In a perfect world, we would always be able to separate sports and politics. Of course, the world is not perfect, so we always see these two worlds intersect. Seismic events like Jackie Robinson breaking the MLB skin color barrier in 1947 were political in nature and showed how the world of sports has always been ahead of the real world in terms of social progress.
So, I’m all for the blurring of the movement’s political lines. let them come.
Now, to the matter at hand. We’re an event in the LIV Golf Series, and more players have announced plans to leave the PGA Tour for the first U.S. event at the end of the month in Portland, Oregon. Ever since it was official word that players like Dustin Johnson opted for this new “tour,” I’ve been saying repeatedly that it’s not going away anytime soon. The field will only get better. And, the PGA Tour should be very proactive in addressing this existential threat.
LIV Golf is a series of major events on three continents, with the next seven tournaments lasting four months. The next game is scheduled for June 30-July 2, with another in New Jersey at the end of July. All told, five of the remaining seven games will be held in the United States. One will be in Thailand and the other will be in Saudi Arabia.
Ah yes, Saudi Arabia. Here, I’ll mention one source of funding — and only once — and touch on the third track in this issue. The Saudi royal family’s $620 billion public investment fund has financed the series. How much of that total will go to LIV is anyone’s guess, but it’s safe to say the total is between $4-5 billion.
According to published reports, they have guaranteed Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau a combined $30 billion to $400 million in guarantees just because they agreed to play. CEO Greg Norman told the world they also offered Tiger Woods a “high nine figure”, but Woods rejected the offer.
Wait, Tiger Woods turned down a billion dollars? Can you say no to a billion?
There are 48 players in these fields, and none of them are free, so to be sure, the initial start-up cost for participants is about $1.5 billion.
As for the prize money, Charl Schwartzel won $4.75 million out of a $25 million pot at the inaugural event in England last week. That total represents more than 20 percent of his earnings over 11 seasons on the PGA Tour. It was the largest single payday in the history of the sport. That compares with $17.5 million in total prize money for this weekend’s U.S. Open, an increase of $5 million from last year. And, Matt Fitzpatrick’s $3.15 million winner’s share is the largest in major tournament history.
LIV’s $25 million was distributed among 48 players. The USGA’s prize pool was reduced by $7.5 million to be divided among the 64 players who qualified for the weekend’s games. The 92 who failed to make the cut got nothing. LIV doesn’t cut it, so if you’re on site, you’ll get a check — higher than the guarantee that shows up.
Andy Ogletree, who won the U.S. Amateur in 2019, graduated from Georgia Tech and turned pro the following year, made less than $40,000 for part of three seasons on the PGA Tour. He played in the LIV opener, finishing 48th — 24-over overall — and “winning” $120,000.
LIV Golf’s funding is bottomless. The eight-event purse totaled $255 million, compared with $427 million for the PGA Tour’s 47-event purse, an increase of more than 15 percent over last year. The money comes directly from the Saudi government, which is recognized as one of the world’s worst human rights abusers, and it’s part of a conversation that everyone who chooses to participate is free to take into account.
For the purposes of this story, we’ll put this part of the conversation aside. I’m not interested in removing all content and false equivalences used to justify the source of funds. Just say you don’t care. Stop the “well, they did it” defense. You are not 4 years old anymore. Plus, that was written for someone else. We’re going to keep it in motion, as some of you Snowflake prefers.
Norman, a 20-time PGA Tour champion, 2-time Open champion and a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, is leading the new tour. From the moment he was announced as CEO, he spoke of LIV as a “complement” to the golf schedule. He gushed about “growing the game” and providing opportunities for thousands of touring golf professionals.
First, there is no entity more committed to providing opportunities for golf professionals than the PGA Tour. There are 42 official PGA TOUR tournaments in a full year-long season. There are another 50 events spread across three development tracks owned and managed by the Tour – Korn Ferry, PGATour LatinoAmerica and PGATour Canada.
On top of that, there are recognised tours in Europe (DP World Tour), Australia, South Africa, Japan and Asia, all offering opportunities for players.
One thing pro golfers don’t lack is opportunity.
No one has yet explained how LIV developed the game. To be fair, they don’t have to do anything for the sport other than host 8 fun races. Well, 7 if you count the first snoring festival held 10 days ago. It’s not their job to develop more golfers or golf fans or to give back. But when Norman used “development game”, well, that’s what it meant, they didn’t intend to do it other than play. Again, this is fine.
As for LIV, it’s a “supplement” to the current professional schedule. The initial schedule should have been 15 events. That number was whittled down to eight as it became clear that finding enough publicly recognized players would be more of a challenge than initially thought. However, next year’s schedule is 10 events, 14 of which are already on the 2024 and 2025 calendars.
This is not “addition”. Here is a full schedule. LIV isn’t the icing on the cake, it’s a 7-layer double chocolate cake – coated with hot fudge – on top of the cake.
The top players on the PGA Tour average 20-25 games a year. You need to play 15 to keep your state. The four majors (the Masters, PGA Championship, U.S. Open, and The Open) and three season-ending playoff events are also important. So, in theory, a player could play a minimum of 8 “regular” tour events, play in all four majors, and keep their tour membership as long as they advance to the 30-player Tour Championship.
When Norman called LIV an “additive,” his nose was as long as Pinocchio’s. A lot of players are signed to play the entire schedule. I’m pretty sure they didn’t give Mickelson $200 million for Mickelson to show up a few times. So, as a “adder,” Norman must have thought these guys would suddenly enjoy playing 30 weeks last year.
There are “this will give me more time to spend with my family” excuses.
We remind you that as the public face of LIV Golf, Norman has been playing against the PGA Tour for almost 3 years. Even so, it’s not necessarily against the Tour itself, let alone its last commissioner, Tim Finchem. And, I’ll admit, Shark (Norman’s nickname) makes sense in his long-simmering anger.
In 1994, Norman — the PGA Tour’s No. 1 draw at the time, think Tiger Woods before Tiger Woods — planned an eight-game, limited-venue, big-money tour. It was underwritten by a non-traditional source, and the commissioner was pissed.
Do these sound familiar?
Norman struck a deal with FOX Sports, which has never aired golf, to pay $112 million for the rights to the series. Each event will carry $3 million in prize money, $1 million more than what the Masters offers. Finchem was so pissed at the idea that he threatened to suspend any players who agreed to play in the series. Because the Tour was already a golden goose for these guys, and Norman wasn’t off to a great start, the players were hesitant and the idea was dead.
In 1996, Finchem announced plans for the World Golf Championships, which would bring together the world’s best players for four high-stakes events with no cuts and limited venues. There are only four events on the PGA Tour schedule, three in the U.S. and one abroad.
Since then, Norman has been on a slow boil. And, his plan — with unlimited funding — think of the sand in the Sahara — is the perfect storm to wreak havoc on the PGA Tour. There is no doubt that Norman is not interested in being an additive. Sharks want blood. He wants a pound of meat out of the Tour, and Jay Monahan happens to be in charge now.
Norman’s belief was that if you put enough money into a professional golfer, they wouldn’t care where the money came from, as long as the check was clear. And, as more and more players start making their way to the LIV series, he’ll be proven right. Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau represent the tour’s biggest favorites so far.
Just a year ago, Johnson was the No. 1 player in the world. He is a 2-time major champion (2016 U.S. Open, 2020 Masters) and earned over $100 million during his PGA Tour career. DeChambeau won the 2020 U.S. Open with the longest driver in the game and has been a lightning rod for rule issues (he once tried to get a free drop because of fire ants near his golf ball) and teenage teens with other players Spat (who can forget “Brooksey”).
Others in the LIV stable, including ring leader Phil Mickelson, aren’t really a loss for the PGA Tour. Sergio Garcia? / Lee Westwood? Graeme McDowell? Patrick Reed? None of these guys have shaken the needle, and with the exception of Reed, everyone else is clearly well into the back nine of their careers.
In fact, the best thing about LIV is that DeChambeau and Reed won’t be on the PGA Tour anytime soon. A silver lining is everywhere.
This is where we are today. There will be more players biting the Saudi apple. Money is so tempting. The cake is too rich to resist. And, with each betrayal, it’s easier for the next player to say, “Okay, (fill in the blank) did it, so…”.
Publicly, LIV – via Norman – has claimed an interest in developing the game. In fact, they are breaking it. In the long run, the PGA Tour, their players, and more importantly, their sponsors will suffer. Meanwhile, LIV events will continue to be nothing more than hits and giggle exhibitions, despite the huge sums of money that are only available for swimming after the 54 holes broadcast on the internet.
However, with the money taps wide open, Norman is betting that enough players will be drawn to the trough. And, he may be enough to do enough damage to a sport that has helped him earn hundreds of millions of dollars. It’s all for reckoning.
Reasonable or not.