It was early December at the media day for The American Express PGA Tour event in La Quinta, California, and Brendan Steele was giving some very specific thoughts about the LIV Golf League.
“For me, I’m fine if guys want to go,” Steele said by telephone to a gathered group of media and tournament officials. “I think they just have to make the best decision for them. But don’t expect to come back and play on our tour.”
Ten weeks later, the 39-year-old Steele, a three-time winner on the PGA Tour, has apparently made the choice for himself. ESPN reported Saturday that Steele is among three golfers — along with Thomas Pieters and Danny Lee — making the leap from the PGA Tour to LIV in time for LIV’s season-opening event in Mexico on Feb. 24-26.
For Steele to flip from a dedicated PGA Tour player with no interest in the LIV tour to a LIV recruit in just over two months shows how crazy professional golf is these days. It’s easy to assume Steele’s decision was just about LIV making an offer that Steele couldn’t refuse. But to go from no interest in joining LIV to joining LIV shows that perhaps there was more than just a dollar figure at work.
Steele was the guest that day for the La Quinta event because he grew up in nearby Idyllwild and because defending American Express champions Hudson Swafford was suspended from the PGA Tour for joining the LIV tour. Steele talked about how The American Express was his hometown event and how important it was to him. But if Steele is making the LIV leap, he won’t be playing in La Quinta in 2024.
At the time, Steele did not condemn golfers who left the PGA Tour, but he did talk about his reason for staying on the PGA Tour where he has won just over $20 million, including $350,609 this season.
“I have not been approached,” Steele said bluntly that day. “I think the way that it has mostly worked is that guys have gone and sought them out and told them they are interested. For me, it is not something that I’m interested in. So it hasn’t really been any sort of a problem for me. But I don’t hold it against guys for doing it.”
Understanding the moves of others
Steele certainly didn’t hammer the guys who had gone to the LIV Golf League, but he did admit the rival Saudi Arabian-backed tour had caused problems in professional golf.
“I think there’s guys from all different viewpoints of it. There are guys that are like, ‘If you want to go that’s fine, just go and do their thing and don’t try to come back and play our tour or try to do anything like that,’” Steele said. “But there’s other guys that are really upset that this happened. It divided the tour and divided some of the best players in the world and so there’s all different viewpoints on how a big deal it is or how upset people are.”
At the media day, Steele talked about trying to win on the tour again in the 2022-23 season, trying to get into the Tour Championship and hoping to get into the fields of the major championships. He also talked about being a father and wanting to be home more. He also talked about how golf on the PGA Tour is without guarantees.
“We play a sport where it is very fickle and you have no contracts as far as signing with the Dodgers for five years and if you get hurt, you get paid,” Steele said. “We don’t have any of that stuff. So to have a little bit of security in going over there, I think you can kind of understand the narrative for each guy who went. Some want security financially. Some are older, some are guys who are more injured. Some guys haven’t been playing as well but have a big name. There are all sorts of reasons why you would want to do it.”
Steele is 122nd in the Official World Golf Ranking. While he hasn’t won on the PGA Tour since 2017 at the season-opening Safeway Open in Napa, he has never lost his PGA Tour card. In the 2021-22 season in which he made 15 cuts and missed eight cuts, Steele made just over $2.5 million. He has made the cut in three of the four events he has played since the start of January, but was not in the field of the Genesis Invitational this week after withdrawing just before it started.
Steele ended his LIV thoughts in December with a fairly direct opinion.
“I know it’s hurt all of our friendships and hurt our feelings,” he said. “It’s a weird time for us because we have never had to deal with anything like this.”
Now Steele might have to deal with those hurt feelings and friendships from the other side of the rivalry.