Liberty In Variance

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This week marks the end of LIV Golf’s inaugural season.

It has been stated that this year was an exhibition, a word that many took to heart and used when stating their judgments on the breakout league. It remains to be seen how much change will be enacted going into year two in 2023. For now, we can focus on what we know about the new league and what has transpired between LIV and the PGA Tour during this calendar year.

It is Friday, October 28th,

as I write this and the quarterfinals for the Team Championships of LIV Golf are underway in a team head-to-head 1v1 match play event. As I tuned in at 12:15ET, the listed start time found from a simple Google search, the YouTube Live broadcast had 10k viewers. An hour later, that number jumped to 23k viewers. At 1:45Et, an hour and a half into the broadcast, there are 28k+ viewing the Friday afternoon quarterfinal matches.

I would like to see the figures for how many people are watching The Players Championship at 1:45 on a Friday (or even Thursday) afternoon. While I am sure the PGA Tour gets far more viewership for the Players Championship, I am more interested in the comparison LIV events have to the lesser-viewed events the PGA Tour hosts. Let’s face it, certain PGA events have higher stature and are far more established than other regular PGA Tour stops and, of course, the LIV tour which is still in its infancy.

What LIV does have is a unique model and format,

which is unsurprisingly different from the PGA Tour. It offers 54 (compared to traditional 72) hole tournaments and shotgun starts, which means every player is on the course at the same time, and all play is completed generally in under 5 hours or so. This must be a struggle for broadcasting as they are constantly jumping from hole to hole, and as a viewer, in my experience, it can be a bit tough to follow specific players’ rounds thoroughly. Fun fact, LIV is the roman numeral 54. Fans of the PGA Tour might call the LIV format gimmicky or refer to it as an exhibition, but the fact is they are addressing the demand for today’s sports viewers by shortening the length of the event.

If baseball is having issues getting people to pay attention to a full 9 inning game and a 6-month regular season, then the PGA Tour must admit that four days of sun-up to sun-down play is nearly impossible to keep the average fan’s attention. I consider myself a PGA Tour fan, and I get frustrated when I can’t watch my favorite players’ round on either Thursday or Friday because we typically will not get coverage of the morning wave unless the player is in a featured group, which itself is a relatively new feature of golf broadcasting.

I don’t know everything about broadcast rules and agreements

between the PGA Tour and its partners, but as an average fan, I do know that it is not a perfect structure. If we can admit that, then we are going in the right direction. PGA Tour has all the records and the history and, for now, at least arguably, the better players and feeder systems. LIV has an opportunity to grow but for now, what it does promote is fun. There is music playing on the grounds, fans tailgating the events, and the team format brings more energy to the players who are competing for more than just themselves.

Now maybe this sits with me because I would like to see more team events in professional golf. Match Play is a lively WGC event in Austin, TX, and each year, the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup are fantastic, especially if you are a USA fan and have a team to root for every year as the Ryder and Presidents Cup rotate.

In my opinion, so far, LIV has been good for the game.

Ultimately, I would like to see the players have the freedom to play on all tours they see fit for their schedule and likeness. We saw the PGA Tour introduce the PIP (Player Impact Program) in attempting to grow the game. Essentially the tour is leveraging the players’ social media output in exchange for a set dollar amount, a win-win in most people’s minds. Similarly, we saw college sports make a monumental decision to allow student-athletes to be paid based on their Name-Image-Likeness, known as NIL. A decision that took years and years of conversation and legal representation before coming to life. I expect the same for any possible agreement between LIV and PGA Tour. As of right now, it is almost at a boiling point given the frustrations of PGA Tour players feeling betrayed and LIV players expressing their interest in playing on both tours.

LIV is run by Greg Norman,

known as Shark, a former PGA Tour professional who has been an advocate for a global tour for many years. He has been a bit of a controversial character but likely not as polarizing as who LIV is backed financially by and who they choose to do business with. It is well known that LIV is supported by the Saudi Government, I will choose to leave opinions and facts out of this article but leave it as “controversial.”

On that same topic,

someone who has their hands deep in the golf world’s collective pockets is real estate mogul and former President of the United States, Donald J. Trump. Let’s see if there is any controversy involved there. The survey says: …. Yes, there is. The 45th President has become a like-him or hate-him figure more so than ever before based on a job he held for four years from 2016-2020. It just so happens that his job was the highest elected official in the land. So, what does he have to do with golf? Well, being a real estate man, he found that luxury golf courses can bring in cash by the boatload.

Now he owns dozens of properties around the world, each of them being high-end, well-maintained, and suitable golf courses for professional play. Just this year, the PGA Championship was moved from Trump Bedminster in New Jersey to Southern Hills in Oklahoma, with the reason being President Trump’s involvement in the January 6th, 2021, Capitol riots. This same year, 2022, LIV hosted a tournament at Trump Bedminster, and not only that, but this week’s Team Match Play Championship for LIV is being hosted at Trump Doral in Miami, FL. I will let you decide if LIV’s involvement with President 45 is bad judgment or a savvy business move.

Meanwhile, Rory McIlroy is soaking up the sun

and has quickly become a hero on the PGA Tour side as he has moved into the spotlight in his defense of the PGA Tour both on and off the course.

Although he has no Major championships to his name since 2014, he has been close in the past eight years, including finishing in the top 8 of all 4 Majors this year. He had a memorable Sunday charge at the Masters ending in a chip-in birdie from the greenside bunker on the 72nd hole, and then was the leader and favorite to win the Open championship as play began on Sunday from St. Andrews. Unfortunately for him, his putter fell flat, and Cam Smith, now with LIV, came away with the victory with his putting clinic on Sunday in Scotland. Since then, Rory has won the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup Championship and won the most packed event of the fall season, rankings-wise, at the CJ Cup to hoist himself into the position of #1 player in the world.

Let’s not get started on the Official World Golf Rankings debate just yet.

While lots have happened this year in the game of golf,

my personal diagnosis is that it has overall been good for the sport. More eyes have been on golf with the drama between LIV and PGA Tour. Seemingly 20-somethings have come on strong for the PGA Tour, winning all four of the Majors this year, although Rory McIlroy, age 34, has re-gained the world #1 status, winning multiple times this year. LIV boasts numerous recognizable names and players who held status comfortably inside the top 50 before making the switch.

I know people think that the sport is watered down due to the opposing tours but let me offer this. Give it some time. Things will work themselves out as they often do. LIV will keep trying to do whatever they need to do for their players to earn OWGR points; in the meantime, players will be climbing the ranks and earning their status on the Korn Ferry Tour and, eventually, the PGA Tour. While it remains to be seen how a feeder system for LIV will work, I fully believe the pipeline of talent in the world of golf’s future is not one to underestimate. The young players of today’s game prove that already. I implore anyone who thinks otherwise to pay attention to college golf this spring. The next generation is packed with athletes that want to play golf.

In a perfect world, the best players would all be playing against each other all the time.

What if that didn’t have to be on one tour or just in the United States? Growing the game – as a mantra – has its best shot at success in a global realm. Players on tours worldwide deserve more of our attention, whether male, female, amateur, or professional. Just like all great things take time, golf is aging like fine wine. Remember, the PGA Tour was created just 54 years ago, in 1968. 54 (LIV) – is that a coincidence? Here’s to the next half-century being even better than the last for the game of golf.

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