The best postseason in all of sports, according to fans, almost unanimously belongs to the same organization that has the most boring, diluted regular season. College basketball’s March Madness is captivating in almost inexplicable ways following four months of trudging through – at least compared to its professional counterpart – one of the worst products of any televised sport.
Thursday was a historical day in golf history. LIV Golf launched its landmark inaugural event in a shotgun-start style at the Centurion Club in London. After months of promising that we wouldn’t believe how good this breakaway league was going to be (which actually hinted at the opposite), the league arrived with a surprisingly compelling presentation that included ubiquitous, informative player and team leaderboards, short five-hour days, and a team concept that was easy to understand and even easier to buy into. Contrary to its slogan, you could blink and not miss a lot, but if you closed your eyes for a nap, you might miss most of the show.
One of the elements of the presentation that worked best was a countdown at the top left corner of the screen that informed viewers how many holes were left in the day at all times. Compared to the tedious PGA Tour rounds, the snappy nature of LIV Golf’s first 18 holes was a shockingly positive feature. The golf itself was not great. Charl Schwartzel and Hennie du Plessis duking out it at the top of the leaderboard was probably not what anyone at LIV Golf had in mind when this idea was conceived over the last few years, but the framework was stunningly solid.
I did not want it to be so. I went into the day as pessimistic as anyone. Not because I’m an adversary of competition for pro golf’s regular season, but because the lack of a business model and the often-vaudevillian lead up to Thursday did not portend a banner day for golf fans. There is plenty of disgust still to be levied. Quality production does not erase the reality that the LIV Golf league is fundamentally a reputation laundering entity for a hostile government. Nor can it change the fact that stars will be paid no matter whether they shoot 65 or 95 at these events, thus removing one of golf’s greatest characteristics: its meritocracy. And no format in the world can make up for the fact that the worst PGA Tour events are still more consequential than any of the LIV Golf tournaments, which do not include relegation.
The PGA Tour, by the way, is in some real trouble.on Thursday banning players who traded their PGA Tour cards for LIV Golf lanyards is emblematic of just how little leverage or power the Tour currently wields. When your annual revenue is $ 1.5 billion, and your rival league has a war chest roughly 400 times that, there is no logistical change you can make to retain all of your players. When your only recourse is to point out to players how much money the other guys have, and how much harder it is to exist and thrive on the PGA Tour than the more comfortable LIV Golf league, then you’re foisting a trust upon professional athletes that they will choose legacy and morals over wealth.
Let me know how that goes.
Still, there is a way forward. The folks at the Premier Golf League have been trying for years to create a product akin to what the crown prince trotted out at the Centurion Club on Thursday, and in fact it seems to be the very blueprint of the Saudi copied when beginning this LIV Golf league . The PGL was emboldened, not embittered, by what took place at the Centurion Club on Thursday. For the PGA Tour to completely eschew drastic action – either on its own or by partnering with the PGL because, uh, legacy is what guys play for (?) – would be an indefensible position to take as golf heads into a new era .
If the PGA Tour believes the status quo is going to be sufficient to ward off the waves of money the Saudis will keep creating, then Patrick Reed doesn’t have enough clubs in his bag to dig their heads out of the sand.
What is starting to become a clearer is that what has taken place over the last few months, and even this week, is representative of what the next few decades will look like. As much as I don’t want that to be true, it’s going to be. It might be these two leagues that duke it out for supremacy, or there might be 10 more that pop up, but LIV’s presence is further diluting a professional game that has already had 23 OWGR-sanctioned leagues all over the world.
This brings me to the point I actually want to make: the big winners on Thursday were not Greg Norman and the LIV Golf league, but rather the USGA, R&A, PGA of America and Augusta National. When the humdrum of everyday tour life is split and replicated over and over again, it only makes golf’s “postseason” – if that’s what we want to call it – even more important.
This begs the question at the forefront of professional golf right now, which is whether the Official World Golf Rankings board (made up of the PGA Tour as well as these major organizations) will extend OWGR points to LIV Golf events. For the major championship heads to acquiesce would be an acknowledgment that they no longer stand in lockstep with the PGA Tour and are leaving it to fend for itself against the Saudis. To refuse would be an indictment of the legitimacy of the OWGR as a rankings system since so many top players are already playing LIV. Because these organizations won’t want to get dragged into court by LIV Golf over this, nor will they want to devalue their own tournament fields by excluding top players (many of whom will still choose money over major participation even under threat of being banned) , I have been convinced that the major organizations will not refuse LIV the OWGR points.
There is some sadness in this. I spoke with one PGA Tour player on Tuesday who said that professional golf was changing forever this week. He’s right about that, obviously, and it’s disappointing to think about events taking place at venues like Riviera, Colonial and Bay Hill not holding the same cachet in the future as they have in the past. However, the upshot is that major golf championship is by far the best form of golf in the world, and those four weeks will be even more monumental than they already are.
The regular-season battle for golf’s superstars will rol on in the years ahead and fans will serve as collateral damage. That’s as lamentable as it is inevitable. Fans will consume all of that drama, and some of it may even be amusing, but bit by bit the foundation of regular-season golf will erode. That’s going to be a bummer, but I’m also not sure it can be stopped. No one person can stem the tide of economics, especially the type of dirty economics that are at play here.
Major weeks will be a breath of fresh air. They know this, too, and it is the reason they probably won’t stand in the way of any regular-season tour that pops up. If they don’t move soon, then at some point the exodus will be too great to take on, and to date they haven’t moved. Perhaps because they are not incentivized to do so.
I think all the time about something PGA of America CEO Seth Waugh said at Kiawah last year: “I come from a world of disruption. I think it’s inevitable – I actually think it’s healthy. You either disrupt or you get disrupted. That’s what this is. “
The disruption has taken place. When the PGA Tour tried to lean on history as if it was a major championship organization, history did not support it. Thursday’s successful debut of LIV Golf suggests that the Tour is in for a long-term war. LIV is not going to fail, perhaps because it thrives but also perhaps because it was never built to succeed. Waugh watched all of this happen as an outsider looking in, and along with the three other major organizations, somewhat ironically, became the beneficiary of the biggest sea change this sport has seen in half a century.
Golf has always been quite global, and with the introduction of LIV it will probably become increasingly so in the future. The OWGR’s top 1000 players will be spread out to all ends of the Earth. That will be tough to follow and wrap your arms around. But then four weeks a year, the golf world will gather at the Masters, the PGA Championship, the US Open, and finally at the Open Championship. Players who play will probably be able to afford a bit better travel conditions, and perhaps they will likely bring slightly bigger entourages with them to those events.
But for those four weeks, none of the extracurriculars that have complicated golf in recent years will matter. The sport will be distilled to its purest form. Trying to get a ball in a hole with a stick at the most challenging, enthralling courses in the world for a trophy that truly matters. The money players are making can buy a lot of things, but it can’t purchase the enchantment nor the buzz of those 16 days. There’s only one way to experience that, and everyone of consequence will be there.