LIV By The Sword

By JP McNaney






Greg Norman has always desired to turn the golf world upside down.  In 1994, Norman led his first attempt at a coup against the PGA TOUR.  The World Golf League, proposed by Norman, was to be a global tour with 40 player fields, huge purses, and guaranteed money for players.  It was The Shark rebelling against the establishment and self-perceived restrictions as an independent contractor against his personal ambitions.

He wanted “Free Agency” for golfers – mainly for himself.  The traditional powers of the PGA TOUR, European Tour and the other governing bodies squashed Norman’s dreams and that tour never came to fruition.

Fast forward to 2022, the World Golf Championships is a well-established series of international professional golf tournaments worth millions of dollars and World Ranking Points for professionals.  Here’s the rub, these events are owned and operated by an international federation of professional golf tours; the PGA TOUR, the Sunshine Tour, the PGA Tour Australasia, Japan Golf Tour, DP World Tour (formerly European Tour), and the Asian Tour.

Norman felt cheated.  Ever since, he’s had an axe to grind with everyone involved.  While still highly successful in various businesses including apparel and wine, Norman’s influence in golf has waned.  One gets the sense that Norman has been waiting in the weeds for the opportunity to take revenge on those whom he felt wronged him.

Now the opportunity to be the CEO of the upstart LIV Golf Invitational Series gives him the chance for retribution. 

If you have been living under a rock, LIV Golf is a new alternative professional golf tour.  An invitational series of small field events (with both team and individual competitions) played around the world, with guaranteed money for players and huge payouts allowing players to be “free agents.”

Sound familiar?

The tour is organized by a few veterans of the golf industry, including Norman and entrepreneurial businesspeople, and funded by the Saudi Public Investment Fund.

For context, the Saudi Public Investment Fund is money from the government of Saudi Arabia.  Yes, the same regime that ordered the murder and dismemberment of a US citizen and reporter. The same government that is being accused of attempting to sanitize its public image through “sportswashing.”

Enter Norman and company.

Apparently, Norman is not bothered by guilt by association with the Saudi government.  Nor does it seem Dustin Johnson, Ian Poutler, Graham McDowell, Sergio Garcia, Phil Mickelson or others are all that concerned with it either.

Much of public opinion is that the players are nothing but money-hungry mercenaries and that this alternative tour will fall as quickly as it rose.

Taking a closer look, I believe this tour will not fail.  Mind you, I am neither for or against LIV Golf nor am I for or against the PGA TOUR.  I am purely looking at the odds of the LIV Golf Invitation Series surviving or if the PGA TOUR is more likely to fail.  Is it possible for both to exist?

The answer to that last question, at least at the moment, is highly unlikely.  Both want to win.  Negotiations have not even taken place, nor do they appear imminent.

I believe LIV Golf will survive for several reasons.  Some they are in control of, and some are self-inflicted wounds by the PGA TOUR.

Insiders in golf will tell you the PGA TOUR has made missteps over the last few years.  The latest of which happened this week with the announcement that the entry for Q-School has increased 30%.  Those wanting to work their way to the TOUR, those without sponsors or money in the bank, will have to pay more just to try.

The product itself has become stale especially on television.  At times, it’s difficult to tell which tournament you are watching.  The graphics are better with the inclusion of shot tracing and having microphones closer to the action has led to some slightly more interesting television, but these innovations are nothing compared to what we see every Sunday in the NFL or even NASCAR.

Finally, the TOUR believes itself to be the most important entity in golf.  Never mind the fact that they do not run ANY of the majors.  The PGA of America (completely different organization), the USGA, the R&A and the members of Augusta National run those.  That’s the reason the TOUR spends so much energy touting the Player Championship as the “5th Major.”

Still, the PGA TOUR does have the support of much of the industry.

LIV Golf, on the other hand, has money…lots of money.  They have player friendly schedules and formats – including 54-hole events instead of the tradition 72-hole events on the PGA TOUR.  They have shotgun starts so everyone is on the course at the same time providing equal playing conditions for the competitors.  As for TV, LIV Golf does not even have a TV deal.  Currently, all events are “broadcast” via the internet on Facebook or YouTube, yet the production is full of innovations like microphones in all the holes, multiple drone camera angles and leaderboard graphics eerily similar to what is seen in NASCAR.

Perhaps the most compelling argument to why LIV Golf will succeed is because they apparently do not need to make a profit.  The fact that they can hold these events without a network deal or sponsors tells us everything we need to know in this fight.  How can the PGA TOUR – that needs to make money to survive – compete with an entity that does not need to make money (at east at the onset)?  It’s a completely one-sided fight.

In the end, no one really knows how this will play out but perhaps, Greg Norman finally got what he’s always wanted…the win.