It is hard to see “LIV Golf” (Greg Norman’s Saudi-backed series of golf tournaments) posing much of a threat to the PGA Tour over the long term. At some point it will likely go the way of the USFL and the Canadian Football League, but for right now Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson have hit the jackpot. That’s not to say that there isn’t plenty of room in the marketplace for an alternative golf experience, and perhaps Greg Norman’s brainchild is just the ticket for engaging broader appeal. The field for the first event this weekend in London is a bit thin though, so the individual stroke-play portion of the format is not likely to generate much excitement–unless a handicap system is implemented to give the field a fighting chance against DJ.
The “team” element, on the other hand, may provide a dynamic and emotional outlet not generally found at PGA Tour events—with the exception of the Phoenix Open of course. Fans only have a chance to let their hair down and root for a “team” once a year at the Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup. 12 teams will be competing at each LIV tournament, and each have a team name, logo and color scheme—with DJ’s team announced as the “4 Aces” and Phil’s squad the “High Flyers.” Perhaps “The Gunslingers” might have been a better choice for DJ as he sidles’ up to the first tee (complete with cowboy hat), and “Dark Thrill” for Phil’s squad, now that he’s been cast in the bad guy role (their team color could be all black—which Phil often wears anyway). And when Ricky Fowler finally makes up his mind to jump, perhaps his team can be called the “Biker Boys.”
Keep in mind that professional sport is essentially entertainment, and contemporary golf fans comprise a diverse cross-section of society, not just the high-brow country club set who expect serious golf in deadpan silence with a smattering of polite applause.
The LIV Invitational Series will consist of eight events, with the first being played at Centurion Club in the UK just outside of London. Five of next seven will be held in the United States (two being Donald Trump courses—Trump National Bedminster in NJ and Trump National Doral, FL). The other two will be at international venues—one of which being Royal Greens Golf & Country Club in Jedda, Saudi Arabia (no surprise) and the other Stonehill Golf Club in Bangkok, Thailand.
Each event will include a field of 48 players, with both an individual and a “team” component over 3 rounds totaling 54 holes and no cut. The total purse for each event will be $25 million, with $20 million divvied up among the field for the individual competition, and $5 million split between the top 3 finishers in the team competition. The individual component is straight forward, with the winner for each event determined by the lowest 54-hole score. Individual winners will also accumulate “ranking points,” and the player with the most points will be named the over-all individual champion after the first 7 events have been completed (the overall champion will take home an additional $18 million).
The team component is a little harder to follow. Each event will include twelve 4-man teams, comprised of a “Captain” (named by “LIV”) and 3 additional players who will be selected by the captain in a “draft” prior to each tournament. Team competition is also based on stroke play, and for the first two rounds the team score will be the total of the 2 team members carding the lowest scores, with the third-round team score being the total of the 3 team members carding the lowest scores. The team with the lowest aggregate score after 54 holes will be the winner. Once the first seven events have been completed, the teams will be “seeded” and the final event will be a match play tournament held over 4 days in October at Trump National Doral, FL—with no individual competition.
The structure for the match-play finale is a bit baffling, however. Since the fields will vary for each event, and captains will be named from players among the individual fields, it is unclear how the final 12 “captains” are to be determined for the Match Play tournament (perhaps they are permanent, and required to participate in all 7 events). It is also unclear how the composition of the teams themselves will be determined—since there will be a separate draft of players held prior to each regular event (so players may end up on different teams for each event—unless previously drafted players are permanent members of a particular team, with the draft only applying to new players being added when a team player isn’t participating in a particular event). The basis on which “seeding” will be determined for the Match Play finale is equally mysterious—but all will no doubt be revealed in good time.
Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Louis Oosthuizen, Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood and Kevin Na comprise the list of familiar names. DJ made the cut in 7 of the 10 tournaments he played this year on the PGA Tour, with 2 Top 10’s (his best being a 4th at the Match Play and a T9 at the Players). Phil hasn’t played since he missed the cut at the Farmers back in January, and Louie Oosthuizen hasn’t recorded a Top 10 since last season. Sergio has 1 Top 10 this year (a T7 at Mayakoba) and Lee Westwood missed the cut in 5 of the 9 events he’s played.
That leaves Kevin Na (9 of 12 cuts made on Tour this year with 2 Top 10’s) standing in Johnson’s path for the $4 million individual first place check. No wonder DJ had that Cheshire cat smile on his face at the LIV press conference.
Johnson is reported to have received a $125 million bonus for making the move, and based on the competition, he’ll very likely pocket a great deal more. At the LIV press conference, DJ stated “I don’t want to play for the rest of my life,” so it would seem he just can’t get by on the $74 million he’s already won on the PGA Tour. On the other hand, DJ may also have looked around at Scottie Scheffler, Justin Thomas, and a host of mega-talented young guns currently on Tour, and thought it was an opportune time to cash in his chips and slip out the door.
Phil received a signing bonus in the neighborhood of $200 million, and even though he’ll turn 52 in a couple of weeks, the light-weight fields without a cut will give him the opportunity to earn a great deal more. And since his skill with games of chance appears to be quite a few notches below his ability with a wedge, perhaps he simply needs the money.
The second LIV event will be played June 30–July 2 at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club, a great track in North Plains, OR designed by Bob Cupp and Andy Johnson. It’s been reported that Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed will be joining the field, which should spice things up a bit. Chances are also pretty good that a few additional name players will announce their intention to jump over to LIV following the U.S. Open (and one of them is likely to be Ricky Fowler, who no longer enjoys exempt status on the PGA Tour).
When asked his reaction to LIV Golf at the Canadian Open press conference, Scottie Scheffler said “I haven’t really noticed anyone missing this week. Maybe outside of DJ.” Come on Scottie, you didn’t notice Kevin Na wasn’t around anymore?