August 10, 2023
Learning to LIV with the Revamped World of Professional Golf
By Tad Boyette
$200 million for Phil Mickelson, a top 5 player in the history of professional golf. $150 million for Dustin Johnson, former world #1 ranked player and multiple-time major championship winner. $325 million combined for the likes of Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka, and Cameron Smith, all elite level professional golfers at the top of their game. Record breaking contracts that put PGA tour prize money to shame. This doesn't include the multitude of other PGA tour golfers that decided to take their talents to the LIV Tour during the late 2021 early 2022-time frame.
Before most fans and analysts could grasp how legitimate it was, the upstart Saudi-backed LIV Golf tour had created a star-studded lineup of elite golfers. Some joined because of the obscene amount of money, some liked the idea of a less rigorous schedule, others found the concept of team golf to be intriguing. Regardless of the motive, the PGA tour was suddenly in an all-out battle with this fiery competitor for top players, the best venues, and the heralded TV & media money associated with professional golf.
The once united professional golf fan base quickly separated into two groups: the new LIV Tour supporters and the PGA Tour loyalists. Those supporting the PGA Tour were the majority, and this majority took almost no time to highlight the myriad of concerns with the LIV Tour. The concerns include but are not limited to: the obvious sportswashing allegations, concerns about the Saudi government's involvement with the funding and support of the tour, and a variety of other morally and ethically questionable matters.
Essentially, PGA Tour supporters are begging one question: How can any fan make a conscious decision to support LIV Golf knowing the questionable ethical and moral concerns surrounding Saudi Arabia, the LIV tour leadership, and the golfers?
As a casual golf fan, I wanted to learn more about the LIV Tour from the start. What can I say, the team golf style of competition with some of the best players in the world piqued my interest. However, I had some serious concerns about personally supporting a tour that is backed by a country with serious human rights abuse allegations. Whether it be the well documented poor treatment of women and minorities in Saudi Arabia, or the tragic incident involving the Saudi government with the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, I felt wrong for wanting to watch this form of professional golf knowing who is backing it and what their morals.
So I didn't watch. And not many others around the world did either. The LIV tour averaged 291,000 viewers during the final round of its inaugural tournament in March, coming up drastically short of the PGA Tour's 2.42 million average viewers for their event on the same day. This trend continued tournament after tournament, leaving many fans asking “How is the LIV Tour going to survive?”
Fast forward to June 6th, 2023, and that question is answered resoundingly. The PGA Tour, LIV Tour, and DP World Tour have merged. The plan is to create a new entity to oversee essentially all professional golf.
Shocked. Angry. Confused. Just a few of the choice adjectives that have been used by golf analysts, fans, and professional golfers alike. Not only did this merger come out of nowhere, but none of the players knew about it ahead of time. As more details came out about the deal, it appeared that keeping most everyone in the dark was the plan the whole time. I could not believe that the poster child for elite and professional competition, the PGA Tour, was now joined at the hip with the ethically questionable, deep pocketed LIV Tour and the Saudi elitists that founded it no more than 2 years earlier.
Knowing that there are still many details to be ironed out, and a plethora of additional information to be released, it would be unwise of me to take a firm stance on this new entity at this point. However, it is hard to repress the feeling that professional golf has changed forever, and seemingly not for the better. Sure, all the best players are seemingly back competing in the same events, that seems like a positive. Being financially attached to the group of leaders from the LIV tour that spoke negatively about the PGA Tour no more than 3 months ago seems less than ideal. Being financially attached to the same corrupt leaders that financially support a Saudi government that is in the process of executing one of the most blatant sportswashing campaigns in recent history seems even worse.
How will the players react? Some players previously mentioned have already taken the Saudi money with little negative kickback. Other top ranked players like Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, and others were staunchly against playing for LIV Golf. Instead they vowed support to the PGA Tour and it's leadership team, the same leadership team that then went behind their back to partner with LIV.
The future of professional golf is in a rocky place, and fans are caught in the middle. Will fans decide that their love of golf overshadows the myriad of ethical reasons to raise the caution flag on this new partnership? So far, the money has won out in almost all situations involving LIV Golf… but if/when will the questionable ethics of the LIV leadership and now the PGA leadership inevitably impact business?