Hoopla in Hertfordshire as Bryson DeChambeau joins the big money trail

Day two of the golfing revolution and the headlines kept coming. Bryson DeChambeau, the biggest hitter in the sport, was confirmed as the latest star signing to LIV golf.

This was not a shock. DeChambeau had been expected to join the Saudi-funded competition since earlier in the week, but it was still confirmed with the now-customary hoopla. Greg Norman, the LIV figurehead, welcomed DeChambeau as an athlete “pushing the boundaries” of his sport.

“Bryson DeChambeau is an exciting addition to LIV Golf’s supercharged style of play,” Norman said. “He is passionate about the sport, innovative in his approach and committed to pushing the boundaries in pursuit of excellence. He’s not afraid to think outside the box and supports our mission of doing things differently to grow our game.”

DeChambeau is expected to join the eight event tour at its second stage, the Portland Invitational at Pumpkin Ridge at the end of this month. In house commentator Jerry Foltz was suitably excited and posed the question he hoped everyone would be asking: “If he is not the captain of Smash then what are we even doing?”

Smash is the name of one of the 12 teams competing for a collective prize of $3m on top of the minimum $125,000 individual prize money on top of the multimillion-dollar signing-on fees. The innovation of playing in both teams and individually is one clear way in which LIV is trying, in Norman’s words, to supercharge the sport. But on a gorgeous summer’s afternoon at the Centurion Club outside Hemel Hempstead it wasn’t always that easy to identify how else it has been transformed.

“It’s still just golf isn’t it,” said Connor McGuigan, one of the younger cohort of fans in attendance on Friday. He had got a free ticket from a promotional code on a podcast, and was enjoying himself. But it was the experience more than the sport that struck him as novel. “The teams don’t matter,” he said, “and the golf has the feel of a kick-about. Loads of people are here to have fun and aren’t really watching the golf. It feels a bit like the Hundred if I’m honest and there’s no chance I would have paid for a ticket.”

Second round pacesetter Charl Schwartzel plays in front of a small gallery at Centurion Club.
Second round pacesetter Charl Schwartzel plays in front of a small gallery at Centurion Club. Photograph: Steven Paston/PA

Other people round the course were less caustic, but the themes about the quality of the competition were the same. The leaderboard early on the second day of this three-day event was headed up by players such as the world number 133, Hennie du Plessis, and Charl Schwartzel, 126. The home stars Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter were way back in the pack, ditto Phil Mickelson and Graeme McDowell. The fight at the top may not have been entirely compelling, but the contest between team Smash and their rivals was simply confusing matters.

If you put the golf to one side, fans on the course had nothing but praise. The sizeable fan zone with its big screen, bigger bar and loaded fries (£11 a pop) was a big hit, as was the putting competition, which offered a prize of an all-expenses trip for two to Miami (slight catch, the specific destination is the “iconic blue monster” of the Trump National Doral Miami). Successful putters were regularly greeted with the biggest cheers on the course.

LIV wouldn’t release figures on the numbers of ticket holders on the course, but there was no doubt the crowds were significantly smaller than at a major. This definitely had its upsides: more space for the fans, easier access to the facilities, a general feeling of being well looked after. On the other hand, only one of the people spoken to by the Guardian had actually paid for a ticket and she only did so because the event was close enough to her house to save money on travel.

GOLF BUT LOUD, WELCOME TO THE FUTURE, DON’T BLINK, the big branding messages are all over Centurion. How much is truly supercharged beyond the language remains to be seen, but either way the message is not really for those enjoying the sunshine in Hertfordshire. At the time of writing there were 69,000 people watching the London Invitational from their homes on YouTube. They are the audience this tournament is courting. The revolution may not be televised just yet, but it’s certainly being streamed.

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