Charl Schwartzel lifted the trophy, posed for the photographs and collected the £3.85m pay cheque but he wasn’t the only winner at the first LIV Golf Invitational, which concluded just outside London on Saturday.
Also celebrating will have been Greg Norman, frontman for the new circuit hoping to lure the world’s best players, and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, which is putting up the cash – $2bn of it – to do just that.
Because over three days at Centurion Club in St Albans, the ramifications of which extended far beyond Hertfordshire and into every corner of the professional game, LIV Golf won the opening skirmish of its tussle with the sport’s incumbent powers.
LIV Golf’s first and most important accomplishment was ticking off the first event of what is beginning this year as an eight-leg series but will, if all goes to plan, evolve into a super league featuring the biggest names playing for four-man franchises.
Staging the curtain-raiser was no mean feat, and appeared far from certain just weeks ago. Norman knows this terrain better than most, having seen his plans for a World Golf Tour smothered by the PGA Tour before it got off the ground in the mid-90s.
After months of build-up in which the substance of LIV Golf is proposing to create has been mostly sidelined by a bitter war of words between Norman and the PGA Tour, the new series now has a product it can point to.
That makes it a much easier sell: players know what they are signing up for, and they know it is up and running. Bryson DeChambeau confirmed he was joining the series on the eve of the first day. Fellow major winner Patrick Reed has since followed.
Others are expected to take the plunge before the next event at Pumpkin Ridge later this month. The trickle of departures from the PGA Tour is in danger of becoming a stream.
That is despite the PGA Tour issuing suspensions on Thursday to any players who take part in the LIV Golf Invitational Series. The fact that none have been barred from this week’s US Open suggests the majors, which are run separately to the main tours, will take a more pragmatic view and will surely only embolden more defections.
It would be wrong to suggest all went smoothly at the first tournament. As much the money on offer – £20m per event and £204m over the whole series – has generated attention, the sheer size of the rewards has also attracted criticism from some quarters.
Schwartzel’s payout was the biggest ever for a single golf tournament, while fellow South African Hennie du Plessis roughly quadrupled his career earnings by finishing second. World No1371 Andy Ogletree pocketed £100,000 for finishing last on 24 over par.
Players were at times also put on the spot over the provenance of LIV Golf’s funding. Schwartzel seemed to speak for the majority when he said that he had always played the world over and did not plan to start boycotting certain states now.
Of the biggest names in the field, many struggled to live up to their billing. Phil Mickelson, albeit in his first outing for four months, finished 10 over par, while Dustin Johnson, on one under, was one of the few stars to shine. At least LIV Golf got a former major champion in Schwartzel as its first winner.
The presentation of the event was an improvement on other golf broadcasts, with clear scores visible on-screen at all times. It is too early to say whether other elements of the product – the teams, shotgun starts – prove a hit with the sport’s consumers.
But the first LIV Golf Invitational was mainly about successfully launching a credible series in the face of fierce opposition from the PGA Tour. With Johnson, Mickelson and now DeChambeau on board it has won that battle, although the war may just be beginning.