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The National (Scotland)
The National (Scotland)
Nick Rodger

LIV Golf remains pointless but MENA gambit shows smarts - Nick Rodger

Here’s an absurd and not very illuminating insight into column writing. Yesterday morning, amid a shattering crisis of inspiration, I plonked myself down at the laptop, opened up a blank word document and just stared at the screen for ages.

In fact, I stared at the screen for so long, I became uncomfortable with my own reflection staring back at me and had to get up and leave the room in the same kind of agitated way you’d move carriages on a train when you become aware of some muttering, grinning eccentric trying to catch your attention.

Upon my return, I looked out of the window and noticed a couple of tradesmen working in a house across the road. During a two-hour period of clattering, battering industry, they heaved out bricks, floorboards, worktops, units and a sink. Over that same time span, your correspondent hadn’t typed a bloomin’ word.

In 120 minutes, these fellas had, presumably, ripped away an entire kitchen in preparation for putting a new one in. I, on the other hand, had spent that same spell gazing forlornly at a flashing cursor on an empty page while enslaved in a tormenting prison of unproductive ineptitude. It’s a good job I don’t fit kitchens for a living. Then again, some folk probably still think it’s astonishing that I manage to write columns for a living. I do too.

On those trying days, when the mind is slightly addled by life’s minor inconveniences and you can barely winkle out a word let alone a meaningful sentence, the whole process can be as arduous as LIV Golf’s efforts to gain world ranking points.

Last week’s situation was another eye-opening twist in the on-going tale of to-ing and fro-ing in the professional scene’s upper echelons.

If you’re an eager enthusiast of this game’s myriad development tours – the golf equivalent of a train spotter or birdwatcher – you would’ve been aware of the MENA Tour before it was thrust into the global spotlight last week. It’s a Middle East and North Africa-based third-tier circuit, hence the MENA bit, and one where Scotland’s Robert MacIntyre earned his first pro win a few years ago. Last week, though, it became a pawn in LIV’s latest battleplan.

Out of the blue, LIV Golf announced a “strategic alliance” with the MENA Tour in a typically brazen attempt to fast-track its quest for the world ranking points the Saudi-backed breakaway series craves. The MENA Tour is recognized by the Official World Golf Rankings (OWGR) but, due to various pandemic-related issues, hasn’t actually staged a tournament since the spring of 2020.

All of that changed a few days ago when the LIV Golf events, starting with one in Thailand last week, appeared on its official schedule and major champions and household names who have defected to LIV became MENA Tour members. It was a preposterous development made all the more startling by a quick scroll through the MENA Tour’s updated website.

Before the Bangkok bonanza, the MENA circuit’s last event was the Blue Canyon Open in May 2020, which offered a purse of $75,000, the usual for that level of tournament. The winner, Settee Prakongvech, won $13,500 in the 54-hole tournament. That week in Thailand, 48th place earned $400.

Suddenly, though, the new MENA Tour diary of events listed one worth $20 million with the winner receiving $4 million and 48th place – the LIV fields are only 48 players – taking home $128,000. It was quite the jump.

Rather like a jerry-built kitchen – and I’m not for one minute suggesting the house across my street is getting a shoddy assembly - the whole notion of LIV immediately getting world ranking points collapsed in a heap. The OWGR bigwigs denied the LIV events such status – they don’t meet the OWGR criteria - and placed the application under review.

For LIV CEO Greg Norman, an outspoken, combative force with the kind of brass neck that needs to be regularly buffed up with a lint-free cloth, it was something of an embarrassing outcome given all the entitled and ultimately misguided spoutings claiming LIV would be successful in this particular mission.

One can’t imagine it will dent his pride or purpose too much, though. Say what you want about Norman, but you almost have to grudgingly admire his ridiculous audacity. Trying to earn world ranking status for LIV through the modest backwaters of the MENA Tour was a surprising outflanking manoeuvre that even seasoned military generals wouldn’t have seen coming let alone the top brass of golf’s established tours.

And as for naming this new axis a “strategic alliance”? Well, that’s the term of endearment the PGA Tour and the DP World Tour have used with great gusto in recent months as they put on a united front and attempt to stave off the mighty menace of the LIV offensive.

Norman’s use of the same buzzword is mischievous mockery and yet another publicity stunt as he continues with his push to disrupt the status quo. He is desperate to give LIV Golf authenticity but, without meaningful world ranking status, it remains an exhibition overflowing with piles of cash but devoid of competitive relevance.

That, of course, won’t stop Norman and his Saudi paymasters throwing everything at it. They might toss in a kitchen sink too. In the current tumult, nothing would surprise you.

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