By Steve Keating
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Reuters) – The Presidents Cup is unlikely to be on any list of great sporting rivalries, but as the U.S. and an International team prepared on Tuesday for their Quail Hollow showdown there was whimsical talk of what could be golf’s ultimate duel — the PGA Tour v LIV Golf.
Rivalries are part of the foundation of sport and any rivalry worthy of attention requires a bit of bad blood, something that is not in short supply when it comes to the bitter feud between the PGA Tour and rebel LIV Golf Series.
Those who have signed on with the big-spending Saudi-backed venture have been labelled sellouts for attaching themselves to a circuit that critics say amounts to “sportswashing” by a nation trying to improve its reputation in the face of criticism over its human rights record.
The battle lines have been drawn and the idea of the two Tours settling their differences on the golf course is a spicy and intriguing one.
Asked on Tuesday if there ever were a PGA Tour v LIV Golf showdown would he play in it, Sam Burns did not hesitate.
“Yes,” said Burns.
Asked why and Burns’ loyalty was clear.
“Because I love the PGA Tour, and if they asked me to be on that team, I would be on it,” declared Burns.
When the LIV exodus started, players sticking with the PGA Tour offered a conciliatory tone, most saying everyone is free to make their own choice.
As LIV Golf poached more players and launched legal challenges to allow their golfers to compete on both Tours, that tone has hardened.
Four-time major champion Rory McIlroy, one of the fiercest critics of LIV Golf said earlier this month that it would be “hard to stomach” playing alongside them at the DP Tour’s flagship event, the BMW PGA Championship.
Billy Horschel labelled players from LIV Golf participating at Wentworth as “hypocrites”.
Horschel acknowledged the appeal of a PGA v LIV contest, but noted that the PGA Tour had nothing to gain from such an event.
“I wouldn’t mind playing in it, but at the same time, you’ve got to look at things — what would the PGA Tour benefit from that?” said Horschel, adding that a PGA Tour v LIV Golf showdown has been discussed. “Nothing.
“If we win, we’re supposed to win. If we lose, it looks bad on the PGA Tour.
“So it’s really a lose-lose for the PGA Tour in that situation, and LIV’s got everything to gain from it.”
Those gaining the most from a PGA Tour/LIV Golf grudge match would be the fans.
India v Pakistan in cricket, the Old Firm derby between Glasgow’s Rangers and Celtic, the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox or even the Ryder Cup, where the U.S. takes on Europe in a similar format, all evoke passion, occasions circled in red on any sporting calendar.
The Presidents Cup brings together golfers from Asia, India, South America, Australia, but getting them to rally around a common cause that captivates a global audience has proven a challenge.
The Unites States’ complete domination of the biennial competition, running up a record of 11-1-1, has not inspired visions of riveting drama.
“It’s a big hypothetical,” said world number one Scottie Scheffler of a PGA Tour v LIV Golf faceoff. “I don’t know if we’re going to see that anytime in the future.”
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Charlotte. Editing by Toby Davis)