Brookline, Mass. ( Associated Press) — Two worlds of competitive golf collide at this week’s US Open,
A world trying to blow up the status quo poses the biggest threat in the 54-year history of the PGA Tour. It is led by six-time major winner and fan favorite Phil Mickelson, who took in $150 million or more to leave the game’s pre-iconic tour with former No. 1 Dustin Johnson and play in the new Saudi-backed LIV golf series.,
The other world is populated by the likes of Ben Silverman and Davis Shore.
They are among the young, travellers, hobbyists and dreamers who have made it through qualifying To earn a spot on the 156-player field at The Country Club outside Boston. Starting Thursday, they’ll play with millionaire disruptors in the America’s Open golf tournament—an event that, in theory, any pro or amateur with a handicap of 1.4 or less is eligible to win.
“For anyone at our level, this is another opportunity,” said Shore, 23, from Tennessee, who plays on minor league tours in Canada and Latin America and has a career earning of about $15,000. “It’s an opportunity to play against the best in the world. And that’s what you want. Hopefully it’s a good opportunity to cash a big cheque. We don’t get a chance to play at this level.”
There’s a level of puddle-jumper flights to their far-flung checkpoints, cheap rental cars, fast-food drive-throughs, and bunking with roommates. Players take the deduction, then use that money to pay for travel to next week’s tournament.
Shore, who went through 54 holes of qualifying this spring to make his second straight US Open, spoke to the Associated Press earlier this month after the first round of the Royal Beach Victoria Open on PGA Tour Canada. He will be in 13th place. He earned $3,325. By qualifying for the US Open, he received a $10,000 travel stipend to travel to Brookline.
Without those funds, he said, “I don’t know how I’m going to make it work.”
Neither he nor Silverman claim to have paid much attention to the LIV Tour, which has been the talk of The Country Club this week. and awarded a record-setting $4.75 million to the winner of its opening ceremony, Charl Schwartzell, last weekend. The winner at this week’s national championships — which, like the other three majors, is not operated by the PGA Tour but is closely linked — will earn in the neighborhood of $2.25 million.
There is a lively and divisive debate going on about what message breakaway players are sending by cashing a check from LIV Golf. The league is controlled by the Saudis, and the league’s front man, former No. 1 Greg Norman, describes the series in golf as a “force for good”. But for many, it is nothing more than the state’s attempt to scuttle its much-anticipated human rights record of using the state game.
From a pure golf standpoint, this league is taking the rap for carrying on a tradition that’s long been baked into the game’s DNA: players earn their money based on their performance week-to-week in any given tournament. Huh. (Sponsorship dollars flowing out of that are different, but are also mostly available to players who demonstrate consistent success.)
LIV guarantees money to all 48 players on the field before hitting a shot. Mickelson was reported to have received $200 million to go on to play in the series; Johnson reportedly received $150 million. Last weekend’s last-place finisher earned $120,000, or nearly 10 times what Shore accumulated in his 15 months as a pro.
The “win-to-earn” format is a concept that has long separated golf and tennis (and bowling and some other sports) from the worlds of pro football and basketball and football, where checks are clear which team Be – or the player on them – fare.
Up-and-comers like Shore and Silverman have bought into the system, and are hoping to gain or gain a foothold there.
This does not mean that they are against other models.
“You’ll see people playing amazing golf,” Silverman said of the idea that players would walk into tournaments with some sort of guaranteed payday. “And it will probably be more exciting for the fans because we won’t be worried about making money.”
Silverman said that mindset has informed his new approach to life on the Korn Ferry Tour.
Now 34, the Ontario native began his pro career in 2013 with the help of supporters who funded him. Due to a strong 2017 performance on Korn Ferry, which earned him promotion to the PGA Tour, he has been able to pay them back with part of his $1.5 million earnings, the most won between 2017 and 2019. That money has given him one too. Cushion to face the tough times, which now finds him looking for a way back to the big show.
Working with renowned golf psychologist Bob Rotella, Silverman says he has redefined his mission. Their goal in every tournament is not just to make the cut and cash the check.
“I’ve always played the game because I wanted to win,” Silverman said. “It had nothing to do with money. That’s the mindset I want to get back into.”
Noise takes a similar approach.
“You’re focused on winning, or finishing in the top two or three, so you can get to the next level where you can really make money,” he said.
Shore was one of the top junior golfers in the country coming through high school. Alabama won the recruiting battle, but a series of hip and back injuries hindered him throughout college. He turned pro in 2021, and his early days as a professional have been a winding road through Peru, Ecuador, Chile and Mexico, with occasional stops in Canada as well as on minor league tours in that country to be eligible.
He is his own travel agent and often takes his bag when he plays. After making it through local qualifying, he earned a spot in 13 of the sectional qualifiers near Dallas to make it to the US Open for the second year in a row.
He looks at some of the players who were invited to the LIV tour – players with resumes who are barely more adept than him – and credits them with being in the right place at the right time.
While the “right place” in the future of golf is up for debate now, of course, this week, that place is The Country Club.
“I’m not going to put all my eggs in one basket for a tournament,” Silverman said. “But this is my first major championship. It’s an opportunity to play in a tournament I haven’t played before. All the top players in the world will be there and I’m very excited for it.”
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