NORTH PLAINS, Ore. — The most controversial golf league in history is underway.
The LIV Golf Series has completed two events, one in Europe and one in the US, and most are still unsure what to make of this venture funded by a country known for its human rights abuses.
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But the Saudi-backed league, led by Hall of Famer and Palm Beach Gardens resident Greg Norman, is elated with the progress and number of players who have left the PGA Tour to join LIV. And last week’s US debut at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club outside Portland did nothing to slow the momentum.
LIV is so confident that this venture will prosper that it has accelerated its easing plans to a full 2024 schedule and will expand to a maximum of 14 events in 2023 (up from eight this year), with 48 players signed and a true league format. 12 four-man teams.
Here are 10 takeaways after an eventful week that saw protesters and supporters:
It’s pro golf, but louder.
Walking the field during the game was certainly different. Remember, this is also new to LIV, so it will take time to work out the bugs, and one of them is making sure there are enough volunteers in the course.
Patrick Reed’s first tee shot on Thursday hit a pine tree. With no observers in the immediate area, he was initially unable to find his ball. He finally did it but with the help of the fans. A volunteer told me they were short staffed on Thursday but expected help the last two days.
LIV bills itself as “golf, but louder” and lived up to the billing with music playing throughout the course as players were whisked to their assigned holes via golf carts for the start of threw. There were also skydivers and jugglers on unicycles.
Bryson DeChambeau’s creation company Regency followed him to shoot content for his YouTube channel.
“It’s literally the opposite of the PGA Tour,” one of his videographers told Golf Digest. “Can’t do shit out there. Here, they are encouraging us to do things.”
Ongoing Recruitment Efforts
The NBA isn’t the only league where deals are currently being struck. LIV will add more players from the PGA Tour and who knows when it will end. Players and agents are looking for more tour dropouts and they won’t be stopping anytime soon with LIV going to 48 signed players by 2023.
“Getting calls from (Dustin Johnson) and some of these guys telling me how amazing London was, that’s something I feel like I wanted to be a part of,” Reed said.
Englishman Paul Casey, ranked No. 26 in the world, is the latest to defect from the PGA Tour, joining LIV on Saturday. More people are expected to make the switch before LIV’s next event on July 29 in Bedminster, New Jersey.
One player said that there is a lot going on behind the scenes.
Ari Fleischer working with players
Media consultant Ari Fleischer, a Fox News political commentator and White House press secretary for President George W. Bush, appeared at both LIV events and listened intently as players answered questions.
Once it became clear that the players were giving the same talking points, a testy exchange ensued when some were asked how much media training they received, especially in addressing questions about human rights abuses occurring in Saudi Arabia.
“Zero,” Pat Perez said.
“Yeah, I mean, unless you want to do it yourself,” Brooks Koepka chimed in.
When Koepka was told it was just a question, he said, “I’m just giving you an answer, man.”
What is the long-term outlook?
Considering the number of players who have given up their tour membership – the list includes Jupiter’s Dustin Johnson, Jupiter’s Charl Schwartzel, Sergio Garcia, Kevin Na, Louis Oosthuizen, Lee Westwood – many have faith that the future from LIV is brilliant.
Schwartzel, who won the inaugural LIV event outside of London, did his research and told me he wanted to be sure it was “not a scam” and that there was a long-term view before joining.
Still, no one knows where this league will be in three or four years. We know there is a lot of internal confidence that it will prosper, considering that LIV officials have given the go-ahead to schedule 14 events next year. And we know that some of these mega-million dollar contracts are for four years.
On Friday, Carlos Ortiz was asked how it feels to be financially prepared for life. Ortiz was on the podium with Johnson, who reportedly signed a $125 million deal to join LIV.
“I don’t know,” Ortiz said. “How’s DJ feeling?”
Said Johnson: “Just look me in the face.”
He was smiling.
Less golf, more parties
In team sports, we have guys described as “player coaches.” If that were to be extended to leagues, LIV would be labeled a “players league”.
LIV Golf covers travel and lodging expenses for the 48 players and their caddies, agents and coaches. They put them up in a fancy hotel at every event, throw a player party, and encourage players to hang out.
“We tend to be more together, there are more social activities, that is related to more fun,” said Schwartzel, admitting that it is easier with only 48 players. “Very rarely do you see all the players at a show on tour. Most of the time, half the guys didn’t come. They all come (to the LIV party).”
The parties, however, have not been without controversy. The London one was moved after the host venue reportedly walked away fearing bad publicity. After Tuesday’s party here, the company that owns the venue apologized, telling KGW television in Portland that it “will be evaluating and changing our policies for researching and booking events.”
Team concept a great success
A novelty is the team component, which actually kicks in next year.
In 2023, 12 permanent captains will be elected and will select, recruit and force others to join their teams. This year, each event allocates $5 million to the team pot: $3 million for first place, $1.5 million for second and $500,000 for third.
“It’s like college. You’re going to work really hard for your team and that gives you a lot more opportunities to have fun and have little wins and feel good about yourself (even if you) shoot a 75,” Matthew Wolff. said.
Some patrons not offended (yet)
A question about Koepka’s decision to defect to LIV was answered Tuesday when he took to the podium in his Nike cap, the company headquartered 15 miles from where LIV’s first U.S. event was held in Pumpkin Ridge.
However, several sponsors have dropped LIV golfers, including Rocket Mortgage, KPMG, Heineken, Workday, Amstel, UPS, and Royal Bank of Canada. Callaway has paused its sponsorship of Phil Mickelson, but other golf equipment manufacturers have not commented.
Mickelson has been wearing a hat with the logo of his team LIV: Hy Flyers.
Some see it as a business decision.
DeChambeau spoke about the “business decision” side of joining LIV and giving back to those who helped save the life of his father, Jon, who received a kidney transplant five years ago.
“The National Kidney Foundation came and helped him,” DeChambeau said. “And I would be doing them a disservice if I couldn’t give back to the organization that helped keep my father alive.”
DeChambeau, by the way, earned $26.2 million in prize money while on the PGA Tour.
ryder cup questions
One of the unknowns when it comes to LIV golfers is whether they will be allowed to play in the Ryder Cup. What we do know is that those signed to LIV Golf have been suspended by the PGA Tour and the PGA Tour and DP World. Tour strengthened their existing alliance.
Englishman Lee Westwood, who has played in 11 Ryder Cups, equaling a European record, is not happy about the prospect of LIV golfers being banned from the Ryder Cup.
“Why should I be threatened?” he said. “I’ve been playing golf in the Ryder Cup since 1997 and the criteria has been to be a member of the European Tour. The criteria to be a member of the European Tour is to play four events. Why should they change that now? Why does the European Tour change? its rules so dramatically because another tour doesn’t like it or feels financially threatened? There’s just too much protection for my liking and not enough transparency.”
Limited fan experience, for now
LIV has limited the number of fans allowed at its two events and declined to make that number public for the Pumpkin Ridge event. The reason for the limited number of patrons at Pumpkin Ridge was the possibility that the protesters would get into trouble and the two-lane highways were the only way into the field.
“When they start getting permits for larger numbers, I think we’ll start to see much larger galleries,” said Phil Mickelson. “I know there’s a lot of demand, but right now they’re keeping it small.”
Attendees told several reporters they weren’t interested in politics or where the money came from and just wanted to see professional golfers, especially in an area of the country that has hosted few events. Many were heard talking about conversations and interactions they had with the golfers.
Tom D’Angelo is a journalist at The Palm Beach Post. You can reach him at [email protected]