The LIV Invitational Golf Series has been a drag on a PGA Tour that was already flailing to find its next superstar. LIV, which is funded by blood money from Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund has sparked a mini-exodus of several PGA stars. By offering boatloads of cash for appearance fees, LIV has become a pseudo-retirement fund. But how sustainable is the LIV series? Golf fans already have a surplus of options. Is LIV coming for the PGA’s throne or a fad? Golf doesn’t typically attract young, forward-looking fans. They embrace tradition.
LIV Golf joins the Saudi-funded Premiere Golf League, the European Tour, and the PGA as the top professional golf tours in the world. LIV risks turning golf into boxing with its fragmented field of competitors, its surplus of championships and an assortment of matches or tournaments that fans have no visceral connection to.
There are already dozens of golf tournaments that nobody is watching. Tiger Woods is the biggest draw in golf and he turned down a high nine-figure offer from the LIV series, presumably so he can make a run at a few more majors. For certain golfers, some of whom are named Phil, this is a get-rich-quick, cash grab to recoup gambling debts and pocket enough money before the interest wanes. Mickelson has gambled before and he’s lost bigger. The LIV Invitational Series is funded for the next three years and won’t operate a full schedule for three years. In the meantime, the PGA Tour will carry on. Are fans really going to be excited for Dustin Johnson and Bryson Dechambeau down the stretch of a third-tier event in London?
Unlike the European Super League that attempted to topple the Champions League, golfers aren’t employed by decades-old sports institutions like Liverpool or Chelsea. They’re essentially gilded independent contractors. What happens if LIV golfers realize they’re tour fading from the public consciousness? For instance, there’s already a Saudi-backed event on the Asian Tour that lacks the PGA’s pageantry. Dustin Johnson won the inaugural PIF Saudi International event in 2019 when it was a part of the European Tour, but nobody gives a shit. He might as well have won a match play event with Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes. Fans won’t care nearly as much about LIV as they do The Masters or The PGA Championship.
PGA Championship ratings plunged 20 percent this year as Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods were either out of contention or keeping their distance in Mickelson’s case. The PGA Tour’s legacy is a large part of its draw in the absence of a historically dominant champion drawing eyeballs to its tournaments. Few give a shit about who wins the Canadian Open next week, but Jack Nicklaus’ Memorial Tournament has meaning. The stars will all show up for the majors.
LIV Golf is a league without a built-in constituency. American audiences have no attachments to these arbitrary tournaments the same way NBA fans wouldn’t give a crap about midseason cup championships. The LIV Series will essentially be viewed as exhibition golf. The question is that once the novelty wears off, what becomes of the golfers who surrendered their PGA Tour membership, such as Mickelson or Bryson DeChambeau?
It would be one thing if LIV Golf were reinventing the wheel. However, shotgun formats in which players all start at once from different holes are a superficial change that won’t alter the viewing experience much. The 54-hole format is great, but the divided competition between the PGA and LIV will create fractured audiences for both tours. Whether this becomes a fad or a professional mainstay will be determined by whether the Saudi money can snuff out decades of lore by buying PGA fans as well.