How golf’s split – and reunion – caused some of the ugliest spats in sport

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For a brief moment on Sunday evening, the spotlight turned away from the seismic events of the last few weeks and onto the 18th green at the RBC Canadian Open. 

Nick Taylor claimed his third win on the PGA Tour in a dramatic finale, nailing a 72-foot eagle putt during a playoff against Tommy Fleetwood, to clinch a sensational victory on home soil.

And despite Adam Hadwin’s bizarre yet slightly comical altercation with a security guard, the evening put a lighter tone on what’s been a strange and confusing fortnight for the world of golf.

In a shocking about-turn, the PGA Tour announced two weeks ago that it would be merging with LIV Golf and the DP World Tour. The proposals would see the organisation enter into a commercial arrangement with LIV Golf’s Saudi Arabian backers, the Public Investment Fund (PIF). 

Depending on the outcome of an investigation into the merger that has since been launched by US Senator Richard Blumenthal, the bombshell news means golf’s three largest professional tours will be united in the future.

Nick Taylor (right) secured a momentous win at home at the RBC Canadian Open last week

Nick Taylor (right) secured a momentous win at home at the RBC Canadian Open last week 

Adam Hanwin (bottom) was rugby tackled by a steward after trying to celebrate with his friend

Adam Hanwin (bottom) was rugby tackled by a steward after trying to celebrate with his friend

Jay Monahan unveiled a shock and controversial merger between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf

Jay Monahan unveiled a shock and controversial merger between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf

Since LIV’s inception, the golfing world has been consumed by drama and scandal with players being torn on both sides of the PGA Tour vs LIV Golf divide. 

Some chose to remain loyal to their original tours, while others have accepted big money offers to play in the Saudi-backed golf league. 

The players who chose to join the breakaway tour have, in particular, been heavily scrutinized with allegations of sports washing and a claims that they showed a lack of loyalty to the tours being put to them. 

Last week’s announcement represents yet another controversial twist in the tale. Some even called for PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan to ‘step down’, and despite the merger’s best attempts to bring everyone back together, it’s clear golf’s civil war will continue to rage on. 

Last weekend, Rory McIlroy even described the events of the past three years as a ‘soap opera’ and in many ways, he’s right. 

Golf’s split and reunion has stoked the fires for some of the ugliest spats, barbs and digs seen in world sport. It’s not often that we see the main protagonists of a professional sport becoming so fired up that they will hit each other with such venomous jabs.

Whether you think the split has been good or bad for the game, the divide has certainly caused a lot of tension and bad blood between many players.

They’ve fired digs, filed lawsuits and even thrown golf tees at each other, and really, no one has been safe from criticism, with golf’s governing bodies taking a hammering from some their own players just this week. 

McIlroy has been embroiled in a few disagreements himself. His outspoken nature has attracted much attention from those around the tours, with his never ending war of words with Greg Norman becoming a huge talking point over the last few years.

And his recent comments re-asserting his ‘hatred’ towards the breakaway tour drew the attention of another anonymous LIV Golf executive after the merger was announced.

It comes as many players have been involved in spats since LIV broke away from the PGA Tour

It comes as many players have been involved in spats since LIV broke away from the PGA Tour 

Rory McIlroy's war of words with Greg Norman (right) has been one of the biggest spats

Rory McIlroy’s war of words with Greg Norman (right) has been one of the biggest spats 

‘I would say every big name on the PGA Tour will get an offer,’ the unnamed executive said to Alan Shipnuck, while speaking on who could potentially join up with LIV. 

‘Except Rory [McIlroy],’ he added. ‘Nobody wants that little b**** on their team.’ 

A brutal jibe, but it epitomises many of the scathing comments that have been dished out in the past few years, with the bad blood between both sets of players being the cause of some very unsavoury comments. 

‘If the grass is so green, why come back?’ 

The tension really started to heat up in the summer of 2022, when the inaugural LIV Golf events took place. 

It came at a time where several LIV players had filed an antitrust law suit against the PGA Tour’s ruling to ban them from Tour events.

Naturally, that didn’t go down so well with some players like Joel Dahmen hitting out at the lawsuit. He took to Twitter to slam his former colleagues, saying: ‘It sounds like some people want their cake and to eat it. Please stay away in your fantasy land. Sincerely, most tour players.’

Joel Dahmen slammed LIV golfers for trying to play in PGA Tour events after choosing to leave

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Joel Dahmen slammed LIV golfers for trying to play in PGA Tour events after choosing to leave

Billy Horschel (left) and Cameron Smith (right) have both been embroiled in the chaos

Billy Horschel (left) and Cameron Smith (right) have both been embroiled in the chaos

Even golfing legend Gary Player was outspoken on the breakaway tour, questioning Cameron Smith’s move to LIV, claiming ‘the Australian’s advisors had given him the wrong advice’ before blasting LIV’s format, saying: ‘how can you be a champion over 54 holes and no cut?’

Between events, things continued to bubble into the later stages of the year where many LIV and DP World Tour players would reunite at the BMW PGA Championship. It was here that PGA Tour player, and avid West Ham supporter, Billy Horschel, called the LIV golfers returning to play at Wentworth ‘hypocrites’. 

He said: ‘What I don’t understand is some players who have never shown any interest in the European Tour, who have never shown any interest in playing this event, being given an opportunity just because they can get world ranking points, and hopefully make majors next year.’ 

Not long after that, McIlroy’s war of words with Greg Norman intensified. Norman had claimed the 2022 Race to Dubai winner had been ‘brainwashed’ by the PGA Tour, before McIlroy shot back, claiming he had ‘made it his mission to be a pain in Norman’s a**.’

In October, McIlroy would go on to win his 21st PGA Tour title at the CJ Cup, eclipsing the Australian’s 20 Tour wins and subsequently took a swipe at Norman, saying: ’21st PGA Tour win. One more than someone else and that gave me some extra incentive to get it done.’ 

Whatever side of the fence you sit on, the initial breakaway sparked huge turmoil among the players, creating a toxic atmosphere around the tour that has also tested some very close relationships.  

Friends turn rivals 

One of the sadder stories to come out of the last six months is Sergio Garcia and McIlroy’s beef. The pair were pretty close friends before the inception of LIV and, in the past, they have successfully paired up to play in several Ryder Cups, while the Northern Irishman was also a groomsman at the Spaniard’s wedding in 2017. 

Their relationship deteriorated after the Garcia joined LIV, with McIlroy admitting back in December that he had received several odd texts from the 43-year-old following the 2022 US Open. 

‘I woke up to this text [from Garcia] basically telling me to shut up about LIV, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah,’ McIlroy said. ‘I was pretty offended and sent him back a couple of daggers and that was it.’

Sergio Garcia (right) had reportedly sent some strange messages to his old friend McIlroy

Sergio Garcia (right) had reportedly sent some strange messages to his old friend McIlroy 

But their relationship has been soured after Garcia (right) also said McIlroy lacked 'maturity'

But their relationship has been soured after Garcia (right) also said McIlroy lacked ‘maturity’

That seemed to be the end of the matter, until the pair butted heads again more recently, with the 2017 Masters champion blaming McIlroy for ending their friendship, claiming he ‘lacked maturity’. 

In a remarkable turn of events, Sir Nick Faldo came to the four-time major winner’s defence, slamming Garcia’s comments on  Twitter, saying: ‘Now this is rich coming from the most immature player I’ve ever witnessed!! Sergio Garcia says McIlroy is ‘lacking maturity’ over LIV Golf comments.’

The situation highlights just how ferocious the tension on both sides of the split has been, with their friendship being caught in the cross-fire of the politics of golf.  

The tee-gate scandal 

McIlroy was again in the spotlight at the Dubai Desert Classic in January, when Patrick Reed threw a golf tee at him on the range ahead of the tournament in what was a bizarre altercation. 

It came as the Northern Irishman refused to greet him after the American had allegedly sent him a subpoena on Christmas Eve. 

‘Patrick came up to say hello and I didn’t really want him to,’ the three-time FedEx cup winner said. ‘But it’s definitely a storm in a teacup. I can’t believe it’s actually turned into a story, it’s nothing.

‘I was subpoenaed by his lawyer on Christmas Eve. Trying to have a nice time with my family and someone shows up on your doorstep and delivers that, you’re not going to take that well. I’m living in reality, I don’t know where he’s living. If I were in his shoes, I wouldn’t expect a hello or a handshake.’

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Scathing comments from the World No 3, who went on to beat Reed later that weekend to win the tournament by a shot.  

Meanwhile, the 2018 Masters champion had his say on the incident, and like Garcia, also called McIlroy ‘an immature little child’. 

But McIlroy is no angel himself in all of this.

Patrick Reed (pictured) threw a tee at Rory McIlroy ahead of the Dubai Desert Classic this year

Patrick Reed (pictured) threw a tee at Rory McIlroy ahead of the Dubai Desert Classic this year

McIlroy (far right) said the incident came after Reed (third left) lodged a subpoena against him

McIlroy (far right) said the incident came after Reed (third left) lodged a subpoena against him 

‘F*** you Phil’ 

Another player who has taken aim at McIlroy, on several occasions is Mickelson, and it’s clear the pair have disparate opinions on how the professional tours should operate.

Following this year’s Masters, Mickelson joked about the Northern Irishman’s struggles with his swing, claiming he might enjoy taking part in LIV Golf’s much less intense schedule, but added ‘I don’t think there’s a team that would want him on it because they’d have to deal with all his BS.’

And there’s been no love lost between the duo, with McIlroy notably being heard saying: ‘F*** you Phil’ when speaking during Netflix’s Full Swing documentary. 

He’s not the only person who’s given a stinging opinion of how the American has carried himself over the last few years. One LIV player previously called Mickelson a ‘B******* artist’ according to the Mirror, while the six-time major champion has also been slammed by golfing legend, Fred Couples.

Couples said: I don’t think I’ll ever talk to him again’ while the Mirror also claims he called Mickelson a ‘nutbag’.

The American has been one of the most divisive figures since LIV’s initial breakaway, copping a lot of abuse after he said the PGA Tour had an ‘obnoxious greed’ before joining up with LIV Golf back in 2022. 

One of the most interesting assessments of Mickelson’s stance on the LIV vs PGA divide came from Tiger Woods, who in May delivered a critical analysis on why his views on the tour structure did not align with the left-hander’s.

‘I understand different viewpoints but I believe in legacies,’ he said when speaking on Mickelson’s choice to join up with LIV Golf. ‘I believe in major championships. I believe in big events, comparisons to historical figures of the past. There’s plenty of money out here. 

‘The Tour is growing. But it’s just like any other sport. It’s like tennis. You have to go out there and earn it. You’ve got to go out there and play for it. We have opportunity to go ahead and do it. It’s just not guaranteed up front.’ 

But it seems, amid all the drama, Woods was sad about Mickelson’s decision to move to LIV claiming he ‘missed’ having the left-hander in the field at PGA Tour events.  

Mickelson took a swipe at McIlroy on Twitter following McIlroy's issues with his swing

Mickelson took a swipe at McIlroy on Twitter following McIlroy’s issues with his swing 

Leftie has been criticised heavily during the past two years for his own stance on LIV Golf

Leftie has been criticised heavily during the past two years for his own stance on LIV Golf 

He played a practice round on Wednesday at the LA Country Club with Jon Rahm (left)

He played a practice round on Wednesday at the LA Country Club with Jon Rahm (left) 

Eddie Pepperell lands a ‘haymaker’

One unlikely disagreement that exploded on social media was Eddie Pepperell’s Twitter spat with Richard Bland. It was sparked after Brooks Koepka’s brother, Chase, hit a hole-in-one at the ‘party hole’ at LIV Golf Adelaide back in April.

The Englishman made comments on Twitter claiming that LIV had not ‘bucked a trend’ in introducing a party hole atmosphere to golf, and that sparked a response from Bland. 

Despite having now deleted his account, he wrote: ‘Ed.. tell me where on DP World there’s been a hole like this? Because in 22 years of playing the tour I can’t think of any. But maybe in your 15 minutes on tour you know different.’ 

The 32-year-old wasn’t having it and delivered a sensational comeback against Bland.

‘Where to start…’ he wrote. ‘Suppose it’s simple; in my 15 minutes I won more events than you did in 22 years. What the Tour has done (just to name a few); GolfSixes, Heineken hole at Himmerland, Beat the Pro in Holland. The Tour, which you spent 22 years on did ok for you mate.’

Eddie Pepperell landed a 'haymaker' of a comeback against Richard Bland on Twitter

Eddie Pepperell landed a ‘haymaker’ of a comeback against Richard Bland on Twitter 

Pepperell was also involved in a disagreement with LIV Golf's Ian Poulter on Twitter

Pepperell was also involved in a disagreement with LIV Golf’s Ian Poulter on Twitter  

Poulter (left) and Lee Westwood (right) were fined £100,000 by the DP World Tour this year

Poulter (left) and Lee Westwood (right) were fined £100,000 by the DP World Tour this year

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Afterwards, Bland apologised for the comment, admitting he had had been drinking before sending the Tweet and it seemed there was no harm done, but the shut-down from Pepperell was ferocious to say the least.

He followed up, writing: ‘Had to be! We all say silly things when alcohol is involved. Either way, I haven’t taken it personally,’ and added, ‘You just left yourself so open. The haymaker had no choice but to land.’

The Englishman, who is currently plying his trade on the DP World Tour, has also been embroiled in several Twitter spats with Poulter and Westwood. 

The most notable of those came when Pepperell asked why Poulter chose to snub a DP World Tour event, knowing the 12-time European Tour winner had already committed to playing at LIV Jeddah in the same week.

Poulter didn’t take too kindly to his comments delivering a feisty response that alleged Pepperell had been ‘bashing LIV golfers’, just so he could ‘gain another invite from the DP World Tour.’

Brooks vs Brandel

Even television commentators haven’t been safe from a jibe or two. NBC Golf pundit Brandel Chamblee, recently found himself going head-to-head with the the current PGA Tour Champion, Koepka.

Chamblee has not been shy about his feelings towards LIV and has been one of the most outspoken commentators against the breakaway tour. Recently, he questioned Koepka’s love for the game while also taking a swipe at his coach, Claude Harmon III, after he called the NBC presenter a ‘paid actor’.

But after the merger was announced, Koepka took to Twitter to rub the news in Chamblee’s face, sarcastically Tweeting: ‘Welfare check on Chamblee’.

Brooks Koepka pokes a fun at Brandel Chamblee after the merger was announced last week

Brooks Koepka pokes a fun at Brandel Chamblee after the merger was announced last week

Koepka made history at the PGA Championship being the first LIV player to win a major

Koepka made history at the PGA Championship being the first LIV player to win a major 

Golf’s unification will bring more conflict

Chamblee has since blasted the merger, calling it ‘one of the saddest days in the history of golf‘, and he’s not the only one who has expressed his distain for the Tour in the past fortnight. 

While the deal is set to unify all three organisations, the bad blood that has arisen following the initial split will remain and, if anything, the merger could stoke the fires even more. Players seem to now be turning on the governing bodies, who had previously told them to stay loyal and not take the LIV paychecks.  

In a press conference ahead of the US Open, Jon Rahm claimed that many players were unhappy with the way PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan had handled the situation, claiming some ‘felt betrayed’ by the organisation. 

Meanwhile, Martin Kaymer, who left to join LIV Golf last year, delivered a dagger in the other direction, and amid the chaos, suggested that PGA Tour players should look to find another circuit to play on to avoid becoming ‘hypocrites’. 

While players continue to throw shade at each other and the governing bodies, there still isn’t much clarity on how the merger will work, nor is there certainty on whether it will actually go ahead, with the ongoing investigations potentially throwing a spanner in the works. 

One thing that is certain, though, is that whatever the outcome of that investigation, things could still get even more volatile. 

Jon Rahm has slammed the PGA Tour claiming some players feel 'betrayed' after the merger

Jon Rahm has slammed the PGA Tour claiming some players feel ‘betrayed’ after the merger

Along with Rahm, Collin Morikawa slammed the PGA Tour's management on his Twitter

Along with Rahm, Collin Morikawa slammed the PGA Tour’s management on his Twitter 

The merger is being investigated by a US Senator, but despite that, Golf's civil war still remains

The merger is being investigated by a US Senator, but despite that, Golf’s civil war still remains

With both sets of players in fairly close proximity under one umbrella organisation, more arguments are certainly set to arise. 

The PGA Tour’s decision also to give LIV players the chance to re-apply for their Tour cards will certainly ruffle a few feathers among those currently plying their trade on the PGA Tour. 

Likewise, if some of the PGA loyalists take the compensation packages that are being proposed by Golf Saudi’s investors, they too could receive some flack, after refusing it when LIV Golf was first established.

It’s clear the conflict and disparity between the rival camps is not going to go away any time soon and perhaps could be heightened even further following the shock unification. 



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