By Chris Havlicek
I’ll admit it….I’m a stickler for good manners. Please, thank you, you’re welcome and good morning are all part of the program at the old homestead. So I’d like to suggest the PGA Tour players step up their manner game and issue a massive and public THANK YOU to the LIV Tour. Yes, you read that right and I would argue they could also include an “I’m sorry” in there as well, but we need to walk before we can run.
Since the LIV Golf Tour stormed onto the dormant golf scene last year, the PGA Tour had been struggling to find its next Super-Duper Star to carry the torch post-Tiger Woods. The candidates have come and gone, unable to capture the imagination or interest of casual golf fans the way Tiger did. Golf was muddling along, participation in the sport was declining, ratings were down, and the other stars on the PGA tour were aging and/or mildly uninteresting.
Enter the LIV Tour — the Saudi-backed golf start-up whose primary goal the first year was to make as much noise as possible, both literally and figuratively. And they have done just that. Poaching THE biggest and most recognizable names from the PGA Tour, LIV set out on a spending spree, the likes of which haven’t been seen in the history of professional sports.
The biggest name to make the jump to the LIV tour was Phil Mickelson, who reportedly had a fixed salary of more than $200 million when he signed on with the Saudi-backed LIV in June 2022. In addition to successfully wooing superstar players Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau with nine-figure contracts, LIV has also revolutionized the sport with shotgun starts and team formats. Rory McIlroy and Woods have been among the most outspoken athletes in calling for improvements to their own league and criticizing LIV.
As more and more players with recognizable names/careers continued to migrate to the LIV Tour something important happened — the PGA had to work hard for the first time in 50 years and they weren’t ready for the change of pace and the hard labor that is “competition.” Many PGA players tried to frame the LIV tour players, and its tour, as JV, “exhibition” golf, without cuts and without real competition. My god, the LIV Tour even did the unthinkable and let their players wear shorts, leading to a global fascination with Mickelson’s calves.
The PGA Tour had to respond. Suddenly, and seemingly out of nowhere, the PGA had more prize money to give away. Over $200 million more — not exactly the change you find in your couch. When the plans for a global tour were initially revealed, they were seen as a way for the tour to directly compete with LIV, both in playing structure and prize money as well as the global reach of the sport. Purses at those global events were planned to be as much as $25 million featuring the top 50 players in the standings for the FedEx Cup and the best performers at some events from the fall. They also would not have any cuts in the events.
Instead of that limited series, the PGA Tour chose to increase the size of the purses for 13 tournaments with an average size of $20 million for each. PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan has made a number of changes in an attempt at keeping players happy and where they currently are.
Essentially, the PGA Tour did exactly what Mickelson had publicly pleaded for and his argument that the tour was greedy, old-fashioned, flawed in its structure, and out of touch with reality proved true. It was a classic story that has played out in other sports… The sleepy old league gets challenged by the upstart league. Upstart league brings innovation and new ideas to sports. Sleepy Old league is slow to react and eventually increases player incentives. Think of NBA and ABA in the mid-1970s. The ABA brought the three-point line and the dunk contest, and an element of street ball — all things that had been missing from the NBA and are now deeply rooted in its culture.
The fact is most new leagues fail due to a lack of capital and that is where this competition is different. The LIV Tour has endless resources — it estimated it lost $2-3 billion dollars in its first year and is forecasted to lose more than that in 2023. And guess what, it doesn’t matter. LIV can afford it, and they aren’t going away. With its new CW contract, the LIV Tour will broadcast live on television for the first time. There have been challenges to the broadcast, but it will improve, and eventually move to a more prominent channel. The LIV Tour will also pick off more and more players in their quest to compete. Eventually, there will be a solution: either the LIV Tour is recognized globally and LIV tour players are awarded world-ranking points, or the LIV Tour becomes professional golf’s fall offering, as Ernie Els has suggested. But in the end, the world of golf, the game of golf for that matter, will be better off.
The LIV Tour has kept golf front and center of the sporting world for the better part of a year now. In what was once a spring/summer headline calendar, professional golf has benefitted from the Hatfield vs. McCoy-like feud between the two leagues. We, as sports fans, have never talked more about professional golf, proving that a good old-fashioned donnybrook between two entities is exciting theatre. Players on both sides of the feud are making more money than ever, and LIV has introduced some new formatting and team concepts that will eventually be adopted by the PGA.
So while we sit here, enjoying the global game, let’s be thankful and hope the PGA finally recognizes all of the good the LIV Tour has brought to their sleepy existence. And maybe, just maybe, they will say “Thank You”.
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