AUGUSTA — The Media. A nebulous term but an easy target. The Media have become something of a punching bag in recent weeks, with golfer upon golfer insisting they are driving the narrative that there’s animosity between those who stayed on the PGA Tour and those successfully lured away by LIV Golf.
“I think there's a lot of stuff going on at the moment that doesn't need to be going on, especially in the media,” Cameron Smith said Tuesday. “I think it's definitely wound up a little bit too much.”
He has a point. Journalists have been digging for a spicy quote this week. Conflict sells, after all. Headlines with one golfer calling out another golfer—Fred Couples calling Phil Mickelson a “nutbag,” or Sergio Garcia calling Rory McIlroy immature—get clicks, and social graphics with testy quotes get likes, even if they don’t properly convey tone.
Take Couples’ comments on Monday, for example. He couldn’t have been in a better mood after his annual Monday-at-the-Masters practice round with one Mr. Tiger Woods. But he’d made some headline-grabbing remarks in the past, and the assembled gaggle of reporters smelled red meat, and they wanted more. So they asked, and they asked again.
“I have no problem with any of them, just please do not bash a Tour that I have 43 years invested in,” Couples said, not a hint of aggression in his voice. “It bothers the hell out of me. They don't bother me. They really don't. They're golfers. I'm a golfer. I respect them all, if one wants to stop and ask why I'm picking on them, then I'm all for it, but I don't really think I've done anything horrific. They're making comments and I'm replying to them. That's it.
Of course, it’s the “bothers the hell out of me” that got picked up and spread widely. More conflict! They really don’t like each other! But it’s the totality of his comments that more accurately portray the current relationship between the PGA Tour guys and the LIV guys. There really isn’t much personal animosity at all; these guys play golf for money, and if guys want to go play golf somewhere else for money, fair play. Sure, some PGA Tour guys haven’t loved what LIV guys have said, but that doesn’t mean they’re not on speaking terms or there’s some ax to grind. There’s been no noticeable divide at all between LIV players and PGA Tour players here on the grounds at Augusta National this week. If anything, they’re just happy to see each other and be competing against each other again.
“At the end of the day, I'll be honest, I do miss playing against Rory (McIlroy), I do miss playing against Scottie (Scheffler), and I'm sure they miss playing against us,” Koepka said after winning the LIV event in Orlando. He’s right. Everyone still loves DJ. Abraham Ancer played with J.T. Poston on Monday. McIroy, the face of the PGA Tour, played a practice round Tuesday Brooks Koepka, the latest LIV Golf champion.
“I think the more face time you get with some people, the more comfortable you become in some way,” McIlroy said, acknowledging that any hostility brewed from reading headlines or tweets melts away in person. Scottie Scheffler isn’t on social media—like, ever—so he never had any ill-will to start with.
“Just because guys joined another tour doesn’t mean I’m not friends with them anymore and think differently of them as people,” defending champion Scottie Scheffler said in the They are still my friends and we are all just gonna hang out and have a good time.”
Jon Rahm had totally forgotten about The Schism until he looked at Dustin Johnson’s shoes.
“To be honest, I saw Dustin first yesterday and Sergio, I kind of forgot, honestly. It didn't even dawn on me until I looked out and I saw Dustin wearing FootJoys, I was like, oh, yeah, things are different, I kind of forgot, right. I had not seen him since The Open Championship. But it didn't really register in my mind.”
If you’ve switched jobs before, you know the feeling. With your ex-coworkers, the ones you were tight with—you’re still tight after you leave. It doesn’t change the way you interact…but that doesn’t mean you don’t want to absolutely fucking destroy them in whatever field you work in.
Yes, people can disagree with a decision—and want to prove they made the right one, and you made the wrong one—without thinking the other guy’s a bad dude. And that’s the dynamic we have at Augusta National this week. There is indeed LIV drama, but it’s not the petty stuff. It’s about performance.
This is the first Masters of the LIV Golf era, and there is deep curiosity as to how the LIVers will fare. Sure, some guys played in some majors last year after making the jump, but LIV wasn’t nearly as defined an entity then as it is now. New guys were joining every week, and at different times, and they’d played PGA Tour events very recently. That’s not the case this year. LIV has their teams, their players, their captains set. They’re a cohesive group, a traveling circus of sorts, but the same traveling circus each and every LIV event. And they absolutely feel an us-against-the-world mentality, for the majority of the golf ecosystem has written them off as sell-outs who chose cash over competition. They can’t possibly be ready for Augusta having played such little tournament golf, on such weak courses. That sort of thing. They certainly don’t feel that way, and there is no better venue to show it than Augusta National.
Make no mistake: how the LIV players fare this week matters, big time. At least in the narrative battle. A poor showing in the biggest tournament in the world will only empower those who believe signing a LIV contract marks the end of your time as a top-level player. But if a LIV player wins, all those questions about remaining elite go out the window. They need to play well, and they know it. They want to make a statement, but it’s not to stick it to any individual player. It’s to prove they’re the same golfer they were before they started playing somewhere else.
“I think we need to be up there,” Cameron Smith said of the Sunday leaderboard. “I think there's a lot of chatter about these guys don't play real golf; these guys don't play real golf courses. For sure, I'll be the first one to say, the fields aren't as strong. I'm the first one to say that. But we've still got a lot of guys up there that can play some really serious golf, and we compete against each other hard week-in and week-out and we're trying to do the same things that we did six months ago. It's nice. It's a good feeling to have that competition, and it's good to see Brooks win last week. He's playing some really good golf again. Yeah, I think we just need a good, strong finish.”
His words, not mine. Though I do agree.