Two worlds of competitive golf collide this week at the US Open.
One world seeks to exploit the status quo, posing the biggest threat to the PGA Tour in its 54-year history. It is headed by six-time big winner and fan favorite Phil Mickelson, who along with former No. 1 Dustin Johnson took $ 150 million or more to drop out of the sport’s preeminent tour and play in the new Saudi-backed LIV Golf series.
The other world is inhabited by people like Ben Silverman and Davis Shore.
They are among the youngsters, clerks, fans and dreamers who managed to qualify to win places on the 156-man Country Club field outside of Boston. Starting Thursday, they will play alongside the disruptive millionaires in the U.S. Open Golf Tournament, an event that, in theory, at least any professional or amateur with a handicap of 1.4 or less can win.
“For anyone at our level, it’s another opportunity,” said Shore, a 23-year-old Tennessee player who plays in minor league tours in Canada and Latin America and has a career income of about $ 15,000. “It’s an opportunity to play against the best in the world. And that’s what you want. It’s also a good opportunity to cash in a big check. We don’t have a chance to play at this level.”
Yours is a level of puddle jumper flights to remote outposts, cheap car rentals, fast food rides and bunk beds with roommates. Players make cuts and then use that money to pay to travel to next week’s tournament.
Shore, who went through 54 qualifying holes this spring to make his second consecutive U.S. Open, spoke to The Associated Press earlier this month after the first round of the Royal Beach Victoria Open at the PGA Tour Canada. He would finish tied for 13th place. He earned $ 3,325. Upon qualifying for the US Open, she received a $ 10,000 travel stipend for her trip to Brookline.
Without those funds, he said, “I don’t know how it would work.”
Neither he nor Silverman claim to be paying close attention to the LIV Tour, which The Country Club talked about this week and which last weekend awarded a record $ 4.75 million to the winner of its inaugural event, Charl Schwartzel. The winner of this week’s national championship, which, like the other three majors, is closely related to the PGA Tour but is not driven by him, will win about $ 2.25 million.
There is a lively and divisive debate about the message that cave players send when collecting LIV Golf checks. The league is funded by the Saudis, and the league’s leader, former No. 1 Greg Norman, values the series as a “force for good” in golf. But for many, this is nothing more than the kingdom’s attempt to use the sport to scrutinize its much-criticized human rights record.
From the point of view of pure golf, this league is also accepting a tradition that has long been embedded in the DNA of the sport: players earn their money based on their performance, week by week, in a given tournament. (The sponsorship dollars that come from this are separate, but are also available primarily to players who demonstrate consistent success).
LIV guarantees money to the 48 players on the field before they hit a shot. Mickelson received $ 200 million just for moving to play in the series; Johnson received $ 150 million. Last weekend’s last-place finisher earned $ 120,000, or nearly 10 times what Shore deposited in his 15 months as a pro.
The “win to win” format is a concept that has long separated golf and tennis (and bowling and some other sports) from the worlds of professional football, basketball, and football, where checks are cleared no matter what. teams, or the players on them – fare.
Newcomers like Shore and Silverman have bought the system as it is, and hope to gain or regain a foothold there.
That doesn’t mean they’re against the other model.
“You’d see guys playing amazing golf,” Silverman said of the idea that players would enter tournaments with some sort of guaranteed payday. “And it would probably be more exciting for the fans because we wouldn’t bother making money.”
That mindset, Silverman said, informed his new approach to life on the Korn Ferry Tour.
Now 34, the Ontario native began his career in 2013 with the help of sponsors who funded him. Thanks to a strong 2017 on the Korn Ferry that earned him a promotion to the PGA Tour, he was able to return them with part of his $ 1.5 million in profits, most of which he earned between 2017 and 2019. That money also gave him a profit. cushion while enduring harder times, who now find him looking for a way back to the big show.
Working with renowned golf psychologist Bob Rotella, Silverman says he has redefined his mission. Your goal in every tournament is not simply to make the cut and cash a check.
“I always played sports because I wanted to win,” Silverman said. “It never had anything to do with money. That’s the mindset I want to go back to.”
Shore 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 best junior golfers in the country to come to the institute. Alabama won the recruiting battle, but a series of hip and back injuries hampered him throughout college. He became a professional in 2021, and his first days as a professional were a winding road through Peru, Ecuador, Chile and Mexico, with occasional stops in Canada to continue opting for the minor league tour in that country as well.
He is his own travel agent and usually carries his own purse when he plays. After beating the local rankings, he won one of the 13 places in the qualifying round near Dallas to advance to the U.S. Open for the second year in a row.
He sees some of the players who have been invited to the LIV tour – players with little more successful resumes than theirs – and believes that they are in the right place at the right time.
While the “right place” in the future of golf is now under debate, certainly 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 big league. It’s an opportunity to play in a tournament I haven’t played before. All the best players in the world are going to be there, and I’m really excited about that.”
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