It wasn’t long before Henrik Stenson’s decision to compete in the Saudi-funded LIV Golf Invitational Series paid off.
Less than a fortnight after the equally keeled Swede lost the Ryder Cup captaincy in Europe with immediate effect after defecting to the controversial Saudi-backed breakaway circuit for a reported $50 million signing fee, Stenson played a final card on Sunday afternoon. round 69 to win LIV Golf’s third event by two shots over Dustin Johnson and Matthew Wolff at Trump National Golf Club in the leafy New Jersey township of Bedminster, 75 miles west of New York City.
“I think we can agree that I played as a captain,” said Stenson, who took home $4 million for beating the field and an additional $375,000 for his team’s second-place finish. those helped offset the scathing criticism he’s received since reneging on a March pledge in accepting the captain’s post to fully support the DP Tour.
“I think there may have been a little extra motivation this week,” he added. “If we have that as players, I think we can bring out the good stuff. I think that’s been a bit of a theme over the course of my career, I think if I really want something, I manage to dig a little deeper, and oftentimes we manage to make it happen.
At first glance, it hit all the notes of a feel-good story: a hard-fought return to the winners circle for a 46-year-old ranked 173rd in the world that hasn’t been there often since his record-breaking triumph at the 2016 Open Day. But then Stenson took the trophy. along with Donald Trump in a pyrotechnic peppered ceremony that was curiously omitted from the official broadcast, while Donald Trump Jr. explained the “greatest F/U in golf history,” there was a nagging boredom that even the Chainsmokers concert after the game on the 10th hole couldn’t dispel.
The disgrace that has come to define the upstart circuit funded by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund has only been compounded at the Bedminster golf club owned by a former US president whose role in fueling the Capitol riots in the United States. US continues to be investigated by a select House committee. Controversy, but louder.
Trump sucked the spotlight throughout the proceedings, consistently drawing the weekend’s biggest crowds as he watched the competition from a purpose-built terrace along the 16th tee that featured a rotating cast of VIPs, including TBEN News pundit Tucker Carlson and far on Sunday. – right firebrand Marjorie Taylor Greene.
The 54-hole, no-cut competition — with no meaningful stakes, no meaningful history or world rankings at stake — felt more like a soft launch for Trump’s 2024 presidential run than an authentic sports experience. Never more so than during Sunday’s final round as spontaneous chants of “Four Years!” and “Let’s go Brandon!” — a coded vulgarity among Trump supporters — echoed across the Old Course.
The renegade circuit has enticed some of the biggest names in the sport with exorbitant $25 million purses and nine-figure registration fees. It has also provoked strong reactions from critics who accuse the Saudi government of using sport to launder the kingdom’s bleak human rights record, alleged links to the September 11 attacks, severe crackdown on women’s and LGBTQ+ rights, and the murder of the dissident Saudi journalist Jamal in 2018 Khashoggi.
But it doesn’t take a certified public accountant to understand why – despite the sparse crowds in Bedminster and the modest streaming audience for lack of a TV deal – LIV Golf has continued to push one household name after another away from the established golf tours. Think Johnson, two-time major champion who reportedly entered with a $150 million signing fee, who has earned more than $5.2 million in prize money in three LIV events to date. The splashy purses don’t stop at the top of the leaderboard either. Australian Jediah Morgan, who finished 14-over-par this weekend, gaping 25 shots adrift from Stenson and finishing last, took home $120,000 for his effort. Nice work if you can get it.
LIV Golf is here to stay, it seems. Next stop: the Oaks course at the International outside of Boston in September. But Bedminster’s strange scenes have only shown how far it must go to convince his skeptics and bridge the gulf of golf’s growing civil war.