingering questions about Phil Mickelson’s comfort as LIV Golf’s lead performer, he answered them early Wednesday morning during his tag team championship. It wasn’t his turn, but the man who made more money than anyone joining the tour made a point of being the first to speak.
“Woah, woah, woah, woah,” Mickelson began, interrupting Brooks Koepka in an effort to trick him into selecting Mickelson as his opponent. Phil happily reminded the room of about 150 people that he beat Koepka at the 2021 PGA Championship.
Koepka quickly fired back, blaming Mickelson for never reaching world number one. Mickelson then complimented Koepka’s green seafoam shirt, asking if he had ever won a green jacket. Whether the lines were scripted or not, nearly every LIV captain came armed with purpose and humor. They wanted to inject energy into the debates.
About 10 feet and two other LIV captains (Ian Poulter and Kevin Na) separated Koepka and Mickelson in the eight-man press conference. On the other side of the stage, Bubba Watson added that he too had a green jacket. Koepka opted to face Watson’s side in Friday’s opener and finally had a chance to explain himself: “Booba [Koepka’s chosen nickname] called me the wrong name all year – Bruce – so I thought it was a good chance to get some revenge on him.
So went most of the next half hour – a fun but ultimately uninteresting conversation between the captains and their teammates. Like much of LIV’s first summer, some of this show was quite entertaining. Harold Varner III sat in the front row alongside the media and shouted how Koepka “beat [his] ass” each time they faced each other.
But also like much of LIV’s first summer, some felt terribly forced. When hostess Su-Ann Heng mentioned Ian Poulter’s singles record, Kevin Na chimed in to say “nobody wanted to play foursome with him.” When Poulter was asked about it seven minutes later, Na forced the same joke again. “No one wanted to play foursome with him.”
Koepka, Poulter, Joaquin Niemann all made their opponent selections, leaving Mickelson to face Cameron Smith’s team and Mickelson himself destined for a lopsided singles match against Smith.
“It sucks, right?” Michaelson said. “I mean, I don’t like the way it all worked out.
“Look at Cam’s smile. Look how happy he is. It didn’t quite work out the way we expected.
The 37-minute press conference was as jovial as anything we’ve seen of LIV golfers this turbulent summer, far from the discourse dominated by the league’s connection to Saudi Arabia, his conflict with the PGA Tourthe huge sums of money guaranteed to players and what it all means for, say, future Ryder Cups.
But if Mickelson’s performance on Wednesday was any indication, LIV golfers are desperate to keep the focus on the team championship, a one-of-a-kind professional event. They spent months championing the team aspect of LIV Golf, which some say reinvigorated their careers. Wednesday was a great opportunity to double down. So when Mickelson was asked to re-address comments he’d made in recent weeks – that LIV Golf was trending up and the The PGA Tour tended to decline – he backed off a bit.
“Maybe I shouldn’t have said things like that, I don’t know,” Mickelson said. “But if I just look at LIV Golf and where we are today, six, seven months ago, when people were saying it was ‘dead in the water’… It’s pretty remarkable how LIV Golf has come in the last six, seven months I don’t think anyone can disagree with that.
Mickelson’s description was met with applause from the back of the room, where about 50 LIV staff had gathered to see their work come to fruition. It was a different reminder of how LIV Golf has changed. Four months after the first press conference of his career at LIV Golf involved dozens of vexing questions at a contentious media center outside London, Wednesday’s decidedly friendlier affair took place in the luxurious hall of Trump National Doral’s Ivanka Trump Ball. About 100 meters from the conference hall is a resort building literally called Villa Phil Mickelson. Mickelson won here during the PGA Tour’s 45 years on the property. This is familiar territory.
This week’s season finale was backed by an incredible $50 million purse. Don’t confuse it with a win-or-go-home competition. When Joaquin Niemann contacted Adrian Otaegui to ask him to join his team Torque GC for the championship – Otaegui played the first two LIV events but hasn’t been on the tour since – it was an invitation to make big money. . Maybe up to $4 million. You can find an obvious strategy in Niemann’s decision, if you look closely. (Otaegui won the DP World Tour 10 days ago.)
The whole summer was defined by LIV Golf’s upstart existence, its garish promises and legal demands. But his first seven events fell somewhere short of his goals. The 48-man invitations were a slightly different version of professional golf as we already knew it: stroke play events featuring some of the best golfers in the world. LIV has long bragged about their tag team event like no other tour in the world. They are right about that.
The remaining question now is, will everything live up to the hype? Some of the first promotional materials created for LIV Golf promised that a rivalry would be created between the 12 franchises, similar to other sports. But landing so hard on the surface of professional golf, LIV has created the opposite – a band of brothers who support each other in person, in the press and on social media. That’s exactly what Rory McIlroy said recently: Us versus them. Wednesday’s ballroom was flanked by non-captain members fraternizing as they have done all summer. At the end, the group piled into the hallway and headed out to the course, where the teams eventually split into their own groups. There were no clenched fists. At least not yet.