LIV Golf

The Day That LIV Golf Arrived?

For all of its flaws, the upstart league got the jolt it needed when Dustin Johnson holed an eagle bomb for the YouTube world to see

By Michael Bamberger

LIV Golf had its first YouTube moment on Sunday. The fourth LIV event was decided in a sudden-death playoff. Dustin Johnson and two other guys not named Cam Smith.

A playoff is a gift to LIV Golf’s unique shotgun-start format because it gets all of the spectators to a single hole for the first time, in this case, the 18th at the International Club, near Boston. Johnson made an unlikely 35-footer—his eagle putt was flying—and the curtain came down.

It was a gift to YouTube. As of high noon on Labor Day, the broadcast (or parts of it) had been viewed 792,155 times. Live sports as theater. We watch for the surprise. People love to be entertained.

I saw it on my MacBook. (Full disclosure and I can’t be alone: I watched a fraction of the six-hour broadcast.) The ball disappeared, thousands of arms went up and so did a roar. It looked like a golf tournament and sounded like one too—a golf tournament that ended on its 55th hole.

We all know the deal: three rounds of 18 holes, 48 players, 12 four-man teams. DJ plays for the Four Aces, who won the team competition too, for the third consecutive time. As Warren Buffett once said to shareholders, after investing in a cement company, “Try to contain your excitement.”

Warren Buffett is a member of Augusta National. I once saw him at a Ryder Cup. He was there to play bridge. There are many roads to golf and golf events.

Mark King, the former TaylorMade CEO who now sells tacos (he’s the CEO of Taco Bell), is one of the most insightful golf people I have ever met. A month or so ago he told me that in five years LIV Golf will be another tour among existing tours and that everybody will learn to get along. I don’t know, but I wouldn’t doubt King on any golf thing. He was way ahead on the hoodie-for-golf thing.

Every professional golfer is an opportunist. It’s the way of the world, really. But opportunism has degrees, like everything else. Tiger Woods, as a rookie, played Milwaukee and Disney and the old Southern Open. A year or two later, he didn’t need those events anymore, but his golfing home was still the PGA Tour. It remains the PGA Tour, even though he’ll never play anything resembling a full schedule on it again. As for the Disney tournament and the Southern Open, they’re dead and gone. Life goes on.

Johnson and Smith (a shot out of the playoff) and Phil Mickelson (T40 in Boston) walked away from the PGA Tour to go to LIV. For some of us, it didn’t (and doesn’t) sit right. But 792,155 clicks is 792,155 clicks. The click count will only go up. Passion for LIV Golf is harder to say. It will never have grandeur. But grandeur is not part of its business plan.

The unspoken element in any business plan is luck. The LIVsters were lucky that Smith won the British Open at the Old Course in July, on a still Sunday when Rory McIlroy hit a long series of conservative second shots. Greg Norman and Co. were lucky that Johnson made that eagle putt. Drip, drip, drip, drip and a sports league is born, like it or not.

Ten weeks ago, the U.S. Open was played outside Boston, at the Country Club. It’s unusual for one city to have two golf events in one year. In 1981, the U.S. Open was played at Merion, outside Philadelphia. The old Philadelphia Tour stop, played at Whitemarsh Valley, sat on the sidelines for the year and never got its spot back. Golf scheduling is a ruthless business.

This is weird to say, but one of the things I remember best from this year’s U.S. Open was Phil’s Monday afternoon press conference. I was under the tent’s canopy with 100 other reporters. We were all packed in there because Mickelson was making his return to public life, in the States anyway. The U.S. Open is the stern grandfather of golf tournaments, one in which he has finished second a record half-dozen times, the title he needs to complete the career grand slam. You can watch the press conference on YouTube, if you’re so inclined. I am not. Too painful, all the way around.

Phil’s confounding Open record will be in his obit. Tiger has three U.S. Open wins, which seems improbable, given how he drives it. The U.S. Open has grandeur. It can be boring, but it is grand. Weird, right?

There was an undercurrent of resentment in that half-hour under that tent, beside the Country Club’s yellow clubhouse. We in the sportswriting trade lean in the direction of tradition. Because when the score is 9-1 in the seventh, you start writing history and you look up the club record for most stranded runners in a game. (It’s 27, in a 20-inning game.) I mean, you have to write something, right? Now might be a good time to note that baseball used to be called the American Pastime. When was the last time somebody said that with a straight face?

This is the weirdest year in golf history, at least in my years in the game. I believe Tiger thought that after skipping the U.S. Open he could prepare his way into contention at the Old Course. He didn’t. I can’t imagine him ever playing the four majors in a season again. The Presidents Cup is coming up and he has no public role, certainly not as a player, but not even as an assistant captain. But you can be certain that Davis Love III, the U.S. captain, will run every lineup past him. That’s a statement on Tiger’s standing in the game.

Phil’s standing in the game has taken a severe hit. It was only a year ago that, as an assistant captain, he was the darling of the Ryder Cup. He and Amy, really. Most Charming Couple. Right now, it seems unlikely he will ever wear a Ryder Cup uniform again.

The LIV event—a September golf event, in greater Boston—brought other September golf events in greater Boston to mind.

Some of you will remember Mickelson’s Labor Day win in 2007, at the Deutsche Bank Championship, at TPC Boston. FedEx II, of IV, back in the day. Yes, it’s a Tiger phrase. Mickelson was paired with Woods for the fourth and final round and won by two.

Mickelson didn’t play FedEx III that year. It was some sort of protest. In victory, on live TV, he said that PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem had been unresponsive to various suggestions he had been making. Everybody on Tour knew that Mickelson believed four FedEx events was one too many. Eventually, of course, the number was cut to three.

You may not remember this, but Mickelson was working with Butch Harmon at the time, Tiger’s former swing coach. Woods was the defending champion in Boston. Woods won seven times in 2007. But if Phil ever had Tiger’s number, it was then and there, for that one brief shining moment. Woods was wearing red and black, of course, for the Labor Day finale. Phil was wearing black and blue. Source: YouTube.

Phil Mickelson Tiger Woods

While we’re at it (Boston, golf, September song), let’s recall the 1999 Ryder Cup, at the Country Club. On Sunday, batting third, Mickelson won a match on a day his team, the United States of America, would need every point it could get.

On that day, Mickelson and his 11 teammates were all wearing what is surely the most memorable shirt ever assigned to the members of a U.S. golf team, a maroon homage to great moments at the Country Club. Yes, Tiger won that day too, in the fifth slot.

You know what the British writers remember most about that Sunday? The way the American players and their wives and the assistant captains and various others ran all over the 17th green after Justin Leonard holed a bomb, even though Jose Maria Olazabal still had a 22-footer to halve him. Chima has holed hundreds of putts longer than that one.

We are all corrupted by our own attachments.

Here comes the Chicago LIV event. Here comes the Presidents Cup. Here comes the football. Here comes the playoff baseball, for those of you who know how playoff baseball works anymore.

Michael Bamberger welcomes your comments at [email protected]

20 thoughts on “The Day That LIV Golf Arrived?”

  1. LIV was smart to target Boston and Chicago, 2 cities the PGA Tour pumped and dumped like a one-night stand. Monahan likes to talk about legacy and history, but ask Chicago fans who used to go to the Western Open about the Tour. Ask Boston fans who used to have Bank of Boston/Deutsche Bank, or Upstate NY fans and volunteers who put on the B.C. Open. The Tour has no loyalty to any community and they’ve thrown their *own* legacy and history out the window to chase Fedex Cup dollars. So spare me the lectures, Jay. LIV Boston was great.

    1. I agree with your observation on how the Tour has abandoned Boston and Chicago. I miss the Western Open at Butler and Cog Hill, as it was always a great event. I would add the Westchester Classic, which was always one of my favorite events, and while the Rocket Mortgage event keeps a Detroit presence, it can’t hold a candle to the old Buick Open in Flint. Life goes on, just not always for the better.
      LIV is strangely on OTA television in Canada if you live in Hamilton, Ontario or get the CHCH channel on cable (it is a sort of superstation carried via satellite on a lot of cable systems here). I don’t know if any independent stations in the US do the same. I watched a bit of the Boston event that way but couldn’t get excited about it or the format. It was odd to see players lining up putts on a green during the tournament and hearing loud music in the background. Since LIV seemingly has no financial constraints, a direct comparison with the Tour is pointless. It would be interesting to know what the end game here is for its Saudi masters and if there are any limits to how much money they are willing to flush away on this concept.

  2. I’ve attended at least 25-30 golf tournaments. (3) US Opens, (1) British Open, at least 10 other PGA events, 6-8 Champions Tour events, a multitude of Korn Ferry events and Q schools.

    I have never attended a golf tournament, where the fans seemed to be having so much fun. I may be biased, as I was a member at The International for 20+ years and worked for the former owners for a few years, but LIV Boston was an awesome event and exceeded my expectations, exponentially. The ability to get up close & personal with the players, reminded me of PGA Tournament practice days, 30-40 years ago.

    Just as an aside, the management and organization of the LIV tournament, was at least as good as any PGA tournament I’ve been to, including this year’s Open at TCC.

  3. LIV Boston was great. I was there Saturday. And the energy was definitely there. It was weird (at first) to see Cam Smith in attendance. But it felt like a Tour event, only better. Live music, great AFFORDABLE concessions. I liked that there was room to walk around, and the play was just the same as the Tour. (Why would it be different?) The average age was lower. There were a lot of guys (less gender diversity than USO or Travelers) and a lot of under 30 year olds. Interestingly, there were things for the little kids to do, and even a playground set up for the event!

  4. Michael, have you ever watched the ‘Chronicles of a champion golfer’ series? They’re very good. Tiger’s is particularly great. In it he discusses his first win at St.Andrews, entering the final round with a large lead. He would make the chasing pack come and get him, he wasn’t gonna back up. I think Rory watched this before his final round at the Old Course, at least that’s how he played. He ain’t Tiger Woods! Cam Smith came and got him.

    I wonder if Cam will get his own chronicle, now he’s with LIV. Or will the R&A lean into the pettiness.

    Regards

  5. Contrary to a couple comments before mine, I thought this article was well written.
    I don’t like LIV golf at this point, but I can change. I appreciate balance in any journalism, and that’s what I read here. Objectivity is MIA in today’s political reporting…so well done!

  6. Sorry, DJ dropping a bomb at an exhibition event doesn’t qualify as an “arrived” event. The whole thing is lame. To me, the most exciting piece of news coming from this is the concessions apparently were cheaper than your average PGA stop. Maybe the Tour will bring some more relevant change in that dept to us, the audience.

  7. Will be remembered like Sarazen’s Double Eagle at The Masters!

    Every single person on the PGA Tour, DP World Tour, and every other Tour in the world,
    when they were kids, all they dreamed about was being the “Best” golfer who ever lived, NOT One of them EVER thought about being the richest! LIV is a joke, and Greg Norman’s vendetta against the PGA Tour cripples his legacy.

  8. Completely not a fan of LIV. The loud music and inexpensive beer would be enough to keep me away, and the shot-gun start, team play, 54 holes, and Saudi sportswashing also has no appeal. One thing that the LIV tour has done which is such a no brainer is to give players the chance to wear shorts. Thanks, Michael, as always, for the excellent coverage and writing!

    1. Ditto. Dustbin Johnson could get a hole in one on a par 5 and it wouldn’t draw any real attention in such a lame format.

      It is unfortunate the PGAT is throwing money at the players giving some sense that Pfail, um Phil, was right if you believe the ends justify the means, particularly when you damage the institution that provided your path to fame and fortune.

      I would prefer to watch young pros compete in real competitions even if all of the big names were to switch to LIV.

  9. LIV is here to stay…unfortunately. The ten LIV teams (4 players each team) will be franchised out to major corporations. I can see Samsung buying one of the Asian teams; and Toyota buying another. There will be at least one Australian team, and at least one South African team. Europe will have one or two teams; the Brits another. South America will be involved. Each team will have a salary cap (a very large salary cap) and the salaries will be paid by the team owners. This way it won’t just be Saudi funded, and the moral argument disappears. The reality is Greg Norman has a global vision. He is a citizen of the world. Look at his record: 33 wins on the Australasia Tour; 2 wins on the Asia Tour; 2 wins in Japan; 14 wins on the European tour; and 20 PGA wins. Anyone who lives in California knows how Asians and Asian Americans love the game of golf. Yes, the Saudis are bankrolling the start up costs but they too have a financial vision. This is not just sports washing. Eventually they will land a very lucrative streaming deal maybe with Apple and with the team franchise sales, the money will be rolling in. For the PGA Tour, the latest changes are too little and too late. It’s a global economy and the Tour is way behind the curve. Greg Norman and the Saudis have beaten them to the really big international money. All the big stars, and yes, even you, Rory, will eventually be cashing LIV checks.

    1. One more thing – the LPGA. ARAMCO has a strong partnership with the LPGA and therefore it is quite probable that the top women golfers will eventually be integrated into the ten LIV teams. Women’s golf is already much more internationally oriented than the men’s game. For the past two decades the Koreans have dominated the LPGA. Last year the Europeans dominated the Americans on American soil in the Solheim Cup. Look at the leaderboard for this year’s Women’s Open Championship at Muirfield. The first American finished 14th in the tournament. This is just one more indicator that the future of professional golf is global. Deal with it!

  10. I was at Trump Bedminster and give it a 6 out of 10 even though POTUS 45 created a buzz for 3 days.
    Went to LIV Boston 2 days and it was “LIV Golf’s Best Day Ever”.
    Can’t wait for Trump Doral Oct. 27-30 and teams playing for $50 million. 👌

  11. Sarel van der Walt

    From a business/commercial point of view: The PGA Tour’s commercial product is 72 holes over 4 days starting with 144 players on day 1 reducing to about 70 on day 3, etc. Its focus is the US as it is the single biggest golf market in the world, though it has expanded to other parts of north America over time, and to Asia & Europe in the past few years. The success of the PGA Tour has allowed it to start new product lines and/or buy-out struggling competitors in nearby golf markets: PGA Tour Canada, Korn Ferry Tour, PGA Tour LatinoAmerica, PGA Tour Champions, etc. There are other professional golf tours in the world which serve different geographical markets: Europe, Africa, Asia, Australasia, etc. There has been some innovation in the product they offer over time: pro-am events, team events, mixed men-ladies events, etc. Some more successful than others, with even successful ones becoming “stale” over time, or vice versa.

    LIV believes it can unlock commercial value by creating a different professional golf product to the market: 54 holes, 12 teams of 4 players, short gun start, etc. I simply look at LIV is a start-up company, backed up by investors with very deep pockets. I don’t believe the investment funders backing it would invest $2bn+ if the business case they were presented with was not strong. The non-financial benefits may also attract future investors. Indeed, even Tiger and Rory believe their is hidden commercial potential in professional golf. Will LIV succeed? Maybe, maybe not. Certainly, many consumers who is used to the existing PGA Tour product will not change what they buy, but there may be some who is willing to do so. Maybe LIV is able to attract new consumers to golf who never really bought the golf-product offered the PGA Tour. Honestly, mainstream media in the US (CBS, NBC, ESPN, etc.) have invested heavily in the PGA Tour, so their coverage & commentary is necessarily very biased.

    1. Sarel van der Walt

      It is useful to look at other sporting codes. There are purists in cricket who still belief that the original long form of the game (played over 4/5 days for about 7hrs/day), is the only form of cricket that counts. Currently, it is probably only in the UK (where cricket originated) where this long form of the game is not a complete commercial disaster as it is in nearly all other countries. Shorter versions were introduced by business investors to realise the commercial value and pay better salaries: one-day matches (limited to about 8hrs in 1 day) started in Australia in the 1970s which made the game professional for nearly all players. The very short T20 version (played in 3hrs) was started in the 2000s unlocked further commercial value from cricket especially in India making it a multi-billion $ sport today. The original format of cricket is still played, but it is T20 format that sustains the game today.

      And in nearly all professional men’s tennis events on the ATP tour: it is best out of 3 sets with fields often limited to only 64 players, while the grand slams, it is best out of 5 sets and 128-players (plus multiple qualifying rounds). Does it devalue the game of tennis offered by the ATP just because the professional tour shortened it to 3 sets instead of the traditional 5? Also, each tournament on the ATP tour is ranked differently ATP 1000s, ATP 500s, ATP 250s, etc. with the best players in the world competing mostly only in the ATP1000 events and the grand slams.

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