LIV Golf’s Second Season Is in the Books. So What Might Be Next?
Plenty of bombast emerged from the finale in Miami, underlying the many issues surrounding the Saudi-backed league heading into the offseason. Bob Harig takes a closer look at each.
DORAL, Fla. — A good bit of bluster and bombast emanated from the Blue Monster course at Doral before, during and after the season-ending Team Championship for LIV Golf Miami.
Phil Mickelson claimed the PGA Tour, in part, was behind the Official World Golf Ranking denying LIV Golf’s application.
Bubba Watson said that his RangeGoats team has fielded “10 to 20” inquiries to purchase the franchise.
Greg Norman, LIV’s CEO, spoke for the first time in months.
The acting COO of LIV Golf, Gary Davidson, would not say if the league would resubmit it its application for world ranking points, offering again that the system is flawed if LIV players are not being ranked properly.
And while there are all manner of opinions, nobody can truly say what will happen with the “framework agreement” between the PGA Tour, DP World Tour and the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia that has a Dec. 31 deadline.
There was golf played, too, as the Crushers and captain Bryson DeChambeau won the team title and the $14 million first prize, leading to an offseason of intrigue but also one of considerable uncertainty.
Not that LIV Golf is viewing it that way. The attitude is “business as usual,” with a full schedule to be announced for next year and plans for 2025—as if nothing will change with the PGA Tour. The framework agreement has been viewed as a positive for LIV Golf.
“I knew that LIV was always going to exist,” Norman said.
“It’s good for us,” Davidson said. “As we’ve said before, we’ve already got long-term commitments for venues, we’ve signed more long-term commitments to certain venues for the next two or three years. So in terms of long-term planning, it’s opened a couple of doors, taken away some headwinds, and we’ve taken that chance to bring on more venue broaden our schedule more internationally. We’re very positive into 2024 and beyond.”
The “beyond” part is what is most interesting about LIV’s future right now. Whether or not there is an agreement will have a big impact on how things will look after 2024. And indications are those negotiations are plodding along.
“There’s too much wood to chop,” said one LIV Golf official, suggesting that there would need to be an extension for the two sides to work out all the details. The alternative beyond that is no agreement at all.
Here’s a closer look at some of the comments made this week along with some takeaways.
> Watson’s assertion that he’d had interest from people wanting to buy his RangeGoats team.
This is the LIV Golf business model. All along, the plan has been to set up franchises and have them sold to team owners. LIV Golf would reap 75 percent of the sale—one way of making back part of the significant investment. The player captains retain 25 percent equity in their teams.
Takeaway: Norman, too, said he’s had numerous inquiries about buying a team. And indications are that there have been several entities kicking the tires on LIV Golf and exploring the possibilities.
Here’s the problem in the short term: why would you buy a LIV team now with so much uncertainty hovering due to the framework agreement? What will LIV Golf look like a year from now?
LIV has said it would be patient to build value in its franchises but it would seemingly have no choice now. Nobody is doing this without some resolution to the biggest issue. But as one player agent said, LIV Golf needs to get one of the teams sold. It needs someone to step up before others will follow.
> Mickelson’s claim that his phone has been ringing with inquiries from players about joining the league. And that he expects several to make the move. “Do I think that? No, I know it’s going to happen.”
Takeaway: There will undoubtedly be some new players who jump to LIV Golf. There are enough PGA Tour players who are unhappy with how the framework deal went down, are ready to cash in, or both. But who they will be and how much they have an impact on LIV remains very much unclear.
Last year, LIV Golf promised more names and ended up signing four players in the offseason, none of them a big needle-mover—Thomas Pieters, Mito Pereira, Sebastian Munoz and Brendan Steele.
There will be room for more. Although the four relegated players will be replaced by three from its Promotions event and another player who wins the International Series Order of Merit, anyone among the 48 players who did not finish among the 24 players who is not contracted is in theory vulnerable. That means there could easily be six or eight openings.
“Personally myself, I’m speaking to numerous players who want to come on with LIV,” Norman said. “Our players are doing a great job of articulating exactly how great our platform is and how fun it is out here. So we’re getting a lot of expressions of interest from individuals.”
> The quest for spots in major championships. As it stands, there are 12 LIV players who will be eligible for at least one major championship in 2024. Only five—Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Cam Smith, DeChambeau and Mickelson—are eligible for all four. With the Official World Golf Ranking denying LIV’s application, the hope is that the majors might afford direct spots to LIV Golf via its season points list or some hybrid of tournaments. Davidson said he’s had some discussions with the majors on this issue.
Takeaway: The idea that the majors are going to carve out an abundance of spots for LIV players seems remote. It’s possible they see fit to offer perhaps two or three, knowing that some worthy players who otherwise might be eligible are going to be denied. Talor Gooch, who played in three major championships this year, won three times on LIV and led the season-long points list. He is a prime example.
And yet LIV is expecting the same group that deemed its format unacceptable for world ranking points to turn around and grant spots to players who excel under the same format? No matter what you think about LIV’s 48-player fields and the relatively “closed” shop, that is how the OWGR ruled. And its board is made up of all four major championships.
Oddly, LIV Golf does not seem inclined to make changes—such as adding more pathways to the league and forcing more turnover—which the OWGR chairman Peter Dawson noted would be necessary for approval.
“We understand that the point of view is that player pathways are insufficient when actually we’ll turn over between 10 and 25 percent of our player field each year,” Davidson said. “That is at least compatible with other tours that are recognized by OWGR. We’ve asked and but haven’t previously gained clarity (on what would be sufficient).”
One area where the league could add increase pathways is by adding teams. It would allow for more movement on and off through relegation and promotion and would also open the door to more qualifying.
“I don’t think we’ll get to 15 teams next year, but there’s a possibility we may add or a team or two,” Davidson said.
> The Framework Agreement: Yes or No? Norman made it clear he hopes there is a agreement between the PGA Tour, DP World Tour and LIV Golf. Many LIV players and executives express similar views. But there is considerable doubt it will happen.
The deal is complicated and at the very least there are suggestions the Dec. 31 deadline will need to be extended.
There is also considerable speculation it will not happen at all. Tiger Woods getting involved in helping the PGA Tour secure outside funding is one hint. Woods has made clear his disdain for LIV and attempts to secure other investors can be viewed as an attempt to push the PIF out. Others see it as the Tour simply adding others as a way to pass government scrutiny.
Takeaway: From afar, a deal would appear important to both sides. The PGA Tour needs the PIF funding. It also doesn’t want to deal with the potential that LIV Golf carries on as-is and continues to poach PGA Tour players year after year. An agreement would likely end that exodus. Peace would presumably include LIV’s schedule being reduced and some of its starts competing in PGA Tour events.
On the PIF side, no agreement means doubling down on its efforts to grow LIV Golf. Adding more players, perhaps exploiting underserved markets, adding more disgruntled PGA Tour players—and spending millions of dollars with no guarantee of a return. LIV burns cash to the extreme.
Without an agreement, LIV will fight the same battles for attention and sponsorship. It won’t be part of golf’s ecosystem. PIF governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan will not be a PGA Tour board member and be able to gain influence throughout the rest of the game, which appears one of his goals.
Much of this is up to him and nobody on the outside knows what he is thinking. Does he want a seat at the table? Or is he O.K. with giving that up and continuing to be a disruptor?
Next up, according to LIV, is a transfer period that will see LIV Golf captains seek to improve their teams. They can do so by adding non-LIV players or by negotiating with those within the “open zone”—players who finished 25th to 44th on the LIV points list. Also, those who finished within the top 24 are guaranteed a spot but are allowed to negotiate with other teams, pending their contract status.
Then there is a Promotions event in Abu Dhabi from Dec. 8-10 where three new players will come on board. After that, openings will be filled with a player draft.
LIV still has to announce its 2024 schedule, which is expected to begin in early February. It will need to say whether it is adding teams. And new players.
And hanging over it all? The framework agreement, and whether or not it gets done.