Finally. After a few seasons of hype and drama, the LIV Golf soap opera has finally aired this weekend. On offer at the inaugural event currently being played at the Centurion Golf Club in London is a handsome purse of $25 million. Given the format of the event—no cut applied—and the reasonably small field—48 players in all—we’re talking a minimum of $1,20,000 for the last place finisher. Not bad for half a week’s work.
That number—the prize fund for this individual event—is completely overshadowed by the mind-boggling incentives that have reportedly been paid to some of the top players in the world for signing up as members of the LIV Golf Tour. Earlier in the week, news came out about the $150–$175 million that Dustin Johnson has been paid to come on board. The news about Johnson, who, at the time was widely expected to be the most high-profile player to leave the PGA Tour for LIV Golf has since become old hat. Not teeing it up this week, but from the next LIV Golf event onward are even bigger names—Patrick Reed and the big-hitting Bryson DeChambeau. DeChambeau’s defection is a cause for concern for the PGA Tour. The American is one of golf’s most popular stars and certainly one of the game’s most interesting characters which have made him a favourite with galleries. His absence is likely to affect the return-on-investment for sponsors and ticket sales at events.
Another flip-flop drama came to an end when Phil Mickelson (who’s reportedly been paid close to $200 million) announced his participation in the LIV Golf event in London. While Mickelson’s decision is obviously a play to make the most of the short playing career he has left, it’s still a matter of concern given his stature amongst golf’s all time greats. It’s not entirely clear yet whether Mickelson and the other players playing this week will be banned for life from participating on the PGA Tour. For now, they’ve just been suspended.”In accordance with the PGA Tour’s tournament regulations, the players competing this week without releases are suspended or otherwise no longer eligible to participate in PGA Tour tournament play, including the Presidents Cup, wrote PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan in a statement released to the press. The Tour has also closed a loophole that would have allowed these players to play on sponsors’ exemptions.
On the other hand, Monahan’s counterpart on the LIV Golf Tour, Greg Norman, has criticised the decision and said the Tour would not prohibit players for participating in events on other Tours. That prospect seems unlikely, at least on financial grounds. Last month Norman announced that he has secured additional funds to the tune of nearly 2 billion dollars to turn this initial eight-event invitational series into a 14-event league by 2024. The response to Monahan’s statement was terse. ”Today’s announcement by the PGA Tour is vindictive and it deepens the divide between the tour and its members. It’s troubling that the tour, an organisation dedicated to creating opportunities for golfers to play the game, is the entity blocking golfers from playing. This certainly is not the last word on this topic. The era of free agency is beginning as we are proud to have a full field of players joining us in London, and beyond.” The gloves have come off.
Getting away from the politics of the Tours, the element that hasn’t received adequate attention is the format of the LIV Golf events. Compared to the traditional four-day 72 hole golf event, these are going to be restricted to 54 holes over three days—a la T20 for golf. While a sizeable gallery is in attendance at the ongoing event in London, the shotgun start format is clearly designed more for television rather than the galleries. It’s going to nigh impossible for spectators to ascertain which green the tournament is likely to be decided at since groups will start and finish on different holes. Shotgun starts are great for saving time, but there is something to be said about the closing stretch of holes on a championship layout. This collection on holes are designed for a high-pressure finish and demand the most from the players.
In addition there are team formats that will concurrently be in play at the LIV Golf events which translate into additional earning opportunities for the players. There are 12 teams with three players each. Over the course of the three-day tournament, the two best stroke-play scores from the first two rounds count toward the team totals. In the final round, the best three scores from the team are counted to determine the winning team. Pretty complicated if you ask me—Press and Repress are hard enough—but the team format might strike a chord with fantasy leagues players and punters.
Interestingly LIV Golf has not been able to secure a media agreement despite the high-profile players and all the resources at its disposal. There are no major sponsors either, although it can be argued that those were possibly not high priority at this stage for the Tour. It has worked out well for fans who want to watch the event. The tournament is being telecast live on the LIV Golf Tour’s social media channels. Feel free to watch—doesn’t cost a dime.
(A golfer, Meraj Shah also writes about the game)