The LIV Golf controversy has all the elements of a good bond film. Villains, greed, betrayal, and we won’t know how it ends until it all plays out. If you're like most golf fans, you’re probably torn and your head is spinning just trying to figure what the hell this is all about. I'm not a fan of slavery, so I love free agency, but I'm not a fan of state ordered executions either. My head stopped spinning just long enough to write this.
Let's breakdown the players, motives and moves taking place behind all of this.
Who Owns LIV Golf?
Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund owns it. The Saudi Arabian government pledged $400 million to the league, Greg Norman is CEO and Donald Trump, among others, is a key investor. The Saudi’s have deep pockets, but that didn’t save the *USFL, so success is not guaranteed.
The Saudi’s have a deplorable record regarding lack of freedom for women, human rights abuses - including bombing civilians in Yemen and most notably the assassination of Washington Post reporter Jamal Ahmad Khashoggi (an outspoken critic of the Saudi government). U.S Intelligence agencies have substantiated that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered his decapitation when he visited the Saudi consulate in Istanbul Turkey to acquire a divorce certificate, in order to marry his Turkish Fiancé Hatice Cengiz.
As president, Donald Trump remained friendly with the Crown Prince even after he was implicated in the assassination. Liv Golf will visit two if his courses on their current schedule. Trump fell out of grace with The PGA after making racist remarks. His golf courses do not host any tourneys on the PGA this year. Biden also recently made moves to reestablish relations with The Saudi government.
*It’s notable that Donald Trump invested heavily in the USFL and single handedly destroyed the league with his botched testimony in a court case vs The NFL.
The PGA Tour
The Tour has a non-compete clause in its player handbook which every player must sign. Players may request an exemption to play in a tournament on another tour, if it does not take place the same week as a PGA event. The PGA Tour has refused to grant any exemptions for LIV Golf events.
Events are 3 days, 54 holes vs 4 days, 72 hole tourneys on PGA and DP Tours. Prize money is awarded to the winner like on The PGA. They also have a draft and teams of 4 that accrue points towards a playoff at the end of the first, 7 event season.
Can LIV Golf Survive only online? I doubt it. A golf tourney is 40 hour week. Without TV coverage and the option to record on DVR, well, most of us still work for a living. 65% of golf viewership is over 40. Millennials may be watching on phones. Most of us are not.
LIV Golf has yet to secure a television network to broadcast its events. The two main obstacles are networks not wanting to associate themselves with the Saudi’s. Also, several major networks like CBS, *NBC, *ESPN and Fox do not want to piss off The PGA Tour and lose the ability to cover future events. It's likely that one will step up eventually, even Fox perhaps? Love to see them stop broadcasting The PGA anyway.
*NBC which owns The Golf Channel and *ESPN Plus have lucrative contracts to charge us to watch our favorite sport online. That’s why Golf channel will just cut away with 4 holes left on a Thursday or Friday. There used to be a lot of talk about growing the game. Growing bank accounts has superseded that directive.
Personal note: Featured groups online suck. I wish all tours would just do an 8-screen mosaic like NFL Sunday Ticket. That way we could record specific pairings and watch whomever we want, whenever we want.
The First Event
Is in London. Phil Mickelson is in the field along with other notables; Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood. Its worth noting that most of the field this week does NOT have a recent top 10 finish. Bryson Dechambeau and Patrick Reed have also signed on for upcoming events.
The first event in London begins tomorrow morning at 9am ET. Coverage is online only, Facebook, YouTube and at LIVGolf.com
I guess Google and Zuck have no moral reservations about broadcasting the tour. Why doesn’t that surprise me?
What’s at Stake for The PGA?
The PGA Tour is primarily concerned about losing sponsorships, which can also adversely affect network coverage and event purses.
What’s at Stake for Players?
That depends on the recourse The PGA Tour takes. They could fine, suspend or expel players. The Saudi’s have pre-agreed to cover players legal expenses for all lawsuits brought by The PGA. As an established monopoly, they may strike hard with barbarians at the gate, threatening to weaken their powerful golf cartel.
What’s at Stake for LIV Golf?
The Saudi’s can afford to lose 400 million, the tour’s investors and the players are the ones taking the real risk.
Kevin Na, opted to resign from the PGA to avoid any legal entanglements. Personally, for NA, that seems like a bad move. He has stated in the past that there are only a few stops on The PGA Tour that fit his game (shorter courses) and give him a chance to win. There are only 7 stops on the LIV Golf Tour.
Now Dustin Johnson has also resigned from The PGA Tour. He joins a list of notables that include; Sergio Garcia, Louis Oosthuizen, Branden Grace, Charl Schwartzel and Graeme McDowell.
PGA players who resign are no longer eligible for The Ryder Cup. *European Tour players may not face the same consequence.
The European Tour
Here’s where this all gets a little duplicitous for me. A consortium funded by The United Arab Emirates purchased The European Tour last year. That tour is a little brother to The PGA with players earning points to qualify for PGA events. The Arab Emirates may have a slightly better record on civil rights, but they are allies of The Saudi’s. That is not exactly apples to oranges, more like Washington to Red Delicious.
Where was all the fuss from The PGA Tour when The Arab Emirates bought a sister tour?
*DP World Tour chief executive Keith Pelley has been largely silent on possible measures he might impose on players tempted by the Arabian Tour.
He Who Has the Gold Makes the Rules
is sadly the one constant throughout history and still today. Point being, maybe this should be about morality, but like most things in corporate America, this is all about the money. Live and Let Die continues to be the corporate motto.