Described by the California Business Journal as “athlete freelancers,” professional golfers on the PGA Tour pay all their expenses (travel, hotels, caddies) out of their own pocket and only get paid out by the Tour when they play well and make tournament cuts or possibly win. (Many also have sponsorships that help pay the bills when their skills don’t.) Unlike athletes in most other popular American sports, who have contracts that stipulate they will be paid a set amount to play for a set amount of time, pro golfers are essentially independent contractors.
For a sport like golf, which typically pits professionals against each other over a four-day tournament that whittles down the field halfway through and sets up one-on-one matchups on the event’s final day that can go a long way to deciding the winner, that actually makes a lot of sense. Golfers only have to rely on themselves to win and have the chance to fail or succeed on the course independently of what anyone else does. If your opponent shoots a 69 and you shoot a 70, you lose. If you shoot a 68, you win. Simple as that.
LIV Golf, which paid former PGA Tour pros like Phil Mickelson, Cameron Smith, Bryson DeChambeau and Dustin Johnson big, guaranteed money to defect to the Saudi-backed circuit, has attempted to set a new standard for golf by holding a series of 14 three-day tournaments where 12 teams of four players apiece compete to determine a champion.
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LIV’s team format, which is different from the variety that is used at established events like the Ryder Cup, has not been a hit with golf fans as the upstart tour has struggled to attract an audience. It also hasn’t been a hit with LIV defector Brooks Koepka, who believes he is being held back by the play and effort of his teammate Matthew Wolff.
Koepka, who also plays with his brother Chase and Jason Kokrak on Smash GC, has not been impressed by Wolff’s play of late, as he’s finished with a withdrawal, T-44, T-41, T-30 and 44th in LIV’s 48-man field over his last five events. Those finishes have not exactly helped Smash GC climb up LIV’s season-long leaderboard.
“I mean, when you quit on your round, you give up and stuff like that, that’s not competing,” Koepka said to Sports Illustrated. “I’m not a big fan of that. You don’t work hard. It’s very tough. It’s very tough to have even like a team dynamic when you’ve got one guy that won’t work, one guy is not going to give any effort, he’s going to quit on the course, break clubs, gets down, bad body language, it’s very tough. I’ve basically given up on him ― a lot of talent, but I mean the talent’s wasted.”
The talent, or lack thereof, also shouldn’t be a part of a group effort. Golf isn’t a team sport and if LIV Golf wasn’t attempting to turn it into one, Koepka would have no reason to have a problem with Wolff, who has called his forced-upon teammate’s criticism “heartbreaking.”