It has been 11 years since Charl Schwartzel achieved every golfer’s dream by winning the Masters. Quite whether the South African will regard this triumph in quite the same esteem remains to be seen but having pocketed $4m – the biggest individual prize ever handed out at a golf event, not to mention $750,000 for also winning the team competition – at least his bank manager will be happy.
On the day that a group representing victims’ families and survivors of the 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States accused the high-profile American players of sportswashing and betraying their country, Schwartzel saw off a spirited challenge from his compatriot Hennie du Plessis that went down to the 54th and final hole to win by one stroke having done all the damage by shooting a combined nine under par on Thursday and Friday. “I was taking a lot of heat down the final stretch because there was a lot of money on the line,” he said.
But while he was celebrating, a letter sent to the agents of Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Kevin Na and Patrick Reed – who had earlier become the latest golfing superstar to confirm his defection to the LIV Golf Series – by 911familiesunited.org expressing outrage towards the players for competing in the Saudi-backed events.
“As you may know, Osama bin Laden and 15 of the 19 September 11 hijackers were Saudis,” wrote the organisation’s national chair, Terry Strada, a mother of three whose husband, Tom, was on the 104th floor of the north tower of the World Trade Center during the attacks. “Yet these are your partners, and much to our disappointment, you appear pleased to be in business with them. Please, do not insult our loved ones’ memories and take the pathetic position, as one of your foreign colleagues did last week, claiming you are ‘just golfers playing a game’ or blandly treating the evils of the Saudi regime as ‘human rights’ concerns. This is a betrayal not only of us, but of all your countrymen.”
Back on the course after handing Schwartzel his historic cheque, there was still time for another golden carrot to be dangled. Yasir al-Rumayyan – the chairman of Newcastle and governor of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, who bankrolled this venture – offered $54m to anyone who can post a score of 54 in one of their upcoming events. Given that the closest anyone on the PGA Tour has managed is 58, that one seems unlikely.
Round of the day belonged to another South African, with Branden Grace’s 65 meaning he and American Peter Uihlein overhauled England’s Sam Horsfield in the final stretch to take a share of third place. At least the 25-year-old from Manchester who had briefly moved into second place after an eagle at the 15th could content himself with a cheque for a cool $975,000 – nearly five times what he earned for winning a PGA Tour title in 2020.
Earlier, Reed had announced that he will join DeChambeau at Pumpkin Ridge at the end of June for the second of the seven events planned for LIV Golf’s inaugural season. The 2018 Masters winner said that he had been enthused by what he had seen at the Centurion Club in Hertfordshire. “Being able to be part of a change for the sport that’s for the better is exciting,” said Reed, a three-time winner of the Ryder Cup with a 100% record in singles matches on his CV. “I can’t get up there to Portland fast enough.”
Reed will now be also ineligible for any tournaments on the PGA Tour after all players competing in the inaugural event were indefinitely suspended within half an hour of the first tee shots here on Thursday. Yet with Rickie Fowler and Bubba Watson the latest high-profile players who are reportedly considering making the switch, the threat does not appear to be working.
“All I can I say is that the evolution of golf has arrived,” said Greg Norman, LIV Golf’s chief executive and commissioner in his speech at the closing ceremony. “They tried to squash us but they couldn’t do it. The fans spoke and said they wanted team golf and to see the way the players have reacted brings a new energy to the game of golf. We have a tremendous future ahead of us, trust me.”
But with Schwartzel, Du Plessis and Grace ensuring that the Stingers GC boasted a 14-shot lead coming down the last, the team competition failed to capture the imagination of most watching. While the atmosphere was not exactly Sunday afternoon at the Ryder Cup, it was at least refreshing to see the number of younger fans who had come along to catch a glimpse of golf’s glitzy new era. Many had drifted away by the time that Schwartzel tapped in his winning putt on the 18th yet there were still plenty who stuck around in the fan zone to hear Jessie J round it all off.
Mickelson – who began the week as the main attraction and still had the crowds flocking to watch him despite struggling to find consistency – was long gone by then as he ended up in a share of 33rd place in a 48-man field after a disappointing six over par 76 in his final round.
That meant the 51-year-old returned home with a consolation prize of $148,000 although given the continuing backlash he must now be wondering whether it was all worth it.