November 17, 2023 8:00am

LIV Golf's Future

Despite uncertainty about what will become of the “framework agreement” between its sole investor and the PGA Tour, the denial of Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) points and the dwindling access to major championships for the majority of its players, LIV Golf prepares to move full steam ahead into its third season in 2024.

Photo of Scott Michaux
By Scott Michaux
Golf Correspondent

Despite uncertainty about what will become of the “framework agreement” between its sole investor and the PGA Tour, the denial of Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) points and the dwindling access to major championships for the majority of its players, LIV Golf prepares to move full steam ahead into its third season in 2024.

Our golf Power Pollsters, however, are not very bullish on the alternative golf league gaining much ground in golf’s established global ecosystem.

A healthy majority of poll respondents don’t think LIV Golf should get OWGR points (57 percent), don’t think the major championships should carve out special access for LIV players (67 percent), don’t think the league will gain more traction with fans (79 percent) and don’t believe any marquee tour players are going to take the Saudi money and make the jump to LIV (58 percent).

All of those elements would seem to be pretty significant hurdles to LIV Golf’s long-tour success.

“If PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan is the CEO of the new entity that operates both PGA Tour and LIV Golf for profit, he's the same guy that tried to stamp LIV out of existence,” said Sports Illustrated writer Gary Van Sickle. “Don't see how that bodes well for LIV unless it becomes the tour's new Fall Season.”

Said J. Roger Graves, PGA Magazine senior writer/editor: “The initial fascination with LIV, if there ever was any interest or fascination, is dwindling quickly. What LIV needs is an injection of integrity, which LIV is discovering it cannot buy at any price. … As currently constituted, LIV remains a capsized ship full of gold and silver treading water and trying desperately to stay afloat. It is discovering that money can't buy everything -- or everyone.”

Sean Fairholm, senior writer at Global Golf Post, compares LIV Golf and its CEO Greg Norman at this stage of the league’s existence to Texas A&M football, which recently paid $76 million for its head coach, Jimbo Fisher, to NOT coach the program anymore.

“Despite seemingly unlimited oil money and ample opportunity to be competent, both have been run into the ground by egotistical blowhards,” Fairholm said. “Which is fortunate, because a relatively intelligent person could have turned them into behemoths. … They will go 7-5 and play in the Duke's Mayo Bowl. Nobody cares.”

Here’s how 128 golf industry contributors and media members responded to the this month’s Power Poll questions:

“In addition to increased access to the LIV tour, there should be some downward adjustment in points for the 54-hole, 48-player format, but I'm OK with just saying no OWGR points,” said golf author Dave Barrett.

Others agree with OWGR chairman Peter Dawson, thinking the world rankings would be healthier with LIV Golf included.

“The LIV tournaments should be factored into the world rankings,” said golf course industry contributor Rick Woelfel. “That said, those performances should be weighted due to the 54-hole, no-cut format.”

Said Michigan Golf founding editor Terry Moore: “Without World Ranking points, LIV players lack an avenue into the majors. Unless ESPN is bought by the Saudi Investment Fund, exposure on TV will be minimal. Meanwhile, the roiling geopolitics of the Middle East further complicate matters.”

Two-thirds of poll respondents (85 to 42) don’t think the major championships should make any special adjustments to their qualification categories to include LIV Golf players. That would mean Talor Gooch, LIV Golf’s top individual player in 2023 with three victories and $35 million in earnings, would have no avenue into any of the 2024 majors unless he advances through qualifying for the U.S. and British Opens.

That said, poll commenters emphasized the importance of golf major events being staged with the best fields possible.

“I agree with the PGA Tour for cutting out players who join LIV. But the majors are the place where all the best players gather,” said Barrett. “I'm not a fan of LIV, but the LIV players did add something to the majors in 2023. In the interest of making sure none of the top players in the world are left out of majors, I would be OK with the majors adding a category for LIV players. But only very limited, perhaps to the top three players in the year-end standings.”

“With all the algorithms out there I think there is a way to fairly assess performance in their events against strength of field so that, rather than an exemption for majors, they outright qualify,” said Dove Jones, Premier Golf sales consultant.

Tom Cunneff, editor of The Met Golfer, believes the competition/controversy proved to be a major enhancement.

“The majors are better with the top LIV golfers in them, so the Four Families need to find a way to include them if they're not otherwise exempt,” Cunneff said. “I would argue the majors have never been better with the ‘PGA Tour vs. LIV’ factor. There's more drama than ever before.”

Regardless of what happens with the OWGR and the majors, our Power Pollsters overwhelmingly (79 percent) just don’t have faith that LIV Golf will ever grow into something the golf world at large cares very deeply about. Beyond the on-site fan experience, especially in golf-starved locations, LIV hasn’t resonated with most golf consumers.

“Fans are voting with their TV clickers. Most LIV telecasts get ratings hash marks,” said Dave Lucas, WJLA-TV anchor in Washington D.C. market.

“The contrived four-player team format doesn't work for golf and with the limited fields, the LIV events come off as more like an exhibition than an essential golf competition,” said Barrett. “The exhibition may be an attraction for local spectators in certain areas, but the events don't draw worldwide interest from golf fans.”

Fairholm believes LIV Golf missed a chance to provide golf fans with something truly different than the PGA and European tours.

“LIV's fatal error was selling itself as a serious competition. If you have Chase Koepka playing and have no plans on adhering to the wildly obvious and critical merit-based OWGR criteria,

then it's inherently not serious,” Fairholm said. “So with that in mind, LIV should have veered hard into the wacky, absurd and interesting (skills competitions, strange formats, non-golf people announcing, YouTube golf with high-profile players, etc.) instead of being a watered-down version of the PGA Tour, which is already an archaic product. There was so much space to innovate and do something cool – instead LIV did almost nothing unique whatsoever.”

A few from the minority of pollsters, however, believe LIV has and will succeed and grow.

“I think acceptance, especially out of the U.S., will continue to grow but not necessarily on TV,” said Dove Jones. “Personally, I like it streaming and portable. Look at (the) Adelaide event’s crowds. However not much was shown/talked about here in mainstream media.”

“The LIV tour, and other major tours added worldwide in the game globally, are ultimately good for the game of golf,” said Timothy R. Branco, managing director of New England Publishing. “Having said that, unfortunately a concept of more fun golf with music and antics has not caught on well with the LIV Model. I strongly feel that diversity is good and new ideas surrounding tournament golf needs to expand. The public is all in on special matches with prime players and PGA/LPGA/Champions Tour all have great big draw players to feed this. Traditional golf tournaments with air time on major and minor networks are doing well and sponsors are still looking for golf audiences as well.”

Considering the changes the PGA Tour has made to accommodate its star players financially to compete with LIV Golf, 58 percent of our pollsters think the top talent will stick with their home tours and eschew what LIV is offering in 2024. But guaranteed money still has a way of attracting attention.

A few prominent names were suggested as potentially ripe LIV targets: Patrick Cantlay, Jon Rahm and Hideki Matsuyama getting multiple mentions with individual offerings of Sam Burns, Max Homa. “Some European” suggested Stan White while retired Toronto Star writer Dave Perkins wonders if “one of our good Canadian boys takes the LIV money.”

“If I had to pick someone I'd say Hideki Matsuyama,” said Scott Rabalais, The Advocate (Baton Rouge, LA) sports columnist. “His play generally hasn't been stellar of late and I could see him wanting to grab the gold if he's worried about staying relevant.”

“Patrick Cantlay. I may be wrong, but I see him as an outlier on the PGA Tour,” said Killarney Golf Media writer Gary D'Amato.

“If any high-profile PGA Tour player makes the jump to LIV Golf over the next two months, the most likely candidate could be Jon Rahm,” said Mark Lamport-Stokes, former Reuters writers and LPGA director of public relations.

But mostly our pollsters believe any defectors will fit the profile of golfers on the back-nine of their careers.

“Many players with a 'good name' and declining form curve would be interested,” said journalist Morten Buckhoej.

“Best bet may be any player outside of those exempt from the big-money special event events in 2024,” said Richard Mudry, Golf Health and Performance writer. “Their pocket books will be most affected by their exclusion and LIV is offering guaranteed money for the time being.”

“Any player who wants to play less and make money or knows he is in a slump will leave for LIV,” said Drum Media Group owner Kevin Drum.

Said Bill Hobson, producer and host of Michigan Golf Live: “The lure of immense amounts of (blood) money will always remain attractive to a player who would prefer to cash in quickly at the expense of legacy and pursuit of majors.”

“Can't really say for sure who will be next but I'd imagine it’s the guy with the most debt and the fewest tour wins of late,” said Ron Borges, Boston Herald sports columnist. “Or it could be Cantley trying to avoid a cage match on the practice tee at Augusta with Rory (McIlroy) and (Joe) LaCava.”

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About Power Poll: Power Poll asks questions of significant key players in American sports today. It's member list draws on people from media, team management, and league management. It is not a scientific survey, but the results afford a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of those who know most about the sport.

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