At the Masters, Golf cries for unity and healing

The Masters has always celebrated Golf and its rich traditions. But the 87th edition was also about a break from tradition and an increasingly fractured world of golf

The scarred stars of LIV Golf and the superstars of the PGA TOUR faced off for the first time in nine months. The former seeks legitimacy, and the latter desires to snatch custodial rights.

On the surface, the players might have embraced masterful diplomatic tones, but the aspirations simmering beneath the careful veneer lay exposed by the end of a dramatic Masters week.

After months of uninspiring golf, Brooks Koepka, Phil Mickelson, and Patrick Reed used their time at Augusta National to underline their credentials. Jon Rahm asserted his supremacy with a stoic Sunday effort that saw him don the Green Jacket and turn world No.1.

Golf was served well by the leaderboard at the Masters. The top six was an even split between the battling parties. Rahm secured the title, while Russell Henley and Jordan Spieth held sway at T4. Koepka and Phil Mickelson, who produced an Easter resurrection, were tied in second. Patrick Reed threw his hat in the ring by joining the party at T4.

There has been so much back and forth since the breakout series began in 2022 that some wondered if there would be fireworks when they met in Augusta. Instead, there was happy banter and warm interactions around the range and on the course. Dustin Johnson, Cameron Smith, and Joaquin Niemann were among a dozen LIVers that made the cut at the Masters.

“We’re still the same people,” Koepka advocated, looking beyond his disappointment after frittering away a four-stroke advantage at the start of Sunday. “So, I know if I’m healthy, I know I can compete. I don’t think any of the guys who played this event thought otherwise. When Phil plays well, we know he’s going to compete. Reed, the same thing. I think that’s just manufactured by the media that we can’t compete anymore; that we are washed up.” Over the past year, Golf has turned rough on the edges and sore on the inside. The emergence of LIV Golf in 2022 as an active competitor left the sport crumpled, laying bare, warts and all.

Three-time champion Mickelson sat out the 86th edition as a cloud hung over his persona, painted in the colours of a pariah. The Masters in 2022 preceded the beta launch of LIV Golf on the heels of a scandalous expose of Mickelson’s comments. Even though the other majors were played in the immediate aftermath, the battlelines were blurred as most players retained access through their rankings or previous achievements.

Since then, much water has passed under the bridge. LIV has shown enough to back up their early bravado, despite the lack of OWGR points and a massive fallout with the established order of the sport.

The PGA TOUR and DP World Tour, supported by sections of the media, have weaponised their power to produce stigma and isolate the players associated with the fledgling newbie.

But including Niemann at T16, four golfers were at the top end of the Masters leaderboard. A dozen of the 18 LIVers that played the week made the weekend; two withdrew due to injuries.

The absence of ranking points for LIV and being ostracised by the PGA TOUR and DP World Tour makes life complicated for the players and the sport. The lack of ranking points compromises their ability to participate in majors, especially with time.

While that can severely set LIV back, the absence of eminent players from the majors can become a distraction and compromise quality.

The results of the Masters have shown us that the sport’s health depends on the collective success of its best golfers, irrespective of their affiliation.

There is no more significant stage in the sport than its four majors, and the evidence from the first of those is beyond compelling.

It is time to address the fault lines and find a path forward for alternative expression without isolation. The fans and budding young golfers deserve to watch the best of them compete against each other more often.

During the week of the Masters, the sports arbitration council ruled in favour of the European Tour. The panel upheld the right of the administrators to penalise players for jumping boats and bar them from regular competition.

It may seem like a victory for authority in the short term, but like a double-edged sword, it could also prove detrimental to the future of golf in Europe. The quality of fields in some of their recent events has left plenty to be desired, even more so than the PGA TOUR.

A fractured community will continue to deepen the fault lines rather than heal and nurture.

The OWGR will do well to prioritise the review of LIV Golf’s application for ranking points rather than delay or refuse to act on it. It is time for them to recognise the quality of players on LIV and reward them for their performances with an appropriate level of points based on a study of their strength of field ratings over the past year.

An interim measure could also be to adapt qualification and entry criteria to actual events based on performances in the LIV Golf events.

Either way, golf must find a way to heal the fracture and bring together its best talents more often.

As the PGA TOUR flies to Harbour Town in Hilton Island for RBC Heritage this week, LIV Golf prepares for battle at the Grange Golf Club in Australia next week.

The Masters has taught us that one cannot be complete without another. And the sport needs a bit of both to heal and thrive again. The sooner golfing authorities act on this, the better it is for the sport.

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