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SILVIS, Ill. — The pro golf tournament that will get the most attention this week isn’t the PGA Tour’s John Deere Classic.
For better or worse — and “worse” is the correct answer — the LIV Golf Invitational Series event outside Portland, Ore., this week will be a far-bigger curiosity.
The LIV, making its U.S. debut, has Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau. The JDC … does not. The LIV tourney will have eight of the world’s top 50 players. The JDC? Zero.
If you know the LIV is backed financially by anti-democratic Saudi Arabia crown prince Mohammed bin Salman? If you’re quite aware of the atrocities he has authorized against women, gays, journalists? You can’t be pro-LIV. Unless humanity isn’t part of your makeup.
All news is local. Zach Johnson is from Cedar Rapids. He is playing in his 20th-straight JDC this week, and is the captain of the United States’ 2023 Ryder Cup team.
Dustin Johnson, Koepka and DeChambeau are Ryder Cup veterans and are ranked 17th, 19th and 31st in the world, respectively. Zach Johnson will get to make six captain’s picks to fill out the 12-man U.S. team next year. Would he pick an LIV guy or more if allowed?
“In order to play on the Ryder Cup team whether you're top six or a pick, you must garner Ryder Cup points through the PGA of America,” Johnson said here Tuesday. “In order to garner Ryder Cup points through the PGA of America you have to be a member of the PGA of America. The way that we're members of the PGA of America is through the PGA Tour. I'll let you connect the dots from there.”
In other words, lotsa luck, LIV dudes. As for his feelings about them, Johnson had no criticism.
“I’ve got some friends that have decided to go that route,” he said. “A lot of individuals that I'm for. I mean, these are my friends. I'm for them. I want them to do well. I want them to, you know, find contentment or happiness in whatever it may be. It's not for me to say how that develops or how they find that.
“I will say I have the utmost respect for them individually. I would hope, and I'm not concerned about this, that they would have the respect for me and who I stand for and what I stand for. And I don't think it's very secretive or outlandish in saying that I'm for the PGA Tour.”
Say what you will about the PGA Tour, it didn’t authorize a 15-man hit squad to kill journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Give me the John Deere Classic anytime over that junk in Portland.
The JDC has survived for a half-century being comfortable with what it is, a tournament for up-and-comers who have up-and-went. Jordan Spieth got his first Tour win when he prevailed here in 2013, and added a second JDC title two years later. DeChambeau’s first Tour triumph was here in 2017.
And, this was the tourney that gave Zach Johnson two sponsor’s exemptions before anyone had heard of him, then saw him stay an ever-faithful friend to the JDC (which he won 10 years ago) even after he won a Masters in 2007 and then an Open Championship in 2015.
This is Clair Peterson’s 20th and last year as JDC tournament director. He said “I don’t think there’s any doubt” LIV is a threat to the PGA Tour, but not to the JDC.
“In my opinion it's a totally different product and it's a totally different experience for a fan,” Peterson said. The JDC “succeeds locally. … It means a lot to the community, $50 million economic benefit. We'll leave $12 to $13 million to charity when it’s all over.”
“I think players are starting to see that, you know what, it's pretty darn good where we are right here.” Zach Johnson said.
“We're starting to see some young guys even come out that aren't even on the PGA Tour and say, you know what, I had a dream of playing on the PGA Tour and that's the route I'm going to go. … So I’m encouraged.”
Just how far this LIV thing can go may depend on how many more established stars it can buy. Maybe not everyone has a price, but several of golf’s biggest names certainly have shown they do.
However, not even the Saudis and their billions in blood money can stop the John Deere Classic. The JDC may not be pro golf’s penthouse, but it has been indestructible.
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