Having worked intensively in the golf industry for nearly all my career, I’ve been witness to countless articles suggesting the impending death or reconstruction of the game. This has built to a crescendo of late with the massive attention bestowed on the upstart LIV Golf series, which has attracted the likes of Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and a handful of other notables, eliciting suggestions that this is a major affront to the PGA Tour. If you step away from the giddy sensationalism that we know the media thrives on, consider the following:
When in the last 50 years has an upstart “competitive league” done major damage or upset the apple cart of a well-funded incumbent sport? Remember, the USFL in its first incarnation lured several NFL superstars only to fade away.
Long-term success is incumbent upon broadcast rights fees, a quality product, fans, sponsors/advertisers. LIV has none of that and likely won’t, after the initial “shock and awe” fails to captivate the media’s short attention spans.
For elite players at the top of their games, golf is about establishing a legacy by winning major championships on the most revered courses in the world. To qualify for these events, players must excel in PGA-Tour sanctioned events. The handful of LIV guys who qualified for this year’s Opens won’t have those exemptions in the future, as they have abandoned the Tour. The all but 17 players who remain, make significant dollars on tour, and once that happens it’s about more than money for most of them.
Step away from the LIV coverage and recognize that we are in the midst of the two most established and prestigious national championships in the U.S. Women’s Open (played for the largest purse in the history of women’s golf) and this week’s U.S. Open championship.
Ultimately these revered tests of golf are what matter most to players, networks and fans alike. Why would a Saudi Arabian-backed series of pay-for-play exhibitions be the exception?
That said, Mickelson and the other LIV “big” names that capture the attention of casual fans only four times a year (but not in any sustainable way to generate revenue for a splinter league) took the guaranteed money they're now unable to earn on a tour for the only remaining sport that's a compelling meritocracy. That’s their choice -- and from a strictly financial perspective, makes sense, and is their right.
But Mickelson has already burned his bridges, and the few other names are those whose most competitive peaks are behind them, looking for final paydays. They’ve admitted as much.
So it strikes me as likely that the novelty will wane, and absent legal or government interference, this thing will go on only as long as its controversial Saudi benefactors want to financially support it. I implore the media or casual fans looking or hoping for a takedown of “the establishment” to go watch the U.S. Open this week and see what continues to define the apex of competitive golf.