A year ago at the U.S. Open, the field was distracted by an entirely new phenomenon in men’s professional golf: Several players who had turned their backs on the PGA Tour to defect to the insurgent LIV Golf circuit would, for the first time, be competing against their former brethren.
Golfers had chosen sides in a sport known for individualism, fueling an unfamiliar team-against-team tension.
Twelve months later, and days after the seismic news of the American and European tours forming a partnership with LIV Golf, the disruption at the 2022 U.S. Open now seems like an almost inconsequential diversion. Just ask Matt Fitzpatrick, who won that tournament in Brookline, Mass., for his first victory at a major tournament win and also on the PGA Tour.
“I seem to remember last year just thinking about the tournament, just the U.S. Open,” Fitzpatrick said on Monday. “It was easier for me to mentally focus on that and be in a better place than obviously all this confusion that’s going on this week.
“The whole thing is confusing.”
Asked to elaborate on what he found most confusing, Fitzpatrick could not help but chuckle.
“Well, I think I just don’t know what’s going on,” he answered. “I don’t think anyone knows what’s going on.”
Fitzpatrick mentioned the Saudi Public Investment Fund, known as PIF, whose staggering riches have backed LIV.
“Are we signing with the PIF, are we not signing with the PIF? I have no idea,” he said, adding: “It’s pretty clear that nobody knows what’s going on apart from about four people in the world.”
To prove that disorientation was universal across golf, Cameron Smith, who joined LIV not long after winning last year’s British Open, followed Fitzpatrick into the interview room at the Los Angeles Country Club and essentially admitted he was clueless as to what was coming next in his chosen occupation.
Smith might rate as something of an insider since he at least received a phone call from Yasir al-Rumayyan, who oversees the PIF and would be the chairman of the new company formed by combining the tours, about the blockbuster deal announced last week.
It was a good thing al-Ruymayyan called because Smith said his first reaction to the news was that, “it was kind of a joke.” But al-Rumayyan informed Smith otherwise — without much detail.
“He didn’t really explain too much,” Smith said. “I think there’s still a lot of stuff to be worked out, and as time goes on, we’ll get to know more and more. I think he was calling a few different players, so the call was kind of short and sweet.”
Despite a lack of clarity about the future of professional golf, both Fitzpatrick and Smith were nonetheless asked about two hot topics since the PGA Tour-LIV deal was announced.
For Fitzpatrick, there was the question of whether he thought players, like himself, who were loyal to the PGA Tour should be compensated for turning down the gobs of money LIV was offering.
At first, Fitzpatrick appeared ready to address the issue, which is perhaps the most charged and dicey detail to be hammered out in the coming weeks or months. But then Fitzpatrick paused. And paused. He smiled and then exhaled. His eyes roamed the room. Finally, he said with a thin smile: “Yeah, pass.”
Smith was asked if he had been given any indication that the LIV tour would continue to exist after this year. He replied: “I really know as much as you guys know, to be honest. I haven’t been told much at all. I guess if anything comes up, I’ll let you guys know.”
He refused to answer a question about whether he would want to return to the PGA Tour if LIV was dissolved after this season, calling it “hypothetical.”
But he added: “I think I’ve made the right decision anyway. I’m very happy with where I’m at. I obviously made that decision for a few different reasons. Like I said, I know as much as everyone else, and it’s going to be interesting to see how the next few months, maybe even year, kind of plays out.”
Smith’s attitude was jovial, which matched the mood of several LIV players who slapped hands with each other and smiled on the practice range on Monday.
“I haven’t been told much at all, but I’m just taking it as it goes along,” Smith said. “But there’s definitely a lot of curious players, I think, on both sides as to what the future is going to look like.”
Fitzpatrick had an eye on the future and also the past, recalling last year’s U.S. Open fondly.
“An amazing week,” he said, hoping to rekindle the magic he discovered.
But then, so much has changed in a year. On Monday, there remained one question above all the others. What next for golf?
Fitzpatrick shook his head.
“I’ll be completely honest, I literally know as much as you,” he said. “I’m sure everyone has gotten questions about it. I found out when everyone else found out. Yeah, honestly, I know literally nothing.”