All is quiet on the LIV Golf front. You’re allowed to feel uneasy about it.
After six months of thumping its chest and splashing onto the pro golf scene, where a day didn’t pass without new commentary on the upstart tour, we find ourselves in 2023 in a bit of a holding pattern, waiting for information. LIV has completely quieted down, for the moment at least. And for the PGA Tour loyalist, it’s a welcome reprieve. For the LIV faithful, it serves to wonder what exactly is on the way.
We know the LIV season will kick off on Feb. 24 in Mexico, just south of Cancun, at a resort course Greg Norman designed. That’s comfy. But in reality LIV Golf 2023 will start in just three and a half weeks, at the Saudi International. The 72-hole — gasp! — event is hosted by the Asian Tour, which has received massive funding from LIV Golf Investments. The presenting sponsor is the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, the major backer of LIV Golf.
The Saudi International represents, in essence, LIV Golf’s preseason, so we’re a lot closer to LIV news than anyone thinks. Cam Smith just committed this week, joining last year’s defending champion, Harold Varner — another LIV golfer. Take a glance at last year’s Saudi International field and you’ll find dozens of eventual LIV commits. Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Matthew Wolff, Phil Mickelson. Those are the household names. Then there’s the Laurie Canters of the world, the Wade Ormsbys, Justin Hardings and Siwhan Kims. They were all in that field, too. All the way down to Shergo Al Kurdi, the 19-year-old who served as a LIV Golf alternate all season long.
So if you’ve taken the PGA Tour’s side in this civil war, enjoy this moment! It won’t be quiet for long. But when LIV Golf does return to the headlines, it will be fascinating to see how much noise it can actually create. Last year was a slow burn of statements, events, pre-tournament press conferences, world ranking requests and letters that began “Surely, you jest.” Even when LIV was stagnant, it felt like it was evolving.
Part of the reason the league has gone mute is one of its prime characteristics: an offseason. Phil Mickelson will have had three months away from competition by the time he inevitably tees it up at the Saudi International. If he skips that event, it’s three months and three weeks away. LIV-ers highlighted this as one of their favorite aspects of the tour, promising the golf world they want to play less. Joaquin Niemann spent a lot of his break back home in Chile, putting on his best recruiting effort for fellow countryman Mito Pereira.
The other interesting reason for LIV silence is upheaval in the c-suite. Atul Khosla, widely regarded as one of the key brains behind LIV’s business, resigned from his role as chief operating officer in the month that followed LIV’s first season. Mere weeks after sharing LIV’s business model with reporters. When the New York Times reported on Khosla’s exit, Greg Norman provided a statement to the publication, but no further public announcement was made by LIV. Khosla’s bio was still on LIV’s leadership webpage at the time, but has since been removed. His stewardship has been replaced by a combination of high-level staffers from Performance54, a golf marketing company that has worked with LIV from its inception. (Meanwhile, LIV lawyers have argued in court that Performance54 is not a LIV Golf agent.) Furthermore, this week Sports Business Journal reported that Matt Goodman, LIV’s President of Franchises, was no longer a part of its management.
So perhaps LIV has had reason to stay out of the news recently. And perhaps the slow release of 2023 intel didn’t make sense before the holidays. At LIV’s team competition in October, reporters were told to expect a finalized schedule to be released in November. When that didn’t happen, December was the next obvious opportunity. Instead, LIV has released just half of its events, sprinkled out in spurts.
This exercise serves as a reminder of where the circuit was last spring. In April and May, LIV announced its executive hirings, its schedule and accompanying musical acts. Every few days there was another bit of news, but the public waited for a real field. Promises were made by Norman, throughout all of May. And then, on the final day of the month, splash. Dustin Johnson joined. Nine days later, it was Bryson’s turn. What followed was four months of rumor mill churning about, keeping LIV top of mind. Which brings us to this week, where it is not.
The PGA Tour is holding court for now, its season beginning in Hawaii, and its relationship with Golf Channel paying reminders of what LIV is up against. The new(ish) promos dominating Golf on TV this week show seven of the top 17 players in the world. There’s Scottie Scheffler, Collin Morikawa and Max Homa. 14 wins between the bunch. There’s Tony Finau and Adam Scott, too. And Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm and Xander Schauffele doing the speaking, promising millions of viewers in a not-so-subtle way:
“The best golf…
is played here.”
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