The PGA Tour vs. LIV Golf civil war is just getting started

There is a lull in golf’s civil war battles, but it’s not over.

LIV Golf wrapped up its first season two weeks ago at Trump National Doral outside of Miami. Success is in the eye of the beholder, but the short term has attracted a handful of big names, including new bully Phil Mickelson, world No. 3 and reigning British Open and Players champion Cam Smith and major champion Brooks Koepka. , Bryson DeChambeau and Dustin Johnson, among others, swept eight tournaments and achieved more fame than ever dreamed of.

All of that is made incredibly easy by the endless resources of Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, but it’s clear that LIV isn’t going away anytime soon. Act II of the controversial circuit will resume in February with 14 tournaments, up from 8 this year until early September. At least half of Trump’s Bedminster course, including a handful of courses owned by Donald Trump, will be in the United States after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol in the 2021 PGA Championship (and after the PGA pulled his Doral course earlier). 2016 tour). The rest will be spread around the world, but declaring anything less than at least half as LIV’s world tour seems defiant. A schedule announcement is expected in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, the PGA Tour, which will begin the fall portion of its 2022-23 season next week in Ga. It will conclude at the Sea Island Golf Club on St. Simons Island, where there will also be a policy panel meeting on a number of topics including LIV. happens They will then resume the season in the first week of January and follow a schedule that includes 13 high-profile tournaments with purses of at least $20 million. It’s just one of several ways the tour’s top players are paid more, guaranteed to compete in the same tournaments together as part of the increase. Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy’s recent announcement of a joint venture featuring “high-tech” golf on select Monday nights is another example of the ancillary ways the tour is looking to line the pockets of its stars. For the first time, the top college senior will be issued a PGA Tour card immediately following the NCAAs, with upperclassmen also providing points that could lead to a card.

Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy
Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy
Getty Images

What does it all mean and where do things go from there?

First, the tour’s stance on who’s bolting for LIV doesn’t change. Players leaving for LIV will continue to be banned from playing tour events, although McIlroy recently said it was time for the two sides to “find a compromise.” Whether DP World Tour (formerly European Tour) players who have visited LIV will be banned from the circuit will be judged in February.

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The PGA Tour declined to comment for this story, citing LIV’s pending antitrust lawsuit against it, and sources inside the building say it’s unlikely LIV and the tour will ever work together. Tour, its commissioner Greg Norman recently said he was open to doing, but instead tour “will not exist as we know it.” Norman’s efforts to meet with the tour were exaggerated, they say, with LIV reaching out to the Hall of Famer shortly before announcing his plans and leaving a voicemail.

The Masters, PGA Championship, US Open and Open Championship, meanwhile, are different beasts because the four majors are run by four different bodies, not the tour.

The R&A, which oversees the Open Championship, said in a recent Golf Digest interview that LIV players would not be banned from competing in 2023, although changes to its eligibility could be announced early next year. The US Open could also follow suit, with the Masters continuing to remain mum on the title – with sources suggesting they are unlikely to ban past champions. The PGA of America, which runs the US side of the PGA Championship and Ryder Cup, has hinted that LIV golfers will not qualify for next year’s Ryder Cup in Italy, but they have yet to make an official stance on what’s next. May PGA Championship at Oak Hill in Rochester. It should also be noted that PGA of America CEO Seth Waugh has close ties to Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan.

PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan
PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan
USA TODAY Sports

“It makes more sense [the majors] To stay above the fray [when it comes to LIV] rather than taking a position,” a longtime and high-powered figure in golf told The Post. “The world ranking issue will be resolved over time. Drawing a line in the sand is an unnecessary risk.

“There are reasons to do it on moral grounds [for being financed by the Saudi Arabian government and calls of sports washing], but then you must be clean on every level. It is completely impossible, so it is better not to enter into the conversation.

LIV’s connection to Saudi Arabia remains significant given the country’s abysmal human rights record. Even its biggest star, Phil Mickelson, admitted in a message to The Post before leaving the tour for LIV that the circuit was using the game to wash the country’s image. There have also been protests this summer from multiple Sept. 11 groups highlighting LIV for its Saudi ties after documents linking the country to the 9/11 attacks were declassified.

But it doesn’t slow anything down. According to a Sports Illustrated report, LIV spent roughly $785 million this year and is expected to spend nearly $1 billion by 2023.

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“I truly believe what we’re doing is having a positive impact on the game,” LIV chief event officer Ron Cross — a former longtime PGA Tour executive who also worked at Augusta National — told The Post. “The energy we bring to the events, the team format, the players and the level of competition they play, all those factors come into play.”

That effect is debatable. Without a TV deal this year, YouTube’s online viewership averaged in the tens of thousands in the states. Tickets to the tournaments often went for a few bucks or even less — free — with one fan at the Bedminster tournament joking that he “paid too much” for the dollar ticket he bought. But what is clear is that the organization is hitching its wagon to the team and franchise format in hopes of attracting more sponsors.

Greg Norman, CEO and Commissioner of LIV Golf
Greg Norman, CEO and Commissioner of LIV Golf
Getty Images

It’s the way other sports work, Cross noted, something that works for the Ryder Cup (and to a lesser extent, the Presidents Cup). But those events happen only biennially and have built national pride and history. Whether that can work for a 14-times-a-year league remains to be seen, with players competing for huge amounts of guaranteed money and the champagne bottle popping that accompanies 54-hole, no-cut tournaments.

“I think we showed there’s an audience for it,” Cross said. “People like to root for their favorite team, not just their favorite player.

“What will be more interesting in the coming years is the baseball and football offseasons where people are interested in trades and free agency and the drama of whether they stay with this team or whether they go. to go and play for their opponent.

That element of LIV is fundamentally different from what the game has always been. The game of golf is still essentially the same, but the stuff around it isn’t.

“With 48 men [in the league] And having teammates, it feels like we’re in this together,” one LIV player told The Post. However, the player also expressed concern that golf could go the way of boxing and cause irreparable damage under the current division.

Much will depend on whether LIV is awarded world ranking points for its events, a significant path to the top four. Sources at LIV say they expect the issue to be resolved by February; Others are less optimistic.

It’s complicated too.

LIV Golfer Phil Mickelson
LIV Golfer Phil Mickelson
USA TODAY Sports

For one, the process is not fast under the best of circumstances. For another thing, LIV does not meet all the criteria for scoring, but the relegation and promotion that is part of the 2023 season, aligning with the MENA Tour and the Asia International Series, among other changes, should be taken care of. that However, the seven-person World Rankings panel includes the heads of the PGA Tour and DP World Tour.

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“Even if they get points, are they awarded enough to make an impact?” argued one longtime agent.

But, more players will leave the PGA Tour for LIV in 2023. Who exactly is to be seen — Xander Schauffele and Rickie Fowler have both been rumored, but sources close to both confirmed to The Post that there are no plans to join LIV. Meanwhile, Greg Norman, who declined to be interviewed for this story through a spokesman, previously said he was targeting seven more players for next year. However, indications are that none of them will be among the tour’s current stars.

“At this point, the [stars] People who wanted to go have left,” one player told The Post. “Those on the fence will always be on the fence.”

The other important aspect of LIV revolves around a TV deal. As Golfweek first reported in late September, the organization was closing in on buying airtime for events on Fox Sports 1. Sources have confirmed to The Post that LIV will end up joining the network in some capacity.

Betting on golf?

Finally, there is an antitrust lawsuit filed against the tour by LIV and several of its players. The tour also filed a counterclaim in September, alleging that LIV was interfering with its contracts with the players. Furthermore, the Department of Justice has an ongoing investigation into the allegedly monopolistic practices of travel that have denied travel.

None of those matters can be reached any time soon — there is a tentative date for summary judgment of July 23, 2023, and the trial is set for January 2024, as the tour seeks to have the case dismissed.

“I see things working out the way they are now for the foreseeable future,” one high-level source told The Post. “I’m not surprised [LIV] Removed what they did. This was inevitable. It’s not surprising when you have connections with the right people with unlimited resources. It would be a mistake to underestimate modern humans with unlimited resources.

What does that mean for golf? Time decides.

“The game will survive,” said another veteran representative whose stable includes several major champions and several LIV players. “It was one of the greatest games of all time. This is just a business.”

Or as Sun Tzu and Gordon Gekko say, the art of war.

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