Let’s just say this upfront: golf does not like change.
Sure, we all appreciate the advancements in equipment technology, newest instruction techniques and learning gadgets. But, leave the game alone. We golfers are traditionalists at heart—in love with this timeless game and all its rich history.
So when a disruptor of sorts comes along and wants to “shake things up,” our tendency is to recoil.
Such is the case with LIV Golf, a Saudi-bankrolled “start-up” golf league that is headed by former World #1, Greg Norman. Don’t let the media’s bias and demonization of the league sway your thinking: LIV has some of the world’s best players, including world #2 Cam Smith and Dustin Johnson.
After taking in a few of the events (offered free online through YouTube), and listening to player interviews and commentary about LIV, I’ve decided to offer my own two cents on the subject. I’d love to hear yours as well.
Pros about LIV Golf
Like everything, you cannot always poo-poo the new. There are often real positives with change. It’s just hard for ourselves – especially us golfers – to adjust and acclimate.
There is a lot to like about LIV:
- For now, free coverage of the events.
- The introduction of the league is causing widespread (needed?) changes to the PGA Tour and other tours around the world (these changes are mostly benefitting players).
- More money is available to players (winners of LIV events take home $4 million).
- Arrangements of players (and caddies) are taken care of.
- The introduction of team golf as a companion to individual play (this one is exciting).
- Loosening of “stuffy” golf rules and decorum (players are allowed to wear shorts, there is music on the course throughout play, for example).
- All players are on the course at the same time (and finish around the same time) via shotgun starts.
- Worldwide events (not just U.S.-based), opening the game up to new eyes.
- 54-hole events (some may say this is a con).
- No cut events (as of this writing).
And this is just what is at the forefront of my brain. I’m sure there are more to name. Many of the top players in LIV have also been handsomely paid for signing on. For example, it’s been reported that Phil Mickelson (one of the league’s “recruiters” and early adopters) was awarded upwards of $200 million to join. Bryson DeChambeau also was awarded a similar (but lesser) cash haul. It’s hard to fathom that type of money for golf pros. Harold Varner (a more recent signee), has called his sign-on bonus life changing money.
Cons of LIV Golf
With the pros, come the cons. And there are plenty prominent ones to mention here:
- Association with Saudi Arabia (and their publicized human rights violations).
- No world ranking points awarded (as of this writing – though, LIV is desperately working to resolve this).
- While players are getting rich, they are losing standing in OWGR points – thereby slowly and surely – unable to qualify for majors.
- Players are being blackballed by many tours, including the DP Tour and PGA Tour – not to mention the media and some fans.
- Events feel more like exhibitions than meaningful events (this could change as LIV builds a history).
- There is no pathway to qualify for LIV (though, this is also changing through its association with the MENA Tour and Asian Tour).
- LIV could become a “retirement” tour – where players from other tours go to pad their retirements as they wind down their careers.
Probably the two biggest things (I believe) LIV has against it is the PR obstacle of its association with Saudi Arabia and the fact it could just become a “cash-grab” league.
My thinking on LIV
As a person who has tried to play professionally, I understand the great advantage that LIV presents to someone just starting their playing career. There are no guarantees in professional golf (and this is also the romantic quality of pro golf), but LIV provides top collegiate players (and even minor tour players) a place to play against some of the worlds best players AND a healthy paycheck. As LIV continues, it will be an attractive proving ground for these types of players.
For years, if you aren’t playing on the PGA Tour, DP Tour, or the Korn Ferry Tour (and playing decent), you are going to be struggling to play pro golf. Golf Twitter is loaded with examples of players who are just breaking even or losing money playing on minor tours.
The PGA Tour has never had guaranteed money to guys missing cuts or for even making it to the Tour (which is an exceptional accomplishment alone). Now, they are changing that as an answer to some of the benefits LIV provides.
Many of LIV’s critics cite players turning their backs on human right violations and taking “blood money” for playing on the new league. Yet, there is a lot of hypocrisy in this statement. They are overlooking the fact the PGA Tour has backed a league in China. China may have even more grotesque human right violations than the Saudis. And, the DP Tour plays events in Saudi Arabia.
Some of the more vocal top professionals (like Rory McIlroy) are starting to see the need for both sides to come together and work out a solution. Yet, the “big tours” are not ready to do so. What type of arrangement could be made remains to be seen – but I also see it as an important step to negating the growing ill-will in the game of golf right now. It’s not a good thing that some of the best players in the world are being excluded from big events, just because of where they play. And, the game’s best players will readily admit they want the strongest fields each time they tee it up, to see how their game stacks up.
The PGA Tour has a lot of limitations on players when they play its tour. They cannot just go play where ever they like or split all their time with multiple tours (and most players would have a hard time doing so). They want to retain their preeminent status as the best place to play.
But when some of the best golfers are moving to a new league to play – you cannot remain the best place to play.
I would like to see LIV golfers be allowed to play in majors and also be awarded OWGR points (when LIV has met the needed criteria set forth and allows others to join its league through qualifying means).
Here’s to hoping the changes in golf are not only a good thing for players and fans, but the game itself.
What are your thoughts on LIV Golf?
Update 1/20/23: LIV Golf recently announced they have secured a broadcast deal with the CW Network (Not known for their sports broadcasting, but still a win for the league.) From the sounds of it, the deal is a revenue-sharing one in which CW will not pay LIV for the rights to broadcast, and LIV will not pay the network.