The news hit with the cannon force of a 400-yard course or the surge of emotion from a gallery: Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed are heading to LIV Golf.
The Saudi-backed tour, which begins this week outside London, had built a base of well-known but largely veteran players – Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood, Kevin Na, Ian Poulter and more. Then he added the surprising star power of Dustin Johnson, followed soon after by the globally popular Phil Mickelson.
Now he’s upped the ante with what may be his most important new members in DeChambeau and Reed. It could also include Rickie Fowler who says he’s still considering joining the tour. DeChambeau and Reed both inspire passion in fans – love ’em or hate ’em, they make you feel Somethingand that’s too often a rarity in the world of khakis and sensible golf collars.
DeChambeau’s appeal is obvious. He’s spent the pandemic lockdown rearing his head, and he’s returned to the game as a burly scientist, preaching an odd mix of new-age philosophy and scientific analysis that he believes would completely change the game of golf. He didn’t, but he did win the 2020 US Open, and crowds are gathering to watch him unleash gigantic tee shots that land in different area codes than his playing partners.
Reed oscillated between villain and hero, most often landing on the dark side due to his frequent run-ins with officials and his propensity to complain about unfair treatment. Still, he won the Masters in 2018 and he was on the winning side of one of the most memorable Ryder Cup battles of recent years against Rory McIlroy in 2016.
Even Fowler, who has been through tough times in recent years, remains a favorite with young fans who continue to wear his dazzling Puma gear even as he has moved away from the garish looks of the mid-2010s.
All three attract fans and generate excitement in a way that most LIV players – we’ll be polite and avoid naming names – simply don’t. All three are among the most watched players in all of golf’s tournaments.
All three are also (relatively) young, with DeChambeau in particular just entering his prime. LIV’s goal isn’t instant profitability, it’s brand building, and adding a player like DeChambeau helps the brand immeasurably by removing the stigma and putting a familiar face on an unfamiliar product. .
All of this image building is also known as “sportswashing”, and that’s why human rights organizations have consistently criticized LIV, which is backed by the Saudi government’s Public Investment Fund. . The players have tried to circumvent their connection to the Saudi regime’s human rights abuses, but they are sure to receive questions at next week’s US Open and wherever they make public appearances.
DeChambeau, in particular, will be a fascinating figure to watch. It was previously rumored that he would join LIV ahead of Mickelson’s comments about the Saudis; after this controversy, DeChambeau took a step back and reaffirmed his commitment to the PGA Tour.
Just last week, DeChambeau, who is recovering from an injury, indicated that he is sticking with the PGA Tour. “For me, personally, I don’t think at this point in my career I can risk things like that,” he said of a jump to LIV Golf. “I’m loyal to my family that I’ve created around me with sponsors and stuff…I’m just going to continue to play professional golf and enjoy it wherever that takes me, playing with the best players in the world.”
What has changed for DeChambeau? Maybe it was Mickelson’s return. Perhaps it was the fact that Johnson led the way and drew initial criticism for backing down from his word. Maybe it was the USGA’s decision to let LIV players compete in the US Open. And maybe it was just money – unfathomable life-changing money.
Whatever the reason, many of the most compelling figures on the PGA Tour now race with LIV. The most serious threat to a professional sports league established for more than 40 years has become much more real.
Jay Busbee is a staff writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him at [email protected]