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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Ewan Murray

Blueprint for success or destined to fail? Key questions from LIV’s debut season

Dustin Johnson (left) and Cameron Smith
Dustin Johnson (left) and Cameron Smith both left the PGA Tour to join the LIV Golf Series. Photograph: Cristóbal Herrera/EPA

What has been LIV’s biggest success?

The coaxing of big name players. The rationale behind this is hardly complicated – the deep pockets of Saudi Arabia’s public investment fund matter rather a lot – but nobody believed even 18 months ago that Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau, Patrick Reed and Phil Mickelson could ever perform on a domain beyond the PGA Tour. Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter, Sergio García and Henrik Stenson have almost certainly walked away from any future Ryder Cup involvement. Cameron Smith is the Open champion and a LIV convert. The balance of talent still sits in favour of the PGA Tour but LIV’s strength is such that there is a genuine split between where so many of the world’s most recognisable golfers perform.

What has been LIV’s biggest failure?

The stench of sportswashing will never disappear from this project but LIV is yet to convince that it is competitively valid. All that is recognised is that a bunch of multi-millionaire golfers have had their bank balances significantly boosted. The public know LIV exists but nobody beyond hardened golf fans could reel off the tournament story of the breakaway tour’s 2022 circus and “will he, won’t he” regarding players jumping ship from the DP World or PGA Tours has dominated discussion. Given the scale of funding, maybe that was inevitable but LIV risks fading into irrelevance if its core thing – golf – gathers minimal attention.

What is LIV’s key goal for 2023?

It needs a television deal, primarily in the US and UK. That will be tricky, given the alliance between broadcasters and golf’s mainstream tours but LIV desperately needs eyeballs to make this appear even close to a commercially valid operation. Some have questioned why such contracts were not in place before launch but it was reasonable for networks to assess what LIV can provide. A shotgun start – meaning a short, dedicated broadcast window – guaranteed fields and just 14 events per year should all be in LIV’s favour. Yet there is still no sign of television channels taking the leap. This lack of exposure will harm LIV for as long as it continues.

Brooks Koepka (left) bumps fists with Ian Poulter during a press conference at the LIV Golf Team Championship.
Brooks Koepka (left) and Ian Poulter are two of LIV Golf’s significant signings. Photograph: Cristóbal Herrera/EPA

Is there any chance of peace between the tours?

Precious little. The PGA Tour has been particularly staunch in its resistance to all things LIV. The DP World Tour’s position was slightly softer owing to an earlier staging of the Saudi International but this is still regarded as a competitive threat by office bearers at Wentworth and Ponte Vedra. Some LIV golfers are in the midst of legal action against the PGA Tour and vice versa. Relationships between European Ryder Cup stalwarts have been torched. Golfers who have made the switch to LIV, not earlier accustomed to negative press, have been visibly taken aback at the level of vitriol that has flown their way. Nobody on either side of this civil war looks willing to budge.

Should LIV players receive official world golf ranking recognition?

Yes, and largely because of optics. It is a poor look and one of a closed shop for the majors and existing tours to deny LIV any OWGR standing. There are algorithms and systems which can determine the level of those points – it needn’t necessarily be high – but it would be a faintly ridiculous situation heading into LIV’s year two for the Open champion to be sliding down the rankings scale because of his chosen professional domain. Low grade, two-bit tours across the world have OWGR access. It was fair for the rankings board to assess LIV’s proposal over a sensible period of time and the immediate assertion that points had to be applied was an arrogant one. This is now a case the OWGR should relent on, unless they want further accusations of playground politics.

And what of Greg Norman?

Norman’s silence during LIV’s final event at Doral was at best strange and at worst highly suspicious. The former world No 1 has been the public face of this disruption scheme and the man to regularly take issue with golf’s establishment. That he was not front and centre in Miami surely only means Norman cannot be trusted in front of a microphone – which would be bad news – or LIV has already organised a succession plan. Perhaps both apply.

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