LIV Golf: Reality Check

Henrik Stenson and Charl Schwartzel: LIV Winners

As the final round of the FedEx Cup playoffs gets under way this afternoon at East Lake Golf Club to determine if Rory or Xander Schauffele can chase down Scottie Scheffler, much of the media’s attention has been focused on LIV. Conjecture abounds concerning Cam Smith’s imminent departure from the PGA Tour, the identity of a large contingent of “big names” rumored to be on the verge of making the move, where that will leave the future of the Tour, and Tiger’s plan to thwart the attack.

While these are hot topics, perhaps it’s a good time to take a step back and examine the facts as they currently stand. Rory McIlroy, the highest profile player in the world, isn’t going anywhere. Should Scotty Scheffler, Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas, Collin Morikawa, Patrick Cantlay, Jordan Spieth or Xander Schauffele suddenly announce an intention to defect—well, that could certainly change the landscape. Don’t expect it to happen.

Unless LIV moves from 3 rounds/54 holes (similar to the Champions Tour) to 4 rounds/72 holes (in line with all significant professional golf tours worldwide), and can bolster field depth, the OWGR (Official World Golf Rankings) will be justified in viewing their events as glorified exhibitions—offering no WGR points for LIV tournament finishes.

Jon Rahm: Committed to the PGA Tour

One of the primary criteria for gaining entry to major championships, the most important events in golf, is a player’s position in the World Golf Rankings—and lucrative sponsorship opportunities inevitably go to major championship winners. Performance at the majors is also the biggest factor in determining where a player will be viewed among the all-time greats of the game.

Golf professionals have a limited window of opportunity to build their record, with major championships and tour wins coming at far lower frequency as a player moves into their mid to late 30’s (the “prime” years for a PGA Tour pro is 25-35). Jack and Tiger won 28 of their 33 major championships before reaching 36 years of age.

The reality is that the vast majority of players who have moved over to LIV are either at the tail end of their prime or beyond it, with little to lose and a great deal to gain by taking the money.

DJ and Koepka: Cashing Out

The Biggest Names

Dustin Johnson, at 38 years old, has his prime years behind him. 2021 was the first season since coming out on Tour in 2008 that Dustin failed to record a win, and 2022 wasn’t looking any better with just 2 top 10’s in 12 events. While Johnson still had an opportunity to move into the top 20 players all-time, the window was beginning to close—so his decision to cash out was not all that surprising.

Brooks Koepka, now 32 years old, had a solid year in 2021 with 3 major Top-10’s and a win at the Phoenix Open, but his 2022 season was looking pretty dismal with just 2 top 10’s in 17 starts. And while Brooks is known for coming up big at the majors, he recorded just 4 wins at regular tour events in his career. To move into the top 50 players all-time, Brooks would need a number of muti-win seasons on Tour with another major championship or two in the next few years—so like Johnson, his decision to opt for big guaranteed money should not be a shocker.

LIV Winners

Charl Schwartzel, winner of the first LIV event in London, is 37 years old, and like Johnson, his prime years are behind him. Through age 33, Charl made the cut in over 80% of his starts on the PGA Tour while finishing in the top 10 almost 20% of the time. His win at the Masters, however, came back in 2011 and his last Tour win was in 2016.

Since 2018, Schwartzel made the cut in only 34 of the 67 Tour events he entered, with a total of just 8 Top 10’s—so his opportunity with LIV could not have come at a better time.

Brandon Grace: Wins in Portland

The Portland event was captured by Brandon Grace. At 34, Brandon has entered the final years of his prime—and while he’s recorded 2 PGA Tour wins and 9 wins on the DP World Tour in his career, the last 2 years have been difficult for him with 20 missed cuts in 46 events and only 4 top 10 finishes. No doubt LIV has provided welcome relief.

Winner of the New Jersey event at Trump National Bedminster, Henrik Stenson reportedly received $50 million to join LIV—and that’s a lot of money to walk away from at 46 years old. Henrik had an outstanding career with 5 wins on the PGA Tour, 9 wins on the DP World Tour plus a major win (2016 Open Championship) as well as 13 major Top-10’s.

The last 3 years, however, have been a struggle for Henrik as he made the cut in just 12 of the 36 PGA events he entered, without recording a Top 10 in any of them. While Stenson is among the top 75 players in the history of the game, and his epic battle with Phil on Sunday at Troon in 2016 will always be remembered, his ability to compete successfully on the PGA Tour was winding down—so LIV was a dream come true.

Patrick Reed: Playing the Asian Tour

The Wrap Up

Other players who have reached their twilight years and opted for LIV include Sergio Garcia (42), Paul Casey (46), Louis Oosthuizen (39) and Charles Howell III (43)—not to mention Phil at 52 years old.

Patrick Reed, who stated that his primary motivation for joining LIV was to have more time with his family, has begun entering tournaments on the Asian Tour in order to secure WGR ranking points and maintain his position among the top 50 in the world (he recorded a T31 in Singapore last week).

Unless LIV endeavors to make changes to their tournament structure and is recognized by the OWGR on a similar basis to the PGA Tour and the DP World Tour (or at the very least on par with the Asian Tour), LIV will have a difficult time luring the brightest young stars away from the PGA Tour. And its life span will be extremely limited.

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