The greatest performance I’ve covered in 56 years as a sportswriter was the 2000 US Open at Pebble Beach. The oceanside treasure was beyond firm and most of the field of 156 players were soundly defeated by those conditions.
Not 24-year-old Tiger Woods. He finished 72 holes at 12 under par. Ernie Els, then 30 and at the zenith of his immense skills, finished as runner-up at 3 over.
The 15-stroke margin was a record for the four tournaments considered majors:
US Open (dating to 1895), British Open (1860), Masters (1934) and PGA Championship (stroke play since 1958).
The previous largest margin was 13 strokes by Old Tom Morris, when he beat a field of eight in the 1862 British Open. That third Open was contested for three rounds of 12 holes at Prestwick in Scotland.
Maybe that is the LIV Invitational Golf Series’ claim to tradition — that if the British Open could start off 160-plus years ago as a three-round competition, why can’t LIV’s three rounds (and 54 holes) be embraced as completely valid in big-time men’s golf?
Because that’s not how it has worked for 130 years, since the British Open became a 72-hole event in 1892.
Men’s championship golf is supposed to be a grind — first, a chance to be knocked out with 36 mediocre holes, then an opportunity to let a tournament get away with any ill-timed flinch over two more long, pressurized days.
There is no other reason required by the overseers of the World Golf Rankings to ignore the results occurring on the Saudi-financed golf circuit: 54 holes.
Do what you must to lure players such as Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka who would prefer a minimum of golf for their hundreds of millions, but 54 holes do not equate to men’s championship golf. Thirty-six holes of qualifying, then match play. OK, that works.
What doesn’t work is LIFE. The message should be clear from the keepers of the rankings: You want to get points, Saudis, change it to the LXXII Invitational Golf Series.
It is a wonderful twist of fate that the primary front man for the Saudis is Greg Norman. No one in modern golf would’ve been better served if men’s championship golf was played in 54 holes than Norman.
He was the Shark on Saturday night who often became the carp on Sunday afternoon. And he was a guppy on April 14, 1996, when he took a six-shot lead into the final round of Masters, staggered to a 6-over 78 and lost to Nick Faldo by five strokes.
Rick Reilly, the golf writer for Sports Illustrated, wrote: “Where there is a Sunday lead for Norman, there are always Sunday’s banana peels.”
And the non-championship distance is not the most grotesque violation of tradition, of which golf has more than any of our major sports, including baseball.
I mean, we just watched the US Open contested at The Country Club, a course in suburban Boston originally laid out in 1893 — a course where Francis Ouimet, a 20-year-old amateur who had grown up across the street, won the 1913 Open.
And somehow that hallowed ground, with changes, of course, held up as a test for this generation of tee-box bombardiers.
Some outstanding players missed the 36-hole cut that June week and were sent packing. Which is the wonder of golf — you have to earn it every week.
Unless you’re playing LIV. Forty-eight players, a cast changing as new names take the guaranteed millions and bump others, but always 48, with no cut.
On Tuesday, a California judge refused to issue a temporary restraining order that would have allowed three defectors to LIV — Talor Gooch, Matt Jones and Hudson Swafford — to take spots in this weekend’s FedEx Cup playoff opener in Memphis.
At one point, a lawyer on the plaintiffs’ side suggested that the generous prize money being won in LIV events was actually being “recouped” from those large signing bonuses. Brandel Chamblee, a verbose LIV critic from the Golf Channel, had tweeted that much earlier and was derided. LIV officials were quick to deny what had been suggested by their own lawyer.
Either way, LIFE isn’t championship golf. It’s 54 holes, no cut, no pressure, no tradition.
It’s a “friendly,” like a nothing soccer match but on a bigger lawn.
Tiger can’t play much anymore, and yet he turned down hundreds of millions to join the Saudi carnival. That could be his second-greatest triumph, next to Pebble Beach in 2000.