DUBLIN, Ohio—The catchphrase at LIV Golf seems to have changed in recent months to a bolder tone. Gone is Greg Norman’s tired pitch that “Golf is a force for good.” More common these days is the pronouncement that “We’re not going anywhere.”
That appears to be true. Much to the chagrin of the Professional Golfers Association (PGA) Tour, there is no indication the Saudi-funded league is about to fold.
But is it going anywhere?
LIV Golf in just one year has managed to fit into the golf landscape, even if it remains on an island. The majors have played the most significant role in this process by doing what’s best for them—and for golf—and leaving their criteria alone.
Otherwise, LIV Golf marches on to its own beat, a legitimate league with top players that doesn’t look like any of the other tours except for 14 clubs in the bag. It’s appealing to some, unappetizing to others, and the decision to watch is open to all.
There have been LIV events in Arizona and Oklahoma, Florida and Virginia, the same group of 48 players (with occasional withdrawals for injury and capable substitutes) playing for a $4 million winner’s check, sparkling wine sprayed for the winning team, music blaring and then it’s on to the next town.
Golf as a whole only suffers because a small group of the best players at LIV—such as Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau and Cameron Smith—don’t get to compete more than four times a year against the much larger group of the best on the PGA Tour.
Koepka winning the PGA Championship—and leading after 54 holes at the Masters—was more about the return of Koepka to good health and major mojo than it was the viability and validation of LIV Golf.
Smith said it best at Oak Hill: “We haven’t forgotten how to play golf. We’re all great golfers out there, and we know what we can do, and I think that’s what we’re trying to do.”
It was one year ago on Tuesday that an email from LIV Golf announced its initial roster of players, with Johnson being the biggest shock because he was (is) among golf’s biggest talent, who only a few months earlier said he was fully committed to the PGA Tour.
The inaugural event was a week later outside London. More defections followed (Koepka, DeChambeau), and then came the antitrust lawsuit against the PGA Tour by 11 players — all of whom have removed themselves as plaintiffs and turned it over to LIV.
The lawsuit and the tour’s countersuit are caught up in discovery disputes in federal court. Any trial is more than a year away. To no one’s surprise, attorneys might be making more money than the combined LIV Golf earnings of Danny Lee and Pat Perez. It’s a lot.
Another thing that surprised no one: PGA Tour players are benefitting as much as anyone.
The Memorial was an elite tournament with a $12 million purse last year. Now it’s one of eight elevated events that offer $20 million in prize money, and that doesn’t include $20 million prize funds at the FedEx Cup playoff events or a bump to $25 million at The Players Championship.
Jordan Spieth was among those who saw this coming, even if he didn’t know the details.
It was at Kapalua in January 2022 when Spieth said, “For us players … it’s been something that has kind of helped the PGA Tour sit and say, ‘Hey, where can we look to satisfy our membership and potentially make some changes going forward?”
The tour returns to a traditional calendar schedule in 2024 — January to August, with a choice to play the rest of the year without the risk of starting too far behind. There will be eight elevated events (not including the majors or postseason) with smaller fields that are still determined by performance, keeping the crucial meritocracy in golf.
None of this would have happened without LIV.
Golf is a force for good, all right. With three months left in the season, Scottie Scheffler ($14.9 million) and Jon Rahm ($14.5 million) already have set the record for single-season earnings.
The issue for LIV Golf is measuring its relevance beyond money.
The problem is not a 48-man field. The Tour Championship only has 30 players, and the BMW Championship this year will have a 50-man field. But on the PGA Tour, those fields are derived from a membership of more than 150 players who start each year with no guarantees.
Sports Illustrated reported LIV’s plans for relegation in which the top 24 and all the captains are safe. The next batch of players through the 44th on the points list can switch teams or leave if they don’t have a contract. The others have to earn their way back through a qualifier.
And then they start all over again, 14 tournaments with the same fields, $4 million payoffs for the winner, sparkling wine showers, music.
LIV Golf is not going anywhere.
Image credits: AP