Examining the future of LIV Golf as its polarizing inaugural season comes to a close

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MIAMI — On Wednesday, eight team captains sat before a group of reporters while a moderator announced matchups in which the higher-seeded players were allowed to choose their opponents.

Four-time major champion Brooks Koepka had announced that his Smash GC team would play Niblicks GC. Bubba Watson, the 12th seed and two-time Masters champion, was asked his thoughts. Watson is a non-playing captain for Niblicks.

Watson told Koepka, sitting at the opposite end of the dais, Im not concerned. You might have worse injuries than I. You are getting older.

Majesticks GC (6th seed) was next up and decided to play Iron Heads GC (9th seed), which is commanded by Kevin Na (5th time PGA Tour winner).

Well, Kevin, me and I hit it really close, so we could just hold hands down each fairway. If I pick one of these boys theyre probably going to be fifty yards in front of me, and it will be a pretty miserable, miserable day, Majestics GC Captain Ian Poulter said.

Na replied to a question about Poulter’s stellar career record in singles matches: I heard he’s the captain this week, because nobody wanted the foursomes with his name. Their team average age is about the 50s. Ive got some young men, and I think that were all okay.

Later, Na joked that Majestics player Lee Westwood was on crutches during the news conference.

Na stated, Hes getting older. He needs to get a cane.

Although the lighthearted banter seemed to be a lot of fun, it was also a microcosm for one of the biggest criticisms LIV Golf received during its inaugural season. Golf has certainly been louder on the tour that Saudi Arabias Public Investment Fund funded. The driving range is filled with music, while the tournaments are filled with musical acts like Nelly and Snoop Dogg. But how serious is LIV Golfs (very high-paid) players about the actual game?

Last night was a great vibe🪩#LIVGolf #LIVGolfMiami

— LIV Golf (@LIVGolfInv) October 27, 2022

The inaugural team championship was the biggest in professional golf history and the prize money was $50 million. The players displayed a surprising amount of humor during the news conference. Three years ago, when Koepka was trying for a third consecutive PGA Championship or U.S. Open win, his intensity might have pierced reporters who were asking about his chances of winning. He once stated that other PGA Tour players didn’t like him because he was confident.

Peter Jacobsen (ex-PGA Tour player) said, The world is way overreacting on this LIV thing, and is now a commentator at NBC Sports and Golf Channel.

Its not a threat for the PGA Tour. It is a threat to the careers of the players who are leaving. Its almost like they are retiring from golf. Theyre highly compensated and highly skilled. The outcome is of little consequence.

Last weeks LIV Golf selection news conference raised the question: Is this ragtag group of former major champions, world number. The atmosphere at last weeks LIV Golf selection news conference begged the question: Does this ragtag group of former major champions, world No. 1 golfers, and aging PGA Tour defectors still want to play elite golf? Whats next for this upstart circuit, which has expanded to 54 holes, team golf, and shotgun starts? Is LIV Golf a viable business model? Or is it a quick-in-the-pan venture in which already-rich golfers are getting richer?

This seems to be the only certainty. LIV golfers are becoming incredibly wealthy. Dustin Johnsons team of 4 Aces, including former Masters champion Patrick Reed, TalorGooch, and Pat Perez, won Sundays inaugural team title and split the $16million purse. Johnson, a twotime major champion, won more than $35,000,000 in prize money during the inaugural season.

[Look at]According to LIV golfer Bryson Delchambeau, Tom Brady received a multiyear guaranteed contract worth more that $125 million. Hes still trying for a Super Bowl. There are a lot of MLB players making crazy amounts of money. They dont want to win the World Series.

You think we dont want to win the team title? We are competitors at heart. This is what makes us unique. This is why we are great. Yes, its amazing how much money there is, but when we get too excited, frustrated, or mad, we become passionate. Its our job. We care about it.

MONEY HAS BEEN This year, there was a lot of money flowing onto the LIV Golf circuit. According to a LIV Golf news release earlier in the year, Saudi Arabias sovereign wealth funds, which manage $620 billion worth of assets, were ready to pour at least $784 million into their new sporting venture.

Atul Khosla (LIV Golf president and COO), a former executive with Tampa Bay Buccaneers, stated that total expenditures have been significantly higher than that. The total $784 million includes salaries of employees, build-outs at tournaments, and production costs for broadcasting LIV events via social media and its official website.

The guaranteed, multiyear contracts that players can sign for up to three years are not included in this total. The PIF is said to have provided funding of at least $200 million for Phil Mickelson, at most $150 million for Johnson, and at least $100 million for Cameron Smith, the reigning Open Championship winner. LIV Golf officials declined details about the contracts of the players.

The headliners were not the only ones who were offered money to lure former major champion winners Sergio Garcia, Reed, and Louis Oosthuizen away the PGA Tour. Joaquin Niemann of Chile and Abraham Ancer of Mexico were among the top 25 golfers in the Official World Golf Ranking when the players defected to LIV Golf.

Khosla stated that the cost of doing business was to spend so much to get players off the PGA Tour.

Khosla stated that not everyone understands that a startup can disrupt a space. Capital is required. There is a burn rate. You will need to be tenacious for the first two years. Thats who we are, and thats what our work is.

Trump, the former president of the United States, walked off the 18th hole during Thursdays LIV Golf Pro-Am. He owned the course. He complimented the Saudis about their efforts in professional golf.

Trump stated, Its big money and its huge-time money. Its unlimited cash.

Trump also suggested that LIV Golf was not just about luring top PGA Tour players. LIV Golfs third event was hosted at his Bedminster, New Jersey golf course. There is speculation that Trump National, a course located outside Washington, D.C., might join the LIV Golf schedule in the next season.

Trump said, A lot of other persons are coming over. Trump stated, Big names, these are coming over. The star system in sports is extremely important. You wont be successful if you dont have the stars system.

Khosla insists that LIV Golf is not a college football NIL collective spending millions of dollars on players without financial concern. Majed al Sorour, CEO and high school friend of Mohammed bin Salman, stated to The New Yorker, that LIV Golf would be funded by the PIF until 2025. Khosla knows that the Saudis will eventually see a return on their investment.

Khosla stated, We report into boards, and thats our expectation.

Will the Saudis keep their new toy for a few years, then lose interest and move onto something else?

Khosla stated that he doesnt believe such a thing. They are good investors. They have made investments all around the world, including many in the United States with great American companies. We are clearly seen through that lens.

In August alone, the Public Investment Fund spent $7.6 Billion more on shares in U.S. businesses like Amazon, Home Depot Microsoft, Zoom, and Microsoft.

HOW QUICKLY LIVE It is possible for golf to generate at most a small fraction of the money it spends. Sponsorships and TV/streaming are the main revenue sources of professional sports leagues. LIV Golf has so far had difficulty in securing partnerships in these areas. It has also struggled to attract people to its broadcasts on social networks, DAZN streaming service, and its official website. One of LIVs top players said that he was most concerned about the lack of a streaming or TV partner going into the next season.

Its difficult to find [LIV Golf]Golfweek publisher and co-founder Tom Stine of Golf Datatech said that you should always be looking for it. You have to be connected to the right service and then go looking for it.

Golf Datatech, which conducts market research for the golf industry, recently found that only 12% watched the LIV Golf event in Chicago on September 16-18. The poll revealed that 80% of respondents, which included 641 serious golfers who play an average of 70 rounds per year, had never watched any LIV events. The poll was taken between Sept. 20-25.

ESPN data shows that the LIV Golf tournament in Boston had an average of 114,000 concurrent viewers on YouTube during the final round. The average fell to 20,000 concurrent viewers in the Bangkok event, and 26,000 in the tournament of Saudi Arabia. Comparatively, the final round in PGA Tour events this season, excluding majors, averaged approximately 2.6 million viewers on network television.

Johnson won the team championship Sunday by making a short putt that was viewed by approximately 72,000 people.

According to our survey [LIV Golf]Stine, who was also an employee at Golf Channel in 1995, said that the channel doesnt seem to have gained ground or been accepted. My opinion is exactly the same as LIV Golf: They need to have a television contract to be successful. I don’t think anyone disputes that, don’t they?

Multiple reports have stated that LIV Golf could not secure a media rights agreement with multiple TV networks or popular sports streaming platforms, such as ESPN+ and Apple TV+. In March 2020, the PGA Tour signed a $6.1 billion, nine-year deal with three TV networks that had broadcast professional mens golf, CBS Sports, and NBC Sports.

Golfweek reported that LIV Golf was closing in on a deal with Fox Sports 1 for airtime to broadcast its events in America. Norman had told an ESPN radio station, Chicago, two weeks earlier that the circuit was still talking with four networks. LIV Golf stated that the Golfweek report was incomplete and inaccurate.

On October 11, Fox Sports CEO Eric Shanks spoke to John Ourand at the CAA World Congress of Sports, New York. He said that there was not much heat around a potential media rights agreement with LIV Golf.

ESPN was told by sources that airtime for broadcasting a tournament on the weekend could cost as high as $900,000. This doesnt include production costs. 18-hole broadcasts require a large number of cameras and staff. The Golf Saudi CEO, Sorour, suggested to the New Yorker LIV Golf would start its own network if it couldn’t find a partner in America.

Sorour stated, If it were up to me, it would be in-house.

Khosla said that LIV Golf was still in conversations with both linear and non-linear television and streaming outlets in the U.S. He also stated that the process would take place over the next few weeks. DeChambeau stated LIV Golf did not have a broadcast partner due to strategic considerations, but didn’t give any details.

DeChambeau stated that By next years, I wholeheartedly believes we will have a TV partner.

Watson said that even if LIV Golf does not attract a TV partner, that doesnt necessarily mean it isnt a quality product.

Watson stated that there are entities in the U.S. who had to pay for broadcasting at first. Then it grew into something. We can all name the entities that have done this and we all know their identities. [LIV Golf]It is being broadcast in many countries and people love it. I believe we will get there.

There have been instances in the past of sports programming that was brokered. This included Major League Soccer and various professional football leagues, other than the NFL, auto racing, professional wrestling, and many others. None of them were paying the huge salaries LIV Golf is paying or the enormous purses. LIV golfers will compete next year for $405 million. Thats $150 million more than this season.

Stine stated that there is an expectation of a return on investment for any venture-capital structure. But, as everyone knows from the beginning with LIV Golf that their investment capital is infinite at this point. It is not when the investment fund stops supporting it that the question arises; it is when they run out.

Khosla stated that LIV Golf has entertained many potential partners at its events in terms of sponsorships. The circuit was supported by only one sponsor, ROSHN, Saudi Arabia’s most prominent real estate developer. This is partly funded by the Public Investment Fund. ROSHN is part of Saudi Vision 2030, which aims to reduce the country’s dependence on oil and diversify the economy. It hopes to bring 70% of the population home ownership by 2030.

Khosla stated that it takes time to convince people this is a viable option. We will launch the league next year with 12 clubs. These are all the foundations that we must establish. Then brands will join because they understand the product.

LIV GOLFS VISION Saudi Arabias 2023 vision is bolder than any other. LIV Golf will be transformed into a league and play a 14 tournament schedule. The league will follow a franchise model. The leagues top players will own 25% and the league 75%. The captain will sell sponsorships for his teams, while LIV Golf will seek leaguewide partnerships and sponsors. LIV Golf will provide some support, but LIV Golf will not be able to pay all expenses. LIVs teams will operate independently from LIV Golf starting next season. However, LIV Golf will help with their operations. Teams will have to pay for their travel, lodging, and physical trainers. Revenue can also be generated by the teams own merchandise sales and apparel deals.

Watson stated that he plans on building his team as a franchise in any other sports. Hell have a president as well as a general manager and support staff. Watson already plans to change his teams name, currently called the Niblicks after the early golf clubs, which were equivalent to modern-day wedges and 9-irons.

Watson said, Were going to just start making teams. Watson said, Were going to start having our logo, similar to the Yankees. [and]The Lakers, all the teams were familiar with using that logo. Were trying to do that. We are trying to create a league similar to the NBA, just as Major League Baseball, and just like NFL.

Watson, 43, envisions a day when Watson will step down from his franchise and sell his stakes to another golfer.

Watson stated, These young children now, theyre pulling in support of a team. Its exactly like the Yankees. They will still be Yankee fans, no matter if Aaron Judge leaves or stays. So thats what youre creating. We are creating franchises, teams that everyone can follow. Phils getting older. Im getting older. Over the years, people will change. So you are creating a brand and a team, and an environment that you want.

World No. Rory McIlroy, World No. 1, is skeptical about the LIV Golf franchises value.

McIlroy stated to The New Yorker that golf is a niche game. All you are getting is four players. Its true that some MLS teams are worth 700 millions dollars. It all depends on the economics of the league. Right now, however, the league doesnt have any economics.

LIV golfers may be removed from rosters sooner than they wish. The franchise model includes promotion and relegation. Less-known players might not be back next season if they have had a difficult season. LIV Golf will have a 60-man roster for next year. Each team will have one reserve and four active players. Watson, who was non-playing captain this year due to a knee injury to his knee, hopes to be back on the course next season. That means at most one of the current four players will not be returning. Watson stated, We have three players at the table right now. Were looking to find the fourth.

For nondescript former PGA Tour players like Perez (who earned more than $8million despite not playing very well up to Sunday) and Charles Howell III (who made nearly $3million), this might not be as much of a problem than it would for younger players who arent pros for as long. Andy Ogletree, a former U.S. amateur champion, played in the first LIV Golf event held in London. He finished last at 24 years old, earned $120,000, and has not played on the circuit since. He has made three appearances in the LIV-affiliated International Series, Asian Tour.

Khosla stated that LIV Golf hopes to create a promotion and development route for its players through its alliances and the Asian Tour. The MENA Tour is a developmental circuit that plays throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Players who are relegated to rosters will likely not be allowed to play on the PGA Tour again.

Its been an amazing journey.

12 teams, 8 events and 3 continents… golf has changed forever.#LIVGolf

— LIV Golf (@LIVGolfInv) October 28, 2022

DeChambeau has a larger vision for his franchise, Crushers GC. His long-term goals include junior golf academy, fitness and sport complexes, as well as a golf course. He believes that Anirban Lahiri will help him find opportunities in India that he wouldnt otherwise have.

DeChambeau stated, One of the reasons I picked Anirban because hes an enormous player in the Indian market. We want to help them go over there and build driving ranges and maybe even golf courses. Because of its densely packed nature, it is extremely difficult to obtain real estate there. There are opportunities to not only acquire certain players, but also to use them in a positive manner in their region of the world.

WHETHER NORMAN REMAINS LIV Golfs vision for the future remains to be seen. His new circuit tried to lure the PGA Tours most talented players with large guaranteed contracts. He assumed the most forward-facing role which fuelled the ongoing rivalry against the tour. Norman made a controversial comment about the Saudi Arabian monarchys involvement in the death in April of Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post journalist, at a news conference. This remark was widely criticized.

Norman told ESPN in May that he believes he has been a pinata since a long time due to his success and the way he approaches life. Its the same here today. People have a biased view of me.

Norman has not done interviews with journalists in Australia since then.

The 67-year old Australian, also known as the Shark , has tried to persuade golfers to leave the PGA Tour several times before. Norman invited the top players of the tour to a closed-door meeting in November 1994 to discuss his plans for an eight-tournament circuit, which would begin play next year, before the Shark Shootout at Sherwood Country Club, Thousand Oaks, California. Fox Network had signed an agreement for a 10-year period with a management firm to host eight tournaments where 30-40 players would compete to win $3 million purses.

Jacobsen, a seven time winner on the PGA Tour was one of the 15 to 18 players at the meeting that day.

Jacobsen stated, My partner was Arnold Palmer.

When we got there, [Norman]A schedule of events was provided by the organizers. Tournaments in Singapore, Hong Kong, Montreal, Johannesburg and other places around the globe. He was talking to us about this series and how we were all invited.

Jacobsen recollects someone — but doesn’t remember who, nearly two decades later — asking Norman about how they would secure releases from PGA Tour.

Jacobsen reports that Norman said to the players, Maybe you misunderstand. Were going to renounce and join this Tour.

Jacobsen said that the temperature of the room dropped by approximately 15 degrees.

Palmer, who won 62 of the seven majors on tour, was the next one to speak up.

How many times do we think we were offered the chance to leave the tour and start our own? Palmer asked Norman.

Probably quite a few times, Norman replied.

And do you understand why we didnt? Palmer asked him. Palmer replied, Its bad golf, bad for players, and I dont want to have anything to do it.

Jacobsen says that Palmer got up, and then walked out.

Jacobsen stated that that pretty much spoke volumes for most of the people in the room.

Maybe some players liked it, but everyone in my generation learned at the feet Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, and Gary Player. We looked up those players as our mentors. We should not forget that Arnold and Jack had founded the PGA Tour in 1968, 69, when they left the PGA of America.

Normans grand plan to tour the world died that day. It took him nearly three decades to launch it once again, thanks to Saudi Arabias seemingly endless money supply.

Now, with Norman threatening to endanger the PGA Tours existence, the tours top players like Scottie Scheffler and Jon Rahm are following in the footsteps of Tiger Woods, McIlroy and others who organized a meeting for top players in advance of the BMW Championship in August in Wilmington (Delaware), which resulted in widespread changes and increased purses.

Today is one year ago. We changed the landscape of golf. We are proud of the achievements we made. #LIVGolf @LIVGolfInv

— Greg Norman (@SharkGregNorman) August 31, 2022

I think people who have decided that they want to stay here and continue playing these tournaments, they haven’t done anything different than what we’ve always done. McIlroy spoke at the CJ Cup earlier this year.

Were playing these events. Were PGA Tour members. Were sticking with the system thats been there for a long time. The guys who have [gone]Over to LIV, they are the ones that have caused the disruption, they are the ones that have put the golf world in flux.

OF COURSE: TOLIV Golf has to be accepted by all golfers in order to achieve its goals. If LIV Golf does not succeed and survive, it is unclear if the defectors will have the courage to go back to PGA Tour. They have indefinitely suspended them from competing in LIV Golf events with conflicting-event release releases.

DeChambeau, along with 11 LIV golfers, sued the PGA Tour Aug. 3 in California in federal court. The tour claimed it was using its monopoly to squash competition and had discouraged vendors, TV stations and other companies from working alongside LIV Golf. LIV Golf was accused by the PGA Tour of interfering with its contracts with players. A federal judge ordered both sides to mediate by May 1, and a jury trial is scheduled for January 8, 2024.

The PGA Tour also sued Yasir Ottman Al-Rumayyan (the governor of the fund), in federal court in New York. The complaint is still sealed. ESPN was told by sources that the PGA Tours lawyers are seeking a motion of compel from a federal court that would require Al-Rumayyan’s deposition and require that documents be turned over by the Public Investment Fund as part the federal case in California.

LIV golfers will face uncertain futures as they compete with the PGA Tour in the major championships. LIV Golf applied for recognition by the Official World Golf Ranking governing body, which is a slow process. LIV Golf tried to work out a deal with the MENA Tour by loosing its affiliation, which is recognized OWGR. But it didnt work. LIV golfers didnt get world-ranking points for their performances in LIV events. Theyve fallen in the rankings, which means that those who havent previously earned exemptions in majors are at risk of not being admitted.

If [LIV golfers]Watson said that if you don’t receive world ranking points then the world-rankings system is flawed. Its broken. If you think about the golfers who are here, you must rank them, too, since we are some of the most talented in the world. Its a flawed system, if you dont say yes.

The four major championships were open to LIV golfers this season. They were allowed to participate in the Masters, PGA Championship and U.S Open. The PGA of America stated that only its members are eligible to play in its championship. Professional golfers can only be a member of the PGA Tour. LIV Golf alleged that Fred Ridley, Augusta National Golf Club chairman, threatened to disinvite Masters players if they joined LIV Golf.

The Wall Street Journal reported last week that the U.S. Department of Justice expanded its investigation into the PGA Tour’s alleged antitrust behavior in order to include Augusta National as well as the USGA, which oversees U.S Open.

Watson, a two time winner of the Masters, stated that he believes he will be back in Augusta in March.

Im confident. Watson stated, I am confident. Watson stated, I think that Ill be there Augusta. I dont understand why they wouldnt allow me to play. Ive earned the right. I think Ill be there in Augusta trying to win another jacket.

It might not be easy to play for either the U.S. and Europe in the Ryder Cup. The Ryder Cup is a tournament hosted by the PGA Tour or DP World Tour. Garcia, a Ryder Cup participant who is now a potential captain for the Europeans Ryder Cup team, stated before last weeks LIV Golf team champion that he didn’t plan to play in the required four DP World Tour events, which would render him ineligible for this team.

I knew some things that might happen if i joined [LIV Golf]Garcia said that although it was true, at the end, you can see that some guys on the other side don’t really want me there. I don’t want be a burden to anyone. Id rather be away and not suffer the pain. It will make Europe more likely to win than me being there, and three to four other guys who are going there will be upset or something.

This is the uncertain future LIV Golfers will face over several months, and they seem okay with it.

Wednesdays team championship selection conference news conference saw Mickelson mock Koepka for not being ranked the No. The worlds No. 1 player. Mickelson is a three-time Masters champion and complimented Koepka’s green shirt.

Thats a lovely green shirt. Do you have a green jacket? Mickelson asked Koepka.

I don’t, but I will, but don’t worry. Koepka stated, I will.

As with everything in professional golf for men these days, it might not be as certain.

ESPNs Mark Fainaru–Wada contributed to the story.

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