The first time PGA Tour pro and Wheaton native Kevin Streelman entered Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, he was in utter awe.
There to play in an Illinois Junior Golf Association event, Streelman soaked in the atmosphere at one of the Chicago area’s most prestigious private clubs.
The course was magnificent. The on-site car museum was — and still is — a jaw-dropping stunner. And Jerry Rich, the owner, president and designer of Rich Harvest, could not have been nicer.
“It was a special day,” Streelman said.
This week, however, is an especially frustrating one for Streelman because Rich Harvest is hosting the controversial LIV Tour’s fifth-ever event.
“Honestly I was a little disappointed to see it come to Chicago — a city that I’m from and take great pride in,” the 43-year-old Streelman said Wednesday in a phone interview. “I was a little surprised that Jerry would want that at his golf course.”
Rich Harvest’s 7,425-yard layout held up fairly well during Friday’s first round, although Dustin Johnson tore it to shreds by firing a first-round 63 to take a 3-stroke lead over Cameron Smith.
Mickelson, one of the faces of LIV and in the middle of the controversy, overcame a triple bogey on the par-3 fifth hole and rebounded to shoot a 2-under 70.
Streelman has several problems with a tour funded by Saudi Arabia, which has a poor reputation when it comes to women’s rights, funding terrorists and torturing detainees.
“People have issues with the political side of things, which is understandable — especially people with connections to 9/11 and losses of family members and friends,” Streelman said. “People have issues with what it’s done to professional golf in general. It’s an attack on the PGA Tour and global competition in general. It’s (also) a social issue of what our world is coming to in regards to greed and where money comes from … just that making the most money is all that matters.
“I guess I personally have a little bit of an issue in all regards.”
Forty-eight players are a part of the LIV Tour, with many being recruited because of massive signing bonuses (Mickelson was reportedly paid $200 million, Johnson $125 million, and Smith $100 million) and others coming for the massive purses that pay $4 million to the winner and $120,000 to last place.
Some of the bigger names include Bryson DeChambeau, Patrick Reed, Brooks Koepka, Paul Casey, Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter and Louis Oosthuizen. Nine LIV Tour members (including Smith at No. 2) are ranked in the Top 50 in the World Golf Ranking.
Streelman hates that “there’s been a wedge drawn in professional golf” and is also disappointed with LIV Tour’s lawsuit against the PGA Tour. The suit argues that LIV Tour members should be able to play on either circuit.
Mickelson’s solution is that all parties should unite.
“The PGA Tour for the last 20 or 30 years (has had) all the best players in the world,” Mickelson said. “That will never be the case again. LIV Golf is here to stay, and this type of divisive talk is doing nobody good. The best solution is for us to come together.
“The world of professional golf has a need for the … history of the game (and) product that the PGA Tour provides. And LIV provides a really cool, updated feel that’s attracting a younger crowd — and that’s being proven in … the age of the people that are watching.
“Both are needed … and the inclusion of LIV golf in the ecosystem of the golf world is necessary. As soon as that happens and we all start working together, it’s gonna be a really positive thing for everyone.”
Turnout for Day 1 was solid, with estimates ranging from 6,000-9,000 fans. In some ways what they saw mirrored a PGA Tour event as:
• Eager kids had autograph requests met by Johnson, Paul Casey, Henrik Stenson and others.
• Mickelson, on his way to the third tee box, handed a ball to a mother who was holding her waving infant daughter.
• One goof just had to yell, “GET IN THE HOLE!” as Johnson ripped his drive to begin the tournament on the 402-yard first hole.
The oddities include the aforementioned shotgun start, raucous rock music blaring through the stands, and marshals holding up signs that read “Zip it” instead of “Quiet, please.”
Oh, and let’s not forget the four former Navy SEALs who parachuted onto the 18th green to kick things off.
“I’m enjoying the opportunity to compete against these guys and do it in a much more fun and fan-friendly environment,” Mickelson said. “The energy is different.”
So what will happen in the coming years? Streelman says it will ultimately come down to the fans.
“The Tour’s been an integral part of my life for the last 16 years as a member, but really the 20 years before that was a dream of getting there as well,” Streelman said. “So it is something that’s very near and dear to my heart, and something I’m very proud of that I was able to accomplish. …
“I really think in the end it’s going to come down to the product. Some fans will enjoy LIV, and some fans are going to want to stick with the PGA Tour.
“I know where my allegiance is and always will be.”