Full Swing sets the scene for golf’s impending legal battles over the sport’s soul
Just moments into the opening episode of Full Swing – golf’s answer to Drive to Survive – we are told the emergence of LIV Golf “threatens the foundations of the game”.
There is conjecture over who will take the money and who won’t. All that is now known but today marks another key juncture in the fight for golf’s future.
A week-long legal hearing in front of a three-person panel – former high-court judge Phillip Sycamore and two KCs (King’s Counsels) – will decide the fate of the LIV Golf rebels.
A group of 13 players – Sergio Garcia, Charl Schwartzel and Branden Grace have since removed their names from the original case – will argue that the DP World (formerly European) Tour has no right to sanction its players from playing on a rival tour.
The players, among them Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter and Patrick Reed, and their team of expensively assembled lawyers will state that they are independent contractors and entitled to play golf wherever they wish.
The DP World Tour will push the case that those that signed up for their tour did so with the agreement of abiding by its laws, which includes not playing on a rival tour at clashing events as with LIV.
Both sides are bullish about their chances. Speaking on the eve of last week’s Saudi International, rebel in chief Phil Mickelson said: “In a couple of weeks, I expect the players, the LIV players will win their case in the UK and we’ll open the doors for all players to play on the European Tour.
“There’s a very good chance you’ll have more showdowns, more head-to-head competitions like you saw last week in Dubai and that would be a really good thing for the game.”
The DP World Tour are similarly confident although the outcome of the case is not expected to reach a conclusion rapidly. While the hearing, which is being held in London, will end on Friday, the legal outcome could yet to take weeks or months, and either side is likely to appeal if on the losing side.
But this is just the start of the fight. On the other side of the Atlantic, the PGA Tour faces a similar case tentatively set for the end of July.
And there is further wrangling over LIV Golf’s quest for world-ranking points, a key point for its long-term survival, attracting players and the ability of those players to be able to qualify for the four Majors of any given season.
The fissures within the game have spilled out among the players. Friendships have been strained, even lost in some cases. But it has also made for thrilling theatre at times, as perhaps best highlighted by the Dubai Desert Classic two weeks ago.
It began with Rory McIlroy’s refusal to shake Reed’s hand on the practice range after Reed’s lawyer delivered a subpoena to McIlroy on Christmas Eve. The American flicked a LIV tee back at his rival and labelled him an “immature little child”.
It acted as a precursor to what proved a thrilling duel for the win pitting the rival tours against each other, almost in a pantomime good versus evil manner.
In the end, it was McIlroy, as anti a LIV spokesman as you’ll find, who won out much, no doubt to the relief of the DP World Tour.
Quite who wins the bigger battle either side of the Atlantic will go a long way to deciding how much the game of golf changes going forward.
And so back to Full Swing. Episode two ends with a struggling Brooks Koepka asked whether he has been approached by LIV. Wide eyed, he simply smiles.
We’re well aware how that played out, with Koepka among the later converts after missing LIV’s maiden event at Centurion.
As another LIV rebel Ian Poulter puts it to the cameras, “You have picked a hell of a year to start following the PGA Tour.” He, his fellow LIV cohorts, players on both the DP World and PGA Tours and its respective bosses will watch with bated breath how this week plays out.