LIV Golf fans, PGA Tour players ignoring inconvenient facts

LIV Golf fans, PGA Tour players ignoring inconvenient facts

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The behavioral economist Daniel Kahneman has argued that people who are committed to a theory tend to dismiss inconvenient facts, preferring to believe that the facts are wrong rather than the theory. The Nobel laureate doesn’t want for supporting data in an era when alternative realities are constructed and vigorously defended in every sphere of daily life, and golf is providing its own book of evidence.

A comparatively inconsequential example came this week when Scottie Scheffler was voted the PGA Tour’s Player of the Year. Tin foil hatters like to hint at ballot tampering in Tour headquarters, but if there was a tipping of the scale here it probably came in the locker room. Scheffler had an outstanding season, but with twice as many victories and a major championship, Jon Rahm’s was clearly superior. Then Rahm quenched a sudden thirst to grow the game and jumped to LIV halfway through the two-week voting period in December, leaving his peers sufficient time to will into existence a more palatable reality, honoring the amiable Texan rather than giving the Spaniard a going-away gift.

Across town, LIV’s social media foot soldiers remain alert for opportunities to legitimize their folly. Rory McIlroy’s conciliatory comments about players who went to the Saudi-funded league were seized upon by knuckle-draggers as tantamount to an endorsement after years of scorn. McIlroy is conflict-averse and disarming by nature (traits not shared by all of his countrymen) and this wasn’t the first time he has lamented friendships that fractured in the past couple of years. His praise for Rahm’s “smart business move” was brandished as his blessing LIV when it was more an inadvertent illustration of how elite stars see this issue — as a straightforward, yay-or-nay commercial opportunity — compared to the existentially threatened rank-and-file on the tours they’re undermining for personal enrichment. Nor was McIlroy’s suggestion that he might one day play team golf any revelation. He’s spearheading just such a concept with Tiger Woods, theirs being more likely than LIV to seed whatever team component takes shape in the future.

Untroubled by this context, Greg Norman promptly thanked McIlroy for “falling on his sword,” albeit not in the manner that Jamal Khashoggi fell on the sword of the flaxen-haired finger puppet’s employer. To Norman, McIlroy’s placatory words represented proof that he has seen through the propaganda, that LIV’s ‘future of the game’ narrative is credible, that Norman isn’t helming a flailing exercise in sportswashing.

Facts be damned on that too. Regardless of what Norman and his band of bootlickers tell themselves, their Saudi overlords didn’t earn a spot at the negotiating table by dint of popular opinion or product quality, but by threats and profligacy. Several billion dollars later, the Public Investment Fund still can’t boast a league that engages fans or sponsors, as evidenced by viewership too paltry to report and revenue barely sufficient to cover Patrick Reed’s legal bills. All PIF has demonstrated is the ability to sabotage rivals by using LIV as a mechanism for taking willing, well-compensated hostages until the other tours are ready to negotiate terms.

Reliance on theories over facts isn’t limited to the LIV ecosystem but rather is increasingly apparent on the PGA Tour too. There appears to be a growing sentiment among members that the Tour landed in its current predicament because its leadership was short-sighted and flat-footed, too arrogant to engage the Saudis at the outset and too complacent to meet the challenge posed. There’s more than a kernel of truth in those charges, but the notion that the Tour ought to have quickly embraced the Saudis is specious. The DP World Tour did that by adding a Saudi stop to their schedule in 2019, by which time their new “partners” were already secretly plotting to supplant the European circuit with the Premier Golf League concept and use that as a beachhead to move against their U.S. counterparts. Jay Monahan had reason to stiff-arm the Saudis, having seen the intent was not to work within golf but to own it outright.

There’s ample blame to go around for the current debacle in professional golf, but it’s not being evenly assigned. The Tour’s capitulation on June 6 provides convenient cover for those committed to the theory that matters could have been settled sensibly long ago if only leaders had actually led. Monahan and his team deserve criticism but it’s a useful fiction to pretend that responsibility ends there. The most inconvenient fact remains this: the PGA Tour is humbling itself before an abhorrent regime because of the disloyalty and greed of its own players. No amount of self-serving theories will change that.

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