Thanks to Augusta, the LIV Golf-PGA Conflict Now Has a Cold War Feel

Some of the verbal sniping between players who've each pledged allegiance to one of the rival leagues has calmed in light of the Masters Tournament

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland and Brooks Koepka of the United States look on during a practice round prior to the 2023 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 04, 2023 in Augusta, Georgia.
Rory did offered up a few wry grins at a recent press conference in response to two tough questions.
Patrick Smith / Getty Images

If you somehow didn’t think Augusta National was a special place before — with it playing host to America’s favorite golf major, the Masters Tournament, and home of an apparently awesome, budget-friendly pimento cheese sandwich — the fact that its grounds can compel something of a ceasefire to the nuclear-level war of words between LIV Golf and PGA Tour devotees should convince you.

Who would’ve thought that Rory McIlroy — the man who’s so staunchly opposed the LIV Golf venture that he’s sacrificed performance quality to lead the fight against it — would yuck it up alongside Brooks Koepka (who abandoned the PGA Tour for a reported $100 million guarantee from the Saudi Arabian-backed league, despite the country’s terrible human rights violations) during a practice round at the hallowed ground? That’s what happened yesterday.

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“I think the more face time you get with some people, the more comfortable you become in some way,” McIlroy said, per Sports Illustrated. “[I]t’s a very nuanced situation and there’s different dynamics. You know, it’s O.K. to get on with Brooks…and maybe not get on with some other guys that went to LIV, right. It’s interpersonal relationships, that’s just how it goes.”


“It wasn’t just a random show-up-on-the-tee,” said Koepka, referring to the warm-up pairing, according to “It’s more just two friends just wanting to play together.”


Surely, Phil Mickelson — the three-time Masters champion who did not compete in last year’s tournament after he made what he himself later called “reckless” statements that minimized the Saudi government’s poor human rights record — would lash out against the golfers who’ve called him things like “nutbag” for defecting to LIV, which Fred Couples did, right?

“Gosh, it’s fun to be here,” said Mickelson, per ESPN. “Fred and I are longtime friends, and we’ve had a lot of great experiences in the game of golf. I think the world of him, and I hope we have a chance to have more great experiences with him as well.”

Mickelson said the Masters is his “favorite week” in golf and, according to, he said that he wasn’t concerned about the LIV controversy creating a tense atmosphere at the Tuesday night traditional Champions Dinner.

“We’ve had friendships, relationships for a long time,” Mickelson said about his (quasi-former) colleagues. “I don’t see it being an issue. I really don’t.”

Alrighty then…

Tiger Woods, though; that guy would surely throw shade. After all, his sports management firm, Excel, has even gone so far as to drop players who’ve decided to join the Saudi rival league, including Thomas Pieters, who as of late February was ranked number 34 in the world.

When asked Woods if he has a say in Excel’s seeming policy of dropping LIV players, he said, “I do not…that’s about Excel and what they want to do.”

When pushed, though, Woods admitted, warmly, with a smile, “I have my opinions.”


It seems that’s the most barbed statement we’re going to get from these players during Masters week. McIlroy really seemed to be on point when he said, referring to the LIV-PGA war of words, “This tournament is way bigger than any of that.”

But Masters week has just gotten started and there’s a lot of time and fiery competition left. We haven’t even had the ceremonial tee-off yet, which isn’t until Thursday. Tom Watson, Gary Player, and Jack Nicklaus, who helped build the PGA Tour and turned down $100 million from the Saudis to rep LIV, will have that honor.

Three-time Masters runner-up Greg Norman, who accepted a similar offer to become LIV’s CEO, was not invited to the tournament this year because, as Masters chairman Fred Ridley said, “I want the focus to be on the competition.”

One less potential shit talker to worry about, I guess.

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