Sports

OLIVER HOLT: Dustin Johnson said to come and watch LIV. He said I’d like it. Maybe if I was being paid $150m I would have. But I didn’t – here’s why

  • Dustin Johnson suggested that everyone should experience a LIV Golf event 
  • Jon Rahm was not impressed by the rowdy crowd in Las Vegas at the weekend
  • Teofimo Lopez retained his WBO super-lightweight title in controversial fashion 

Dustin Johnson, once golf’s world number one, suggested in Las Vegas at the weekend that everyone should go and experience a LIV Golf event at least once in their lives. ‘I would invite you to come out and watch because you’re going to like it,’ he said.

I had a free day on Saturday and LIV had been doling out free tickets to their tournament at the Las Vegas Country Club like they were confetti. I’d never been to a LIV event. But DJ promised I’d like it and DJ is known as one of sport’s great thinkers, so why not?

Well, I’m sorry to spoil things straight away but I didn’t like it. Maybe I would have liked it if I was being paid $150m to like it, like Johnson is. Maybe I would have liked it even more if I was being paid $500m to like it, like Jon Rahm.

Maybe if the Saudi PIF, who bankroll the tour, had been handing out fat wads of cash to spectators on the way in, that might have made me like it, too. But the best offer I got was from casino hustlers outside the event shouting ‘spend a hundred, get a hundred’. Even to fresh, gullible Vegas meat like me, that didn’t sound like much of a deal.

Anyway, this is Vegas, so time for more cards on the table. The best thing about LIV Las Vegas was getting to see the statue of Dean Martin near the clubhouse. I’d been hoping to see the rear view of the house on Ottawa Drive where Sonny Liston died, too, but it turned out that backed on to a different golf course.

Former world No 1 Dustin Johnson suggested that everyone should experience a LIV Golf event

Former world No 1 Dustin Johnson suggested that everyone should experience a LIV Golf event

LIV-branded signs at the Las Vegas Country Club blared the message: ¿Golf But Louder'

LIV-branded signs at the Las Vegas Country Club blared the message: ‘Golf But Louder’

Late in both their lives, Liston hung out with another former heavyweight champion, Joe Louis, who had hit the skids by then. Nick Tosches’ brilliant book about Liston, Night Train, quotes a mutual friend of the two fighters as saying Louis had perfected the art of ‘turning money into s***’. Anyway, back to LIV.

LIV-branded signs at the entrance to the Las Vegas Country Club blared the message: ‘Golf But Louder’. There’s a ‘Golf But Louder’ sign on pretty much every hole, in fact. And yes, if those signs could only speak, there are so many of them that they would indeed be deafening.

But LIV is not Golf But Louder. It’s Golf But Richer. That’s its main point of difference. Sure, there’s the 54-hole format and the shotgun start and the players represent teams and they all love each other and they’re all about having fun and not travelling as much but all that really matters is that it pays more. That’s why golfers play on it. They’re not there to grow the game of golf. They’re there to make a lot of money.

I’m not saying the players on the PGA Tour are beacons of light, by the way. Recently their goal seems to be to copy much of what LIV has initiated. Particularly the money part. Still, when Rahm walked down the 12th fairway in Vegas under blue skies with the Stratosphere looming above him, if he looked really hard, he might have been able to see his bank account up there somewhere.

The other thing about Golf But Louder is that it isn’t entirely accurate. It’s hard to be louder when several of the groups on Saturday appeared to be being followed by friends and family and barely anybody else. Some of the time, there were more people queuing at the Jackpot Grille near the 12th tee than there were watching the players. Saturday was the busiest day, too, apparently.

Yes, there were healthy galleries following the group that contained Rahm, DJ and Bryson DeChambeau but on plenty of the other holes, you could hear a pin drop. Phil Mickelson, one of the greatest golfers of all time, ambled around in near anonymity. The couple of holes I walked with his group, they were maybe 50 spectators around the greens. It felt sad.

Rahm, the most recent and most important and most high-profile defector to LIV Golf, doesn’t quite seem to have got the Golf But Louder memo yet, either. His caddy spent an awful lot of time trying to shush spectators around the tee. Rahm looked awfully glum for a guy who’s being paid half a billion bucks to hit a ball around a field.

Jon Rahm (above) was not impressed by the rowdy crowd in Las Vegas at the weekend

Jon Rahm (above) was not impressed by the rowdy crowd in Las Vegas at the weekend

LIV’s signature destination at the Las Vegas Country Club was its Party Hole, the par 3 8th. It was only fair to take a look. There were plenty of spectators there, too, and another DJ(this one was called Gryffin and he had been seconded from a night club on the Strip and my guess is he was being paid less than $150m) was playing with his decks on a stage next to a lake.

Gryffin seemed to be quite popular. Which meant that the big screen showed him and his funky moves. Not the golf. Nobody appeared to be watching the golf. But then maybe that’s the point of a Party Hole. It’s for people who don’t like golf but do like parties.

And when you get down to it, that’s the whole thing with LIV Golf. It’s a party. Not a particularly fun party but a party nonetheless. It’s not a contest, really. It’s an event played by men who have already won. All of them have already won.

They won the moment they signed the deal that earned them money beyond the wildest dreams of the rich men they already were. And so, wherever they finish each week, they have won. They might make a bit more if they finish higher up the field but make plenty if they finish lower down the field, too. So they’ve all won.

I left before the end. I didn’t really care who won. Winning isn’t the point of LIV. Money is the point of LIV. Golf, but richer.

No love in Vegas for swaggering Lopez

It will be hard to find many neater illustrations of pride coming before a fall in sport than the fate that befell WBO world light-welterweight champion Teofimo Lopez at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Thursday night.

Lopez swaggered to the ring for his fight against Jamaine Ortiz wearing a showman’s top hat and flanked by a bearded lady and a sword-swallower. 

WBO super-lightweight world champ Teofimo Lopez retained his title in controversial fashion

WBO super-lightweight world champ Teofimo Lopez retained his title in controversial fashion 

Ortiz proceeded to outbox him comprehensively and even though Lopez was awarded a controversial points victory, the crowd booed him lustily when he tried to address them after the fight. 

‘Suck a d***, homos,’ Lopez told them through the microphone. Sometimes, sport doesn’t go quite the way it’s supposed to.

Last days of the Tropicana

I stayed at the Tropicana while I was in Las Vegas for the build-up to the Super Bowl last week. It is not quite the place it was when James Bond checked in during a scene in Diamonds Are Forever. 

In fact, it lost its lustre long ago. But staying there still felt like being a little part of sporting history. The Tropicana will close its doors for good on April 2, to be demolished by the end of the year. 

From its ruins, a $1.5billion baseball stadium will rise as the home of a new Major League team inherited from the Oakland A’s. Sport, dancing hand in hand with gambling, is building a new Vegas. 

Celebration put on ice for Oilers

The San Francisco 49ers could not claim a monopoly on sporting heartbreak during the last seven days in Las Vegas. 

Actor Will Ferrell cheers on the Las Vegas Golden Knights against the Edmonton Oilers

Actor Will Ferrell cheers on the Las Vegas Golden Knights against the Edmonton Oilers

On Tuesday night, I went to the T-Mobile Arena just off the Strip in the fond expectation of seeing the Edmonton Oilers ice hockey team equalling an all-time NH L record by beating the Las Vegas Golden Knights and recording a 17th win in a row. 

Thousands of Oilers fans had flown in from Canada like snow birds to watch the game and they got off to a great start when Connor McDavid, the best player in the sport, put them ahead. 

But, buoyed by a febrile atmosphere, the Golden Knights came back to win. As the Oilers skated disconsolately off the ice, it felt like a brutal fate. 

One win short of immortality, just like Brock Purdy and the 49ers a few days later.

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