LOS ANGELES — LIV Golf decides when to hold tournaments by avoiding what its leader, Greg Norman, calls heritage events. That’s another way of saying it will find holes in the PGA Tour schedule with weak fields or marginal interest.
He got that part right.
More attention should have been given to what LIV Golf has to follow, and what’s ahead, that might make the start of its second season have a hard time living up to its moniker.
Golf, but louder – louder than the WM Phoenix Open?
No amount of music can match the volume and energy of a party so raucous in the Arizona desert that it’s easy to forget there’s a tournament going on.
Louder than Riviera?
That’s where Tiger Woods was just as easily heard as seen because of thousands of delirious fans who followed every one of his 283 shots at the Genesis Invitational.
Phoenix delivered Masters champion Scottie Scheffler returning to No. 1 in the world. At Riviera, it was Jon Rahm winning for the third time in five tournaments. Woods presented him the trophy and said to crowd: “Please understand and respect how good this guy is. He’s just getting started in his career, and we all get a chance to watch it.”
Your turn, LIV.
It all unfolds Friday at Mayakoba along Mexico’s Gulf coast, where the PGA Tour played from 2007 without attracting much of a gallery.
And then after it’s over, golf attention returns to the PGA Tour for the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, followed by The Players Championship with its $25 million purse and one of the most dramatic tests at the TPC Sawgrass.
The hope for LIV Golf rests on its concept of team golf.
“In less than a year, LIV Golf has reinvigorated the professional game and laid the foundation for the sport’s future. In 2023, the LIV Golf League comes to life,” Norman said Monday in releasing the rosters of 12 four-man teams.
Some of the newcomers don’t exactly cause a rush to buy tickets or download The CW Network app to watch.
The biggest addition based on the world ranking is Thomas Pieters of Belgium at No. 35. He shined in a losing cause in the 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine, though he failed to make the next two Ryder Cup teams.
The surprise was Brendan Steele, a three-time PGA Tour winner who joins the team of chief LIV recruiter Phil Mickelson. Both have the same agent, and Mickelson took him under his wing during Steele’s rookie season in 2013, involving him in some of Lefty’s money games.
This is a different kind of money game. The stakes are high in so many ways.
LIV Golf introduced Steele as a “10-time professional champion.” That includes his four Golden State Tour wins and one pro-am known as the Straight Down Fall Classic. He joins Mickelson, former U.S. Amateur champion James Piot and Cameron Tringale.
Other additions include Mito Pereira of Chile, Sebastian Munoz of Colombia, former U.S. Amateur champion Danny Lee and Dean Burmester of South Africa, whose rookie season on the PGA Tour ends after eight tournaments.
“The most popular sports in the world are team sports, and our league format has already begun to build connections with new audiences around the globe,” Norman said.
Dustin Johnson remains the star attraction, with a nod to The Players Championship and British Open titles Cameron Smith won last year. Johnson hasn’t played since the end of October, and more time off was part of LIV Golf’s appeal. He earned more more ($35.6 million) by playing less (eight events) with a big break at the end.
Making fans miss a sport presumably makes them hungry for its return. But in LIV Golf’s case – at least after one year – the nearly four-month break only created skepticism of its future instead of whetting the appetite.
This wasn’t a great offseason.
There is talk, but no hard evidence, of team sponsorship and ownership. But then Matt Goodman, the director of franchises, in January became the fourth LIV executive to leave. He joined the chief operating officer (Atul Khosla), the chief communications officer (Jonathan Grella) and the chief marketing officer (Kerry Taylor).
Majed Al Sorour, the CEO of Golf Saudi and managing director of LIV Golf, was transitioned out of that role last month.
And late last week, a federal magistrate dealt LIV and its Saudi Arabian backers a setback by ruling the head of the Public Investment Fund – the financial supporter of LIV – must sit for depositions and produce documents in the antitrust lawsuit against the tour.
The upside was having a television partner, The CW Network, instead of fans going to YouTube or LIV’s website for live streaming. This is more about revenue sharing than lucrative broadcast rights, and still unclear is the commercial aspect to this.
Then again, it was only a year ago when Rory McIlroy declared LIV Golf to be “dead in the water.” It’s still afloat.
No doubt LIV Golf was disruptive — still is — and the benefits have crossed battle lines by making both sides a little (or a lot) richer.
The PGA Tour responded to the threat by creating elevated events that average $20 million purses. The PGA Tour record for a season was set last year by Scheffler at nearly $12.9 million. Rahm already has just over $9.8 million, and it’s still February.
LIV marches on to the beat of its music. It made its debut last June, a week before the U.S. Open, and now has a full year of going up against the PGA Tour.
Norman talks about LIV as a “new platform for world-class competition as the sport evolves for the next generation.” That’s still to be seen. One thing that hasn’t changed is that much like the game so many know, everything is earned inside the ropes.
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