A dramatic week for professional golf concluded with former Masters champion Charl Schwartzel pocketing $4.75m (£3.86m) with a one-stroke victory at the inaugural LIV Golf Invitational event in Hertfordshire.
In three days at the Centurion Club, the 37-year-old from Johannesburg, who won at Augusta in 2011, picked up a sum equal to the amount it has taken him the last four years to earn on the PGA Tour.
But the golf was a relative sideshow compared with the seismic impact this start up series has had on the game this week.
“All I can say is that the evolution of golf has arrived,” LIV Golf chief executive Greg Norman stated at the presentation ceremony.
“For 27 years there have been a lot of obstacles put in our path, a lot of dreams have tried to be squashed but they couldn’t squash us,” added the former world number one, who first tried to set up a world tour in the mid 1990s.
After accepting the trophy, Schwartzel who picked up an additional $750,000 for being part of the winning team, said: “Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think we could play for that much money in golf.
“As you could see I was taking a bit of heat down the stretch and there was a lot of money involved.”
LIV Golf chose the final day to announce that two more Americans have joined their cast list.
As Schwartzel was grinding his way to the $4m individual jackpot, LIV revealed 2018 Masters champion Patrick Reed and 46-year-old world number 168 Pat Perez as its latest recruits.
Reed is a nine-times winner on the PGA Tour and currently ranked 36 in the world after only one top 10 finish this year. He will make his LIV debut at Pumpkin Ridge next month.
“I’m super excited,” Reed told the streamed coverage of the final day. “Being part of the evolution and change in golf is unbelievable.”
The 31-year-old Texan added: “Portland can’t get here soon enough. I can’t wait, it is going to be a blast.”
Men’s professional golf has never endured a more controversial week.
On Thursday, 17 players were suspended indefinitely by the PGA Tour for taking part. Reed, Perez and Friday’s recruit Bryson DeChambeau face a similar fate.
But following an uncomfortable start for several players, when the issue of Saudi Arabian sportswashing dominated the agenda, the upstart project has gathered momentum.
The staging of the event was first class with an impressive spectator village and no expense was spared in streamed coverage that benefited from an absence of ad breaks.
As the tournament reached its climax with Schwartzel bogeying the last for a closing 72 that left him seven-under-par and one clear of South African compatriot Hennie Du Plessis there were around 100,000 viewers on YouTube.
The promotional nature of the commentary may have irritated golf’s die-hard viewers but was understandable given the way that LIV want to shake up the professional game.
And there is no doubt that is exactly what they have done. The PGA Tour responded in draconian fashion by issuing bans; how the DP World Tour react is the next big question.
Leading officials from the Wentworth-based circuit were spotted at the venue and this at a time when they are coming under increasing pressure from their membership.
Many players are dissatisfied with dwindling playing opportunities, which they perceive to be a consequence of the tour’s strategic alliance struck with the PGA Tour 18 months ago.
Norman’s operation is disruptive to golf’s eco-system and potentially capable of testing the resilience of that transatlantic relationship.
These remain early days in the LIV story and the Saudi Arabian source of their huge financial clout remains controversial.
And if they want to change the perception of golf and truly fashion a format that equates to T20 cricket then they must find a way to ditch playing in three balls.
With a relatively weak field, including only four of the world’s top 50 players, the golf was largely turgid and proved LIV is not immune from the curse of slow play. The final round took two minutes shy of five hours.
But the inaugural event still made a significant impact. Leading golf agents and managers were conspicuous throughout the three-day tournament.
“I wasn’t sure we’d ever see a shot hit,” admitted one insider. “But I think it now has legs and will absolutely be a big part of the landscape of professional golf. Lots of players who were on the fence would love to be involved now.”
More players are expected to be unveiled by LIV’s second tournament at Portland in Oregon starting on 30 June. The series then visits New Jersey, Boston and Chicago.
These are traditional heartlands of American golf and how the US market, brought up on a weekly fare of PGA Tour action, responds will be significant. A warm welcome is not guaranteed among the wider US population.
LIV players from the United States have been heavily criticised by a 9/11 survivors group who point out that Osama bin Laden and 15 of the 19 September 11 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia.
Terry Strada, the chair of 911familiesunited.org, sent a letter to representatives of Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, DeChambeau, Reed and Kevin Na criticising their participation.
“Given Saudi Arabia’s role in the death of our loved ones and those injured on 9/11 – your fellow Americans – we are angered that you are so willing to help the Saudis cover up this history in their request for ‘respectability,'” Strada wrote.
“When you partner with the Saudis, you become complicit with their whitewash, and help give them the reputational cover they so desperately crave.”
|-7 C Schwartzel (SA); -6 H du Plessis (SA); -5 B Grace (SA), P Uihlein (US); -3 S Horsfield (Eng); -2 O Bekker (SA), A Otaegui (Spa); -1 D Johnson (US)|
|Selected: Level L Oosthuizen (SA); +1 G McDowell (NI); +3 M Kaymer (Ger); +5 I Poulter (Eng); +6 S Garcia (Spa); +8 L Westwood (Eng); +10 P Mickelson (US) Full leaderboard (external site)|