LIV Golf Tour: Why Everyone Is Talking About LIV

Published on 03/28/2023 · 8 min readGolfing Expert Adam Ditcher covers what exactly LIV Golf is, and how it has changed the landscape of professional golf as a whole, for better or for worse.
Adam Ditcher, Golf Expert
By Golf Expert Adam Ditcher

Photo courtesy of TaylorMade

Even if you aren’t the best about keeping up with the professional golf scene religiously, some things can’t help but wander into your purview if you’ve ever picked up a club. News about Tiger Woods, for example, has a way of sliding into the mainstream media and reaching people who aren’t watching Golf Channel every day. Perhaps your social media algorithm is to blame—you clicked an advertisement to buy a driver as a birthday present for your dad, and now you’re getting news articles about golf.

Regardless of your level of depth into golf, a recent topic has spilled over from our niche media coverage into the wider narrative: LIV Golf. If you aren’t up to speed, LIV Golf is a professional golf tour that formally started in 2022. It serves as an alternative option for players, as opposed to playing on the PGA Tour, which has been the standard for professionals for decades.

This article provides a background on LIV Golf and what is happening in the sport now. There are polarizing opinions about this topic on both sides of the debate. Therefore, I will play devil’s advocate as best as possible while providing as much context as possible so readers can form their own opinions. To do this, we must start at the beginning.

The History of Sports and Monopolies

Monopolistic competition is a topic that has come up around sports plenty of times in history. Throughout sports history, leagues have merged or run competitors out of business. But, according to Investopedia, a respected site specializing in breaking down financial jargon for the average person, sports leagues are exempt from the 1890 Sherman Antitrust Act, which is the legal standing used in the United States to break up monopolies.

Therefore, this allows a standard of excellence within one league in each sport. Although others exist, it is hardly a stretch to state that Major League Baseball (MLB), the National Hockey League (NHL), the National Basketball Association (NBA), and the National Football League (NFL) enjoy limited competitive forces in their respective markets for labor, fans, and sponsors.

Bringing It Back to Golf

Until very recently, the Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA) Tour would have been included in the list of legal sports monopolies outlined above. For decades, the PGA Tour has been the gold standard and the biggest golf league for professional golf. Other tours exist globally, but most are not on par (see what I did there?) with the PGA Tour regarding sponsor money, tournament purses, or media coverage. However, most other tours partner with the PGA Tour in some capacity, and the greater professional golf landscape has lived seemingly in supportive harmony. With the biggest market for talent and best-paying fields, the PGA Tour has enjoyed superiority while allowing avenues into events from other tours to try to grow the game of golf globally.

Queue the emergence of LIV Golf. The rumors started at the end of 2021 when word got out that Greg Norman, a former top-ranked golfer in the world with experience trying to start an alternative professional golf tour, had partnered with the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia, known as the Public Investment Fund (PIF), to start a new professional golf tour called LIV Golf.

So What?

Most people were pretty unimpressed. PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan was forced to address this rumor in a press conference and basically dismissed it and promised the PGA Tour would move forward with business as usual.

The emergence of a competitor is not new. Norman had once gained backing for a competitive tour that failed in its eleventh hour in the early 2000s. The history of sports leagues outside of the top-tier leagues that everyone has come to know in North America is bleak. In fact, most fail within a year or two, even if they try to work around the main league season.

This Time, It’s Different: LIV’s Emergence

Most of the emergence of a competitor was done in silence. Small tidbits made it into the media; most were about the league structure or process. LIV would run no-cut events. There would be a team aspect that hadn’t been deeply explained yet. Fields would be smaller, and the tournament would run only for three days. There would be a shotgun start to save time. The product would vary greatly from what had been the norm on the PGA Tour.

Then, news broke that in an interview, Phil Mickelson had shared that not only was he involved in discussions on how to set up this competitive league but that partnering with the PIF and Norman provided a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape the PGA Tour and how it conducted business. Mickelson stated later that his comments were meant to be off the record, but once word got out, it became the biggest talking point in golf.

After the public backlash, Mickelson would take a good portion of early 2022 off from professional golf. Many thought that this would be the end of LIV. The Masters came, Phil didn’t show, but everyone else continued on with business as usual despite the media and behind-the-scenes rumors.

Time for Change

Once the PGA Championship came in May, it had been announced in a press release from Norman that LIV would not only be hosting an inaugural season that started in early June. Players had already signed contracts and received seven-figure signing bonuses to participate!

Everyone knew that Mickelson, former No. 2 golfer in the world and a six-time major champion, would make a move after the press leaked his comments earlier in the year, but one player isn’t a tournament field. So rumors started to fly about who was going to LIV. Throughout the rest of 2022, players slowly announced that they had signed to play with LIV. Some, like Charl Schwartzel, signed early and competed in the inaugural tournament in London, which Schwartzel ended up winning. Others slowly made a move as the LIV Golf season went on.

Where Do We Stand Today?

Today, the list of players who have made a move and are now LIV golfers is extensive. Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Bryson Dechambeau, Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson, Cam Smith (who won the 2022 Open Championship right before moving to LIV), Joaquin Niemann, Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter, Louis Oosthuizen, and many others have signed on. As a result, the roster in 2023 looks deep than it did at any point in 2022. In addition, LIV gave a lot of motivation to players in the form of guaranteed paydays for tournaments and signing bonuses that made just about everyone who made the jump a millionaire after putting pen to paper.

The PGA Tour has hit any player who has gone to play on LIV with suspensions. Players cannot compete indefinitely on the PGA Tour while under contract with LIV. The timeline laid out two years after the players' final LIV event leaves us a ways from finding out if there will be an opportunity back to the PGA Tour for those who have left. The major championships (Masters, PGA Championship, U.S. Open, and British Open), as of 2023, have stayed neutral and allow players who meet their entry criteria to compete. As each is run by an entity outside of the PGA Tour, the suspensions don’t impact LIV players’ ability to participate.

Meanwhile, players who have stayed on the PGA Tour, like Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Scottie Scheffler, Tiger Woods, Justin Thomas, and others, have had a hand in helping Jay Monahan to reshape the PGA Tour.

LIV became a catalyst for the PGA Tour to further engage with its players, and some aspects of the LIV product have been closely imitated in the plans laid out by the PGA Tour for adaptation in 2023 and beyond as they roll forward with a new season of record-setting purses and deep fields.

Why So Polarizing?

The LIV Golf versus PGA Tour debate has aspects that can be of intrigue to a lot of groups of people. Golf fans see division in their sport, a ton of innovation in the sport in a much more condensed timeline than usual, and constant updates in the saga between the two tours. The massive impact on professional golf is undeniable.

Sports fans who maybe aren’t as focused on golf are intrigued by the legal battle that is underway because both tours are suing one another. The legislation could be groundbreaking regarding the legal standing of sports league monopolies and how their standing with the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 is interpreted in 2023 and beyond.

Even if you hate golf, hate sports, and don’t care about legal precedent, arguably the most polarizing aspect of the debate comes from the funding source for LIV Golf. A quick Google search will show you the division and how it reaches across various topics, including finance, law, politics, religion, ethics, and media. Of course, these types of topics invigorate great debate in just about any arena. Golf is no exception to this, which is why the topic of LIV Golf versus the PGA Tour has exploded in the media far beyond the reach of a typical golf update.

Final Thoughts: What Now?

This saga in the sport is continuing to unfold. The PGA Tour has made major changes to its season and strategy. Likewise, LIV Golf has also started its second season with major changes. The final destination of this path is still unknown, but it has captured the attention of the sport and well beyond it.

If you would like to chat about anything regarding golf, whether it is the latest news in the LIV/PGA saga or how to hit your clubs a little better, please reach out to one of my fellow Curated Golfing Experts or myself. We are always more than happy to talk about the game we love and are passionate about.

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