For the player, not the game.
It's striking how this slogan could apply so appropriately to the LIV Golf Tour. How I see it, LIV has been great for the PLAYERS. Their presence has directly and indirectly pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into the professional ranks, with players on LIV and the PGA Tour benefitting financially in the coming years. However, I believe the LIV Golf Tour is detrimental to the GAME of golf, at least for the time being. Golf is great because it's a meritocracy. It's a ruthless meritocracy. You are what you shoot. It’s as simple as that, and you know that (almost) everyone who is teeing it up, started from scratch and earned their keep.
They say golf is a gentleman’s game, and pro golf is a gentleman’s system to identify the best. Like many things nowadays, golf is adapting to the times. LIV, to me, represents the flashy world of social media, participation trophies (and by trophies I mean insane amounts of money), and popularity contests. None of these things are necessarily terrible... it just doesn’t feel real. At this point, the tournaments are quasi-real.
There was a beauty in this cut-throat world of pro golf, as we’ve known it. It creates a very pure competitive environment. There's real drama in putts to win tournaments, and the pressure that players feel when they step on the first tee. It has real implications, and its more than a show. Think of Len Mattiace. Awesome guy, and I hate to pick on him. Regardless, there were massive implications to him winning the Masters, or coming in second to Mike Weir in 2003. Watching that, you can feel the importance of the moment. Competition.. winning.. losing. Do any of these words apply to LIV? Does anyone care or even consider Charl Schwartzel to be the winner of the first event in London? Sure, he shot the lowest score, but it’s tainted by the appearance fees.
Speaking of tainted, let's talk about the Official World Golf Ranking, the OWGR. It’ll be interesting to see if the PGA Tour and co. can hold the line and keep the LIV Tour banned from the OWGR. It doesn’t appear that a 54-hole event with no cut could qualify for points. Will they change the format? We’ll see. As it stands now, however, the OWGR won’t be a true ranking in the future. If 30-40 of the best players in the world aren’t there, or are at least getting phased out, it leaves an *asterisk next to all remaining guys. It's not critical, the main reason those rankings are relevant is to see who plays in certain events, and the next guy up is the next guy up. It just leaves the question, what if...? Yes, he's ranked 30 in the world.. but is he really the 30th best golfer now? Probably not.
Of course, the most interesting current development in this saga involves the DP World Tour. The major news is that 10 PGA Tour cards will be given to DP World players at the end of next season. There are also two co-sanctioned events with the PGA Tour, opposite field events toward the end of the year. This is a landmark partnership. And now LIV players can ALSO play in DP World Events. It’s a mind-boggling development, and repeatedly makes me think.. what am I missing here?
How did we get here? PGA Tour players and LIV guys are in shouting matches on the putting green at this week’s DP World Tour event. There’s cat-like name calling and bickering through the media between major figures of each of these multi-billion dollar conglomerates. Partnerships have been forged, and clearly broken in spirit. Most of all, the individual players have been vilified for going to LIV. There have been a slew of personal attacks, and players’ morality is being questioned for following their own best interests. Not much gentlemanly behavior is being displayed. For that reason, the professional game itself is tainted and left in limbo.
The LIV money is obvious. But on the PGA Tour, it’s not just purse increases that have been a result of all of this. There's guaranteed money now, and a travel stipend once you make it to the Tour. These make a lot of sense, they’re developments that Jay Monahan announced at the Tour Championship this year. It’s a signal. Saying, hey. It’s hard to get to the highest level in golf, which every week showcases 156 of the best players in the world, we want to take care of you as best we can. For reference, there are approximately 1,700 NFL players, 450 NBA, 600+ NHL, and 700 + MLB. Not to mention the minor leagues of those major sports. Do you think someone in AAA baseball is paying their flight (or bus ride) to go to the next game? Of course not. And oh, by the way, that AAA player has a salary. And the AA players, and the A players. Just now, because of LIV, will PGA Tour players, have ANYTHING guaranteed. And only now, because of LIV, will they have travel paid for.
I won’t pretend to understand the true reasoning for every player jumping ship to LIV. What I do know is that there is a lot of money in PGA Tour purses now. We’re talking about LIV-caliber money. Granted, you have to earn it, but Scottie made 30+ million this PAST year! And with purses increasing dramatically, the potential to make serious dough is there. With that having been said, does money explain everything in terms of the exodus to LIV? Or were there other grievances? Clearly, money guarantees and travel stipends were two issues on players’ minds. Here are two others. You can earn PGA Tour status and sit on the sidelines for a huge chunk of the tournaments your rookie year. You can earn PGA Tour status, play that year, and end up the following year with no status ANYWHERE. Neither of these situations happen frequently, and probably don’t matter to the big names, but they speak to a larger point.
There are numerous, nit-picky, and not-player-friendly realities that have existed on the PGA Tour. Are they awful? Absolutely not. The PGA Tour has provided an awesome framework for professional golf, and guys on Tour have it made-in-the-shade. However, that doesn’t take away from the reality… it's insanely hard to get there, and when you do, it's still an extremely cut throat world with not much guaranteed. So when an alternative comes around that has huge money, and is trying to do every little thing to cater to the player, it's no wonder a lot of guys left.
You can actually feel the sigh of relief from the tone of the LIV players. To me, it's saying, finally… this is fun. Finally, it's not as much of a grind. Finally, a tour where I feel I have a voice.
It begs the question, could the PGA Tour have anticipated this, and satisfied some of these desires preemptively? Would that have made a difference in some of these guys leaving? And most importantly, how confident is the PGA Tour in its own model?
It's a great time to be playing professional golf. There's more money in the game than ever before, and there's TONS of great players. My experience the last 3 years on the Korn Ferry Tour has convinced me of that. Guys come up to the big tour ready to go, look at this years PGA Championship. JT won, but Zalatoris, Mito, and Cam Young were the next 3. Zalatoris jumped early, but all of those guys were on the KFT last year. It’s a deeper base of talent than it has ever been. Carl Yuan is going to rip it up next year. The guy is a stud, and there are plenty more behind him as well. That’s the best thing the PGA Tour has going for it. The second best thing, is that no ONE guy moves the needle in terms of ratings. Tiger has been the only guy to meaningfully affect viewership in the modern era. He’s still with the tour, so we got that going for us.. which is nice (in Carl Spackler’s voice). Even so, Tiger’s relevance is diminishing. People watch because they love golf, or they're gambling. From that standpoint, I think the PGA Tour has a strong base for the future. It’s not about Scottie, Morikawa, or Zalatoris. The masses don’t care about them specifically. They do care that everyone is really good, and they’re watching a real competitive environment.
On the other hand, the evolution of the LIV Tour is concerning. The production value, social media presence and the ease of watching.. appear to be pushing the envelope. They’ve proven they're nimble, quickly allowing shorts is just one small example, and we can expect further progression. Is 48 players set in stone? 54 holes probably is, that is in the end, the name of the tour (LIV). What is their developmental tour situation going to look like? The point is: it's time for the PGA to start anticipating. It’s time to start thinking about worst case scenarios, and get ahead of them. And most importantly, it's time to start thinking about what is best for the game.
Is constant bickering the best way forward? Do we really want to act like petulant children?
The world of golf is not a zero-sum game. There are tons of good players, stories, and fans to go around. LIV certainly adds more drama, and it’s a threat to the status quo. But how can we turn this new dynamic in the golf world into a positive? Wouldn’t you want to see a series of inter-league matches/tournaments between LIV and PGA players? Wrought with animosity, these would be so awesome to watch. This would also be the ultimate way to stick it back to LIV, show them that we have better players. And really, who cares about the outcome, it would be awesome theater!
Let's start asking.. are we truly confident in our model? Where are our strengths? Let's double down on those. Where can we improve? Let’s confidently and swiftly initiate those changes, on our own accord. Not just for the player with more money, but for the game as a whole.