Saudi-backed LIV Golf proving to be real competitor to the PGA Tour
By Riley Day
Sep. 22, 2022
Photo Credit: USA Today
Is the end of the PGA tour as we know it near?
Founded in 1916 at the Taplow Club in New York as a counterpart to the British PGA, the PGA Tour has held a firm, almost monopolistic grip, on golf audiences for the past 100 years.
Over the last couple months, since their first official event was held in England this past June, LIV Golf has successfully poached some of the biggest names in the game of golf: Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia, and Ian Poulter. They have also aggressively pursued the two most recognizable athletes in the sport: Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods, with respective eye-popping offers of $100 million (according to Sports Illustrated) and between $700-$800 million (according to InsideHook) to entice them to formally join LIV Golf.
These offers dwarf the signing bonuses and salaries seen on the PGA Tour, where players earn most of their money through endorsements. For example, Tiger Woods earned less than $200,000 from playing golf, but garnered over $60 million from companies like Nike, TaylorMade, and Bridgestone, in 2020 alone reported Todd Mrowice of GolfLink. This is just one example of how LIV is using eye-popping signing bonuses and salaries to continue to coax players to join them.
Nonetheless, it does not come as a surprise that Woods and Nicklaus declined their offers, due to the fact that the motives and finances of LIV Golf have been called into question.
Funded by the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, LIV Golf has sparked lots of controversy in the sports business world. CEO Greg Norman has already developed a poor reputation among the media ranks, particularly when he was quoted by Washington Post saying that the political assassination of journalist Jamaal Khassogi was “A mistake, and you just want to learn by those mistakes and how you can correct them moving forward.”
Many people felt this quote minimized the situation and was, at the very least, insensitive. Other reservations surrounding LIV Golf and Saudi Arabia are recent mass executions and dire situations for LGBTQIA2S+ people. Regardless, LIV has signed 26 of the world’s top 100 golfers, according to Forbes, including the number two ranked player in the world, Cam Smith.
LIV Golf Programming
Outside of the financially significant paydays LIV Golf is offering for tournament winners (all eight tournaments hosted thus far have offered purses of $25 million, according to Sporting News), players like Charles Howell III have claimed they are joining LIV for other reasons. “No, money was not a factor,” Howell said to The New York Times. He joined because he thinks LIV Golf “can be a force for change and good.”
Several players have claimed the atmosphere surrounding events is both fun and invigorating. “We want players and fans to feed off a unique energy rarely encountered through this game, while engaging new audiences that will help golf grow,” Norman said to Golf Digest.
LIV has done this by breaking many of the unwritten rules of golf, such as playing live music during rounds and allowing players to wear shorts on the course.
LIV has been able to offer second chances to players like Phil Mickelson, whose careers have faltered as of late. Opportunities have presented themselves for amateur players to jumpstart their careers at a young age. The number two ranked amateur player in the world, Eugenio Chacarra, inked a three year deal with LIV Golf worth between $8-15 million, according to Sports Illustrated.
Whether the establishment of LIV Golf is a good thing for the sport or not, remains to be seen, but the new league should absolutely be seen as a legitimate competitor league to the PGA Tour moving forward. It may very well turn out to be more than that.