Rovell: Goodbye to the Greatest Rivalry in Sports

Rovell: Goodbye to the Greatest Rivalry in Sports article feature image

Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images. Pictured: Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson.

Dodgers vs. Yankees in the 50s.

Lakers vs. Celtics in the 80s.

Ohio State vs. Michigan.

Duke vs. UNC.

PGA Tour vs. LIV Golf.

As news circulates that the PGA Tour will merge with the Saudi-based LIV Golf, the thought that comes to mind is sadness — sadness that all the fighting will come to an end and sadness that the rivalry is now effectively over.

What am I talking about?

You see, as much as fractionalization hurt golf, it helped golf.

Thanks to the debate, the anger and the name calling, golf had renewed energy. Golf needed its own version of NASCAR guys yelling and screaming at each other as they crashed on the final lap.

But this was much more than the USFL vs. the NFL. This was guerrilla warfare. They weren’t playing the same game.

On one side, irrational Saudi money with no concern for their bottom line, and on the other side, an incumbent in the PGA Tour which had no way of stopping defections other than to point out the source of the money. Even that, when drilled down, turned out to be hypocritical.

You had all the characters and the perfect plot.

The perfectly gentlemanly Greg Norman — now the mastermind and the villain — as the face of LIV’s management. The players who couldn’t resist LIV’s crazy financial structure with Brooks Koepka, Phil Mickelson, Cameron Smith and Bryson DeChambeau.

And the guys who, perhaps regrettably, stayed loyal in Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Scottie Scheffler, Hideki Matsuyama and Jordan Spieth.

And, of course, the perfect spin. Although they agreed to part ways, they would have to play with each other at the major championships, share the same locker room and, yes, with more focus on money than ever before, win the battle to take more of each other’s hard-earned capital.

What made the off- and on-the-course battles between the PGA Tour and LIV so exciting was that it was elementally human. Some people made choices for purely for money. Others stayed true to their principles.

There were good guys, and there were bad guys. It was straightforward — as simple and compelling a story as you could script.

It’s why when news broke on Tuesday, my phone buzzed nonstop with people — including friends who don’t follow golf — in shock and disbelief. It’s as if they had just witnessed two heavyweights, in the 10th round of a slug fest, tied in the fight to that point, drop the gloves and hug.

The face-off between the two was its own animal, which is what made it so fresh and so perfect for the social media era. It vaulted golf to a place where name calling was normal and where the collared shirt sleeves got rolled up for the first time on the regular.

Many hardcore fans will feel relief now that everyone is back together. But however the hell that is done is anyone’s guess.

There will still be venom and jealousy, but there will be something missing from golf — that occasional haymaker that won’t ever return.

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