In the wake of Henrik Stenson being stripped of his European Ryder Cup captaincy for joining LIV Golf, former Presidents Cup captain Ernie Els was asked Wednesday ahead of The Senior Open what ramifications the Saudi-backed league will have on the other biennial international team competition.
Els didn’t skirt around the matter, either, stating that the ongoing battle between LIV and the PGA Tour would affect the Presidents Cup “in a big way,” particularly for the internationals.
“They are going to lose six players if Cam Smith goes,” Els said of captain Trevor Immelman’s side that is set to compete in a couple of months at Quail Hollow. To date, potential International team members who have defected to LIV, and thus been banned by the PGA Tour from competing, include top-100 players Abraham Ancer, Louis Oosthuizen, Carlos Ortiz, Shaun Norris, Scott Vincent and Sadom Kaewkanjana. Smith, who is coming off an Open victory at St. Andrews, hasn’t officially joined the rival league, but he’s been rumored to be considering a move and did little to dispel those rumors last Sunday.
“There are so many guys on the side [who could not be available],” Els added. “It's going to be tougher for Trevor. He might have to be playing captain.”
Els, who helped rejuvenate the Presidents Cup when he was captain in 2019 and his team lost by just two points at Royal Melbourne, added that the PGA Tour would have to relinquish some control of the International team’s selection process “if they want to have any kind of field from the international point of view.”
“Hopefully in years to come,” Els said, “the Internationals can choose their own side on their own merit.”
As for LIV itself, Els shared plenty of thoughts. He likened the clash between the two tours to an uncomfortable “tug of war.” He also noted that he’s long believed that LIV and the major tours should work together – or possibly even partner – with LIV competitions being held during the “dead season” when the NFL and college football dominate televisions from the end of August through the end of the year.
Els sees his idea for harmony in professional golf paralleling the current landscape of professional cricket, where the traditional test format has been forced to co-exist with 20-20 leagues, most notably the Indian Premier League, which feature an abbreviated format. (In Els’ example, LIV would be the 20-20 league.) He also seemed bullish on LIV’s Formula One-style team component, though only as a complement to the traditional golf calendar.
“You could play that for three months,” Els said. “The whole world will be watching. I mean, my gosh, everybody will watch it. Can you imagine the guys trying to buy teams who have people, principals of teams? It will be like the Formula One. You'll have major people, billionaire people, and they will come in and have fun with the teams and the sport, and the guys can have fun and the world can have fun with this format because it's different…
“But three months of that,” Els added, “I think that's enough of that. Then come back to play real golf.”
Els explained that he doesn’t see LIV, even with the backing of “endless money,” competing longterm with established tours that use 72 holes to determine their winners if LIV continues to stick with its current format, which includes 54 holes, 48-player fields, no cuts and shotgun starts. Such a format doesn’t meet the criteria for world-ranking points, which LIV recently applied for, and Els predicts that won’t happen unless LIV changes its concept.
“You can't have a 48-man tour playing no-cut golf and that type of thing and expect the world to take you seriously,” Els said. “You know, it's just not going to happen, and I don't care how much money you throw at it. It's just not going to happen. … If the rest of the world is playing under a 72-hole stroke play, you make a cut after 36 holes and that's how you get your ranking, that's how you make your money; LIV Golf doesn't do that. So, now why would you be under the same brush as the rest of the world? You know, it doesn't make any sense. It's a different format of golf. That's what we do on the Champions Tour … and that's why we don't have any ranking points. We are not regarded as a main tour. It's like the other tours, the Asian Tour, Australian Tour, South African, all those tours play 72 holes.
“Just because you're playing for $20 million a week doesn't change anything.”