LIV Golf, the breakaway tour that fractured the golf world last year, begins its second season this week. Catch up on the latest in the golf world right here before the season begins.
It’s been awhile. What’s the story with LIV?
LIV (pronounced “live,” rhymes with “give,” not “L-I-V”) is a breakaway golf league that began play last year. While LIV bills itself as “Golf, but louder,” in practice it’s been “Golf, but more profitable” — for the players, if not necessarily LIV itself. LIV’s value proposition — a limited, no-cut, guaranteed-paycheck tournament slate, combined with nine-figure signing bonuses — was attractive enough to lure multiple big names away from the PGA Tour.
Many of the players who jumped to LIV are still-famous names whose best golf is behind them, like Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter. A few are sharp-elbowed types who clashed with the Tour, the media and even fans, like Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed and Bryson DeChambeau. Most notably, LIV boasts some players — Cam Smith and Dustin Johnson — who still are at or near the top of their game.
The players’ decision to take LIV’s money has come with dramatic consequences. Those who didn’t resign their PGA Tour membership have been suspended for years. LIV’s 54-hole, no-cut format renders it ineligible for Official World Golf Ranking points, meaning LIV players also face an uphill battle to qualify for majors if they’re not already eligible.
LIV Golf beat the odds against most upstart leagues by surviving into its second season. Now the hard work begins.
What’s the state of LIV today?
LIV Golf is, as of this moment, the dog that caught the car — and didn’t just catch the car, dragged it to the side of the road and shook it hard enough to rattle everyone inside. Yes, that would be a very big dog we’re talking about, but thanks to the endless financial resources of the Saudis, LIV indeed qualifies as “big.”
The question for LIV now is whether “big” alone is enough, and that’s where matters get tricky. Disruption, breaking norms, grabbing attention — that’s relatively easy, particularly in such a staid environment as golf. It’s always easier to knock over a sand castle than build one. And that’s where LIV is right now — trying to build a better sand castle than the one it spent the last year trying to knock down.
What’s LIV’s schedule for 2023?
The series begins its second season this weekend at El Camaleón Golf Course at the Mayakoba resort in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. Future events will take place literally all over the world, from Australia to Spain to Saudi Arabia. LIV has 14 events scheduled in 2023, all of which are strategically placed around majors and top-tier PGA Tour events. Three of the United States-based events will be at clubs owned by former President Donald Trump.
Where is LIV being broadcast?
Last year, LIV events were shown on YouTube, as well as LIV’s site and social media. The numbers were paltry in comparison to even the lowest-rated PGA Tour events; an online-only broadcast has little chance of drawing viable viewing numbers. LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman boasted last fall that four networks were vying to broadcast LIV events in 2023. Whether or not that’s true, the end result was that LIV events will be shown on The CW this year, as well as on LIV’s own app and streaming service.
What’s LIV’s team format?
One of LIV’s most intriguing innovations is its team format, in which 12 teams of four players apiece compete on both a week-to-week and season-long basis. Grafting a team framework onto an intensely individual sport like golf has resulted in some cringey attempts at team spirit; most golfers can’t help but look dorky when they’re doing fire-it-up motions. The team names range from clever (Bubba Watson’s Range Goats) to bland and anonymously inoffensive (Dustin Johnson’s Aces) to, well … Phil Mickelson’s HyFlyers.
— LIV Golf (@livgolf_league) February 21, 2023
The players are doing their best to sell this idea — Watson, in particular, claims that his son holds the Aces in the same high regard as the Cowboys and the Yankees — but it’s all still so new that it’s got a school-play vibe. Still, adding a layer of team play atop the individual structure of golf is a fascinating and potentially audience-attracting concept; this is almost certain to come to the PGA Tour in some form in the coming years.
Just, maybe, with a bit better acting than this:
Reply ⬇️ with your team 🙌@4acesgc_ @cleeks_gc @crushers_gc @fireballsgc_ @hyflyers_gc @ironheadsgc_ @majesticksgc @rangegoatsgc @rippergc_ @smashgc @stingergc_ @torquegc_#LIVGolf pic.twitter.com/XHsEdNDd2O
— LIV Golf (@livgolf_league) February 14, 2023
What about the Saudi Arabia connection?
LIV’s fiercest critics point to its Saudi origins, charging that Saudi Arabia is attempting to “sportswash” its image by normalizing its business dealings through golf. Governments and activists worldwide have criticized the Saudi ruling regime’s documented and alleged human rights violations, and critics of LIV say that the players are complicit by taking money, in effect, directly from the Saudi government.
LIV players who have attempted to rationalize away the league’s financial foundations have come across as, at best, unprepared and, at worst, unaware and insensitive. The players who have fared the best in public opinion, like Dustin Johnson and Harold Varner III, have sidestepped any explanation while quietly acknowledging that the money was, in fact, the reason they joined the league, not some vague puffery about “growing the game.” While LIV does contribute to local charities near every tournament it plays, the primary growth in LIV is the net worth of its players.
Protests continue to trail the LIV events; families of Americans killed in the 9/11 attacks still press players to distance themselves from Saudi riches. But at this point, all parties involved appear to be sticking with their decisions. That could change, of course, particularly if a notable PGA Tour player jumps to LIV, but for now the state of play is stable.
Where can LIV players compete outside of LIV?
No LIV players can compete on the PGA Tour. However, all four majors — the Masters, the PGA Championship, the U.S. Open and the Open Championship — have indicated that LIV players who qualify will be invited to play in 2023. Many have pre-existing qualifications — Masters winners like Mickelson, Reed and Johnson have permanent invitations to return to Augusta, for instance — but many more must qualify by either playing their way into “open” tournaments or by ranking high enough in the Official World Golf Rankings.
That fact presents a significant hurdle for many of the players who have leaped to LIV and watched their standings in the world rankings plummet as a result. LIV has applied to the OWGR for addition to its ranking formula, but any decision on that is still months away.
What effect has LIV had on the PGA Tour?
The phenomenal wealth pouring into the pockets of LIV golfers has had the effect of raising the wages for all PGA Tour players; every player on Tour who competes in 15 events now receives a guaranteed $500,000 stipend regardless of how well they play. The Tour has also elevated certain events to gather more of the world’s top players more often, and to get them paid even more. Stars have long protested the Tour’s cut rule means they go home empty-handed even though they've been used to promote the event.
What’s the status of the LIV/PGA Tour lawsuit?
LIV and the PGA Tour are involved in a knot of suits and countersuits, each one making accusations about the other’s business practices that only contributes to the bad blood between the two entities. The suit is also dragging outside entities like Augusta National into the fray, and the contentions and revelations about no-longer-private discussions between golf industry heavyweights lights Golf Twitter on fire once every few weeks.
The suit is scheduled to come to trial next January, but there’s still a substantial likelihood of a settlement before then. To start, seven of the 11 LIV players who filed the initial suit against the PGA Tour, many seeking to play in last season’s playoffs, have withdrawn from the suit. The Tour just this week won a significant victory, succeeding in its bid to add LIV’s Saudi investors as defendants in its countersuit against LIV. Speculating about the fate of complex litigation is tricky, but the Saudi regime surely is not pleased at the thought of having to produce documentation to satisfy an American court. The chances of a settlement before any of the secretive parties subpoenaed in the case have to produce documentation have increased substantially.
Will LIV and the PGA Tour ever make up?
After all the heat and bluster of 2022, the temperature between LIV and the Tour has cooled considerably. As long as there’s litigation between the two, there will be hard feelings, and as long as Norman is in charge there’s always the chance for a verbal broadside that relights the fire. But it’s easy to conceive of a situation — several years down the road — where the two parties figure out a way to coexist.
LIV, as an entity, is on its back foot heading into the 2023 season. Norman’s pledges to sign seven of the top 20 players in the world this year have proven groundless; the highest-ranked player to jump to LIV after last season is World No. 35 Thomas Pieters. Meanwhile, the PGA Tour is enjoying a bit of revitalization thanks to the elevated events and the reach of the Netflix series.
Golf will remain a fascinating story throughout 2023, but as long as LIV and the PGA Tour remain on separate tracks, the audience for each will be smaller than it could be if they joined forces.