“Obvious lies serve a purpose for an administration,” wrote Garry Kasparov, the chess great and courageous critic of Vladimir Putin. “They watch who challenges them and who loyally repeats them. The people must watch, too.”
We are entering a week in which golf fans will be inundated with obvious lies from the Saudi International, peddled by players exhibiting all the sincerity of $20 hustlers trying to say it like they mean it.
“I’m trying to grow the game.”
“They are trying to change here.”
“I’m just here to play golf.”
“I want to compete against the best.”
“I’m not a politician.”
The ashamed might at least look uneasy in their prevarications. The shameless will be all thumbs-up and duplicitous grins. And everyone will depart the Kingdom richer, but only in cash terms. This effort to launder the Saudi regime’s grotesque reputation will soil that of many others.
Golf has long been burdened with clichés that are more heavily trafficked than the 405 at rush hour, and yet the sport’s lingua franca manages to grow still more insipid and hollow by the day.
To our catalog of greatest hits—‘One shot at a time,’ ‘Take dead aim,’ and ‘Growing the game’—we can now add ‘Not a politician,’ the deflection of choice among professional golfers competing at next month’s Saudi International.
Las Vegas exists to distort reality, whether briefly enough to separate cocksure gamblers from their chip stacks or long enough to market a bejeweled Liberace as every housewife’s dream. So it was with The Match, in which two men who share a genuine antipathy circled each other like a pair of chummy middle managers at a company holiday party, exchanging compliments that made up in diplomacy what they lacked in sincerity, and betraying nothing more belligerent than an eye-roll.
Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka conducted themselves as any two strangers randomly paired for a Friday game might, piloting separate carts and saying little beyond “Nice putt” and “That’s good.” The last time Vegas witnessed two high-profile men be so taciturn about their common business, Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky were running the Strip.
Jay Monahan earns around $4 million a year, which easily qualifies him as America’s most well-compensated babysitter. Yet it might barely exceed the hourly minimum wage given all of the extra work the PGA Tour commissioner just created for himself.
For those keeping count—admittedly a task less onerous than charting his 44 strokes on the final nine holes at the U.S. Open—Friday marked the sixth consecutive round after which Bryson DeChambeau has declined to speak with waiting media. His silent snit dates to the WGC FedEx St. Jude Invitational two weeks ago, when DeChambeau breezily told reporters that he didn’t need the COVID-19 vaccine because he’s healthy and wouldn’t take a shot from someone more needy, ignorance that suggested he reads the news with considerably less intensity than he does his yardage book.
The PGA Tour returns this week to the birthplace of its most engaging tussle in recent memory, even if the most attentive fan would struggle to recall a single shot ever struck at Liberty National Golf Club.
On the morning of the final round of the Northern Trust two years ago—August 11, 2019 — I was standing by the practice putting green with Ricky Elliott and Claude Harmon III, respectively the caddie and (now former) coach of Brooks Koepka, when a clearly vexed Bryson DeChambeau approached and instructed Elliott to tell his boss to make any comments about slow play “to my face.”
Back in 2015, a college coach told Golf Channel reporter Ryan Lavner that within five years Bryson DeChambeau, who had just won the U.S. Amateur, would either be No. 1 in the world or in a straitjacket. That DeChambeau currently occupies neither position isn’t to say that both are now beyond the realm of possibility. It simply varies by the week which outcome he seems to advance toward.
The relationship between professional athletes and the press is fraught by its very nature, moreso in the wake of Naomi Osaka suggesting that media questioning is injurious to her mental health. However, at this week’s Rocket Mortgage Classic, two of golf’s biggest stars seemed more concerned about damage to their pride and ego.
While it remains unclear how Brooks Koepka’s engagement strategy will impact his share of the PGA Tour’s $40 million bonus fund for players who “move the needle” with fans, there must already be a direct correlation between his social media posts and Jay Monahan’s Mylanta consumption.
The last couple of weeks — and in particular the last 24 hours — will have reminded the commissioner that the solution to one problem invariably creates other, intertwined sources of heartburn. In his bid to neuter the threat posed by a Saudi-financed rival tour, Monahan devised the Player Impact Program to bestow cash on the needle-movers and prevent their splitting.
Every sport needs a Tom Brady, an Alex Rodriguez, a Kevin Garnett—athletes whose accomplishments win the admiration of some but whose acts and attitudes earn the loathing of many.
Hate figures supply one of the main arteries in sports fandom, permitting us to really savor those moments when karma kicks them in the teeth. It’s not a noble sentiment worthy of the Olympic Creed, but disasters inflicted on antagonists bring almost as much joy as the triumphs of heroes.
It’s one of life’s more reliable axioms that if a man has to tell you he’s a good dude, there’s a fair chance he is actually an insufferable gobshite.
During Saturday’s third round of the Rocket Mortgage Classic, Bryson DeChambeau — who prides himself on seeing things the rest of us simply cannot grasp — took issue with a camera operator for, well, operating a camera. On the 7th hole, the surly pseudoscientist hit a mediocre greenside bunker shot and angrily threw his club — manufactured by Cobra and available from all good stockists — into the sand. After marking his ball —brought to you by Bridgestone — he had a testy exchange with a camera operator who captured this, before storming to the 8th tee in a pair of stylish Puma shoes.
In the run-up to the 2016 Ryder Cup, a friend of mine sat in a meeting during which a senior official on the American side wondered aloud about the possibility a U.S. team member might take a knee during the ceremonies. It was a laughable notion, as though the official believed Colin Kaepernick were protesting slow play or high taxes — those being the only issues on which PGA Tour players are apt to take a public stand.
That reality was reinforced last week as some of the world’s best golfers competed in the Saudi International, a tournament created solely to cast Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s regime in a positive light. The players received stout appearance fees, which was only fair since they had to navigate awkward questions about war crimes in Yemen and that bone saw murder in Istanbul. The payment was more for performing in the media than on the golf course, and the well-compensated chorus remained steady of voice all week.
It’s testament to the enduring appeal of past glories that the two men long considered locks as captain’s picks for the U.S. Ryder Cup team have combined for one victory over the last five years.
Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are the most accomplished and durable stars of their generation. It’s been 25 years since America fielded a team that did not include at least one of them, which has rendered unthinkable for many fans the notion of a team without them, if they’re healthy.
Injuries caused Woods to miss three Ryder Cups over the last decade, and when he began his comeback seven months ago he seemed an unlikely bet to be playing this year in Paris. But when Jim Furyk announces his first three captain’s picks on Sept. 4 (the final one comes Sept. 10), Woods will be the most defensible name read aloud.