Let’s get straight to the point. LIV Golf do not want Henrik Stenson, they want his status.
The opportunity to open their limitless chequebook and give the DP World Tour the ultimate two-finger salute was just too good for them to miss. It’s just unfortunate the soon-to-be ex-Ryder Cup captain just couldn’t resist the lure of the green.
Who can blame him? The former Open champion is only worth an estimated $25m and was in possession of one of the most prized jobs in golf – a job he had described as his “dream” when appointed in March.
Yet, just four months later, he has another dream – 54 holes, shotgun starts, and captaining a LIV Golf team. I can only assume we’ll soon be able to buy merch for the newly-formed Judas GC.
But what has made Stenson make such a U-turn?
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Perhaps it was hearing Talor Gooch – a guy who’s never played in a Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup – compare the atmosphere at Pumpkin Ridge to golf’s biggest team event that proved the ultimate sway. Why experience the atmosphere of just one more Ryder Cup when you could play in eight alongside the likes of Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer, and Graeme McDowell, and take on Phil Mickelson and Patrick Reed. Heck, LIV Golf events are even played across three days, just like the Ryder Cup. It’ll be Medinah or Gleneagles all over again… just played in Saudi Arabia and with no history on the line. And there’ll be no Justin Rose for you to play alongside, either, I’m afraid Henrik. Presumably, he was the moral compass in your successful pairing.
I’m assuming the sizeable cheque (rumoured to be $40m) means it doesn’t matter, but the 45-year-old must realise there’s no way that Greg Norman, LIV Golf or the Saudi investors want him to join their series because of his current golfing prowess.
Yes, he is another Major champion on their roster (imagine what we’d have missed if that 2016 Open at Troon had only been three rounds!), but he’s the world No.171, has six missed cuts, and just two top 20s to his name in 2022. Mind you, that’d be about $5m in LIV world.
Norman & Co. want him because he’s the European Ryder Cup captain and it is a massive body blow to the DP World Tour and Ryder Cup. It creates an even bigger divide and raises further questions over the future of golf’s biggest event at a time when the game should be basking in the glow of the Open Championship’s monumental anniversary.
Instead, LIV still managed to steal a share of that limelight. Firstly, Greg Norman wasn’t invited to the celebrations, and then Reed turned up emblazoned in LIV logos. Tiger Woods and R&A chief Martin Slumbers both used their press conferences to chastise LIV and its players, before Ian Poulter, and Reed were all booed on the first tee on Thursday.
Fast-forward to the weekend and Poulter lost his cool with reporters over a question about the boos, while several of LIV’s big-name stars bowed out from Opens at St Andrews with little more than a ripple of applause.
Graeme McDowell then suggested The Open would be better if it was a shotgun start event (yes, it was tongue-in-cheek, but read the room, G-Mac), before Sunday saw news of Garcia’s DP World Tour and, therefore, Ryder Cup resignation, and newly-crowned Champion Golfer of the Year Smith refusing to deny he’d be joining Norman’s crew. Then, as the sun set over the Old Course’s famous 18th, the Stenson rumours stepped up.
While losing the likes of Poulter, Westwood, Garcia, G-Mac, Casey, and Kaymer was a blow, their Ryder Cup careers were already over – they simply gave up their own opportunity to be captain in the future, which is never a guarantee.
But Stenson was the Ryder Cup for Team Europe for the next 15 months. As the captain he would be the face of Team Europe and preparations were already underway for the match at Marco Simone Country Club, directed by him.
As Team USA captain Zach Johnson was making it clear that he stood with the PGA Tour and wouldn’t be offering wildcard picks to any LIV players (sorry, Talor Gooch), his counterpart was presumably negotiating his number.
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There are those who won’t care. Those who still believe the captain is largely irrelevant because, when all is said and done, it’s down to the quality of the players. But look at 2014 at Gleneagles or 2018 at Le Golf National. McGinley and Bjorn left no stone unturned in their bid to win, from the team uniforms and course setup to the picks and pairings. And while the result didn’t go his way, Padraig Harrington couldn’t have been a better representative for the continent.
What Stenson’s selfishness has done will cost Europe’s new captain vital time to prepare and the chance to truly enjoy their moment. We’ll always remember whoever steps up as the one who replaced the original captain. The captain who decided his priorities no longer lay with the Tour which helped make his career and put him in a position to be Ryder Cup captain.
He’s destroyed his reputation, given new meaning to the nickname ‘Iceman’ and, ultimately, he’s cost himself the opportunity of a lifetime. But then it wouldn’t be the first time Henrik’s made a bad decision driven by money, would it?
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