Golf’s past stars are center stage at the American Family Insurance Championship.
That’s part of the appeal of the PGA Tour Champions event at University Ridge Golf Course — fans can see some of the game’s best players of years past compete against one another. But golf’s future has been a frequent topic of discussion this weekend.
LIV Golf has felt shockwaves through the golf world, as the Saudi Arabia-backed golf league’s first tournament kicked off in London this weekend. Players’ super-sized guaranteed salaries and the big names that LIV lured to defect from the PGA Tour have generated headlines, as have the implications on the LIV players’ legacies as they play for a league whose money comes from a controversial source.
Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund is behind LIV Golf, and the oil-rich nation is spending billions in the sports and entertainment spaces to change the perception of the country. Among a number of controversies surrounding the Middle Eastern country, Saudi Arabia has committed human rights violations against LGBTQ+ persons and the CIA determined Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the assassination of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul in 2018.
People are also reading…
During a Thursday interview at University Ridge before the AmFam began, David Duval questioned the morality of playing for Saudi money.
“I disagree with everything behind it, I disagree with the people behind it,” Duval said.
“I just wonder as a player who chooses to do this and the way I choose to live my life, I wonder if any thought has ever gone into the examples you set for your wife, your friends, your children, what you’re willing or unwilling to do in the pursuit of the dollar. I’m not so sure that that’s something I could live with myself and it’s a lesson I teach my kids.”
Golf stars Bryson DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson and Patrick Reed are among those to jump from the PGA to LIV tours. The PGA Tour said this week that any player who competes under the LIV banner needed to resign their membership on the PGA Tour.
Steve Stricker, the AmFam’s player-host and a Madison resident, sees a number of golf issues with the LIV circuit on top of ethical concerns.
“It seems, you know, I hate to say it, but it seems a little bit like a member-guest, it really does,” Stricker said. “It doesn’t feel right to me. There’s no history there, shotgun starts …
“They’re playing for a lot of money and I’m not begrudging the guys that are going over there to play this tour, but for me personally, I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around it.”
Champions Tour players take their role as ambassadors for golf seriously. Along with the philanthropic efforts of Champions tour tournaments is the belief in growing the game.
LIV creates another pathway for professional golf, but the cost of those opportunities is beyond what many AmFam players see as acceptable.
“We play for our living and you’re getting a whole lot of upfront money,” said Jerry Kelly, a Madison resident and two-time AmFam winner. “I don’t know how I’d react to getting that. I’ve never had the contracts that make me comfortable. Those guys, most of the guys who got that kind of money, had the contracts to make them comfortable as well. So I don’t know. It’s just a really strange time right now, it’s crazy.”
Stricker finds his fire
Stricker was in need of a wake-up call on the putting green before Saturday’s round.
One could blame it on a combo of a long night that included an appearance at the AmFam’s concert at Breese Stevens Field and an early tee time, or the illness he’s still recovering from, but Stricker said he was going through the motions at times during his round.
“That’s what I’ve been lacking a little bit of, that mentality like I had before,” Stricker said.
He was able to get his fire going enough to post a 3-under 69 and he’s six shots back of the leaders at 4 under for the tournament.
He got some momentum before the turn after he took an aggressive approach at the ninth green. His ball landed on the green but rolled off and down the front-side hill a bit. He chipped to less than 4 feet for a tap-in birdie. But he wasn’t able to sustain that scoring run, notching four consecutive pars to start the back nine.
“Had some opportunities there that I didn’t really take advantage of, especially on the back nine, 11, 12, 13,” he said.
After a frustrating opening round, Stricker was slightly encouraged by his step forward.
“It was a little bit better today, but didn’t really get it in the hole very well at times,” Stricker said. “But it was better.”
Daly in the hunt
Fan favorite and two-time major winner John Daly posted one of the best rounds of the day with a 6-under 66, moving him to 7-under and three shots back of leaders Miguel Angel Jimenez and Thongchai Jaidee. Daly didn’t record a bogey and was dialed in with his putter, saving pars on holes that could’ve been trouble.
“I made a few putts here and there, hit a lot of fairways, but the guys are going low,” Daly said to a tournament representative. “It’s hard to win out here.”
As he walked onto the ninth green, Daly gave nods and waves to supporters who complimented his approach shot. The crowd around the putting surface clapped loudly as he rolled in a short birdie, the first of a string of three birdies that buoyed his outing from him.