LIV Golf vs. The PGA Tour. Week One!
I wanted to hate LIV Golf, yet after its first event this week, it is clear a few innovations might move golf forward for the better.
For those unaware, LIV Golf is an upstart golf league that has recruited marquee players such as Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Sergio Garcia, for their initial event, with seven of the last eleven Masters champions being in the field. LIV, being touted as the rebel tour, is backed by Saudi Arabia, and many are questioning the ethical dilemma of players taking max contracts with mandatory minimums in the millions as opposed to playing for their earnings week-to-week over the course of the season.
Others people believe who will appear at their Portland event on the last days of June and the first days of July will be Bryson Dechambeau, Bubba Watson, and Rickie Fowler, as the marquee players keeping moving towards the new tour.
The money is tempting, but the bigger issue is that the PGA Tour created a wrap around season that gave the players no form of a break, and seemed to be designed for a young 20-something and someone who is in their mid-30’s might find themselves fighting for FedEx Cup points. The later, FedEx Cup points, are still vague in quantification, but you need a win over the course of two years, a sponsor exemption or to finish in the top 125 of the FedEx to stay on the tour. For the famous players, that isn’t as big of deal, but for those grinding like say Stephen Jaeger or Wyndham Clark it means they have to play as much as they can to secure a place for the following season.
The over saturation of golf on the PGA Tour, opting away from the fun fall series that used to feature casual golf events for the fall, in which players might play more so for fun, than to compete are gone, and now by the time Torrey Pines comes around, and the west coast swing is in effect on the PGA Tour, the season is nearing the halfway point. Most marquee players will have played very few events by this point.
What LIV is offering is less dates, at least for now, for a lot more money. Things like the PIP (Player Impact Program), a system designed to pay the most influential and famous players on the tour, is a way the PGA Tour is trying to reward players with a big following. That being said, LIV is fine with giving players guaranteed contracts as we are heading into an economic global recession. For star players as well as players who may or may not be able to play often on the PGA Tour this is a dream come true.
What LIV is doing is essentially bringing a new form of golf to America, somewhat like a better version of the European Tour. The concept is a shotgun start meaning every golfer starts on a hole at the same time, and a counter in the corner counts down in the corner the remaining holes left, as a NASCAR-like leaderboard is shown on the screen the whole time. The presentation is jarring, not sure if I am a fan, and the U.S. distribution of the product is currently on YouTube, but globalyl DAZN seems to have taken an interest.
So what is happening, is not unlike what we see in boxing week-in and week-out. A fractured sport outside of the majors. For the first time in some years, golf will not see all of the best players playing in the same league. Instead, it will come down to tradition versus player empowerment.
That being said, the PGA Tour is a machine. New stars will emerge on the PGA Tour, and life will move on. The big thing would be if a slew of LIV golfers began winning majors as that would show a disparity in terms of competition between the two tours and might have viewers picking and choosing what events to watch.
For the viewer it is simple as to what to watch.
Do you want to see the tour that has the most history or the one which is building on the fly?
Where LIV goes, who knows?
The one thing I know is, LIV is doing the small stuff that most leagues don’t do, like for example, an unqualified blogger like myself, potentially could attend a LIV event, but it is doubtful I could attend a top-tier PGA Tour event.
The golf product is uninteresting on LIV, the courses aren’t that special and the concept of sports washing is gross, but it also provides a chance to allow many to monetize a passion which is actually good.
LIV Golf presents exciting new opportunities and chances for new faces to emerge in the industry as it feels a lot like the XFL. Sure, the golf doesn’t seem thrilling, but the potential access, and reception to new ideas, at least for now, could provide chances for unique stories to be told in golf, or at least I am hopeful of that.