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From 'Teegate' to TV Shunning, the Hard Feelings Around LIV Golf Aren't Subsiding

The Saudi-backed league hasn't played yet in 2023 but when its players tee it up anywhere else, hostility continues to arise.

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Richard Bland emerged as one of the feel-good stories of golf’s time during the coronavirus pandemic. The Englishman had toiled for more than 20 years on the European Tour without a victory when he broke through in 2021 at the British Masters played at The Belfry without any spectators.

At age 48, and in his 478th start, Bland became the oldest first-time winner in the tour’s history.

And his story got better. Later that year, he shared the lead through 36 holes at the U.S. Open, an event he was playing for just the second time. A year ago, he lost in a playoff to Viktor Hovland in Dubai and narrowly missed qualifying for his first Masters.

But on Saturday when Bland, now 49, took the lead in Dubai, barely a word was said on the broadcast. Very little about his background and story. Few shots showed.

Call it part of the wrath that LIV Golf has wrought.

Bland signed on with LIV last year, as did other players who were in contention in Dubai such as Patrick Reed, Ian Poulter and Bernd Wiesberger, all of whom received minimal coverage, the awkwardness of their LIV involvement and the DP World Tour’s fight to keep them out of these tournaments quite apparent.

This is not to knock on the coverage—and in fairness, it was more complete as the third round played out Sunday with a Monday finish scheduled—as much as it is to point out golf’s current plight as it struggles to deal with a rival tour and all that comes with bad feelings and conflicting viewpoints on the game’s great disruptor.

We saw it earlier in the week when what was a relatively innocuous exchange between Reed and Rory McIlroy turned into a couple of days' worth of coverage, as video emerged of Reed attempting to say hello to McIlroy—who in turn rebuffed Reed, who then tossed a golf tee toward him. "Teegate."

It kind of makes you yearn for the Brooks Koepka-Bryson DeChambeau “feud’’ of two years ago.

And this is all on a weekend in which Max Homa had a stirring rally at the Farmers Insurance Open to win for the sixth time on the PGA Tour and McIlroy put himself in position to claim a victory in his initial start of the year for the first time in his career.

But "teegate" seemingly ruled. Both sides chimed in, with McIlroy explaining that he had been served a subpoena on Christmas Day by Reed's attorney—and then Reed explaining that it had nothing to do with him and was instead related to the LIV Golf lawsuit filed against the PGA Tour.

It’s a strange time in the game and it doesn’t promise to settle down anytime soon. As long as there are lawsuits involved, it is hard to see the angst subsiding.

While perhaps it seemed strange that the LIV players in Dubai would be shunned, it’s also not surprising. The broadcast is part of the DP World Tour’s production unit, and why would they want to highlight the exploits of players who left to compete for a rival tour?

Then again, those players are allowed to compete in DP World Tour events, pending the outcome of an arbitration hearing next month. They also have a reasonable claim: they have in the past been allowed to compete on other tours around the world, why not this one? And with a four-event minimum it is certainly doable in addition to LIV’s 14-event league schedule.

Through it all, Bland has still been viewed as one of the good guys. Even those who hate LIV Golf understand why he made the decision to go. In addition to his upfront contract, Bland earned $3.5 million in prize money in just eight events. Having never played the PGA Tour full time, Bland was not exempt to play Champions Tour golf without qualifying.

"I think everybody understands my position at the age that I’m at and the opportunity put in front of me," Bland said after the second round in Dubai. "I don't think anyone in that position would have turned it down."

As for his strong play, he said: "I'm not trying to get one over on the guys that are out here. I've got a lot of good friends out here, and a lot of them have shown support. So, no, I'm just here to do the best I can and hopefully give myself a chance to go one better than I did last year.

"I'm not out here to make any enemies or anything like that with any comments that I make or whatever."

Perhaps there is a lesson in those words. Neither side does itself any favors being antagonistic. LIV Golf has launched, somewhat surprisingly, and has offered up something different, regardless of the naysayers. To that end, the PGA Tour is not the evil empire, but instead a hugely successful venture that for decades has provided an enormous platform for professional golfers with numerous financial rewards.

That is not likely to smooth over the frayed feelings.

And it should make for an interesting Masters, too, when there promises to be plenty of interest in how the two sides get along.