Pro golfers taking a leap from the well-established PGA tour to a new startup, the LIV golf invitational series, should rightfully try and secure their future but their decision to switch does not allow them to be free of criticism and questions.
Players who make the jump say it is because of the lighter schedule as fewer events and rounds are played to attain the life-changing money they feel they cannot pass up. For golf fans, the most egregious answer being given is from players who think they are "growing the game."
How taxing can a lengthy schedule for older players like 52-year-old Phil Mickelson be considered rational, despite the PGA's Champions tour for previous champions and veteran members? The path to making it onto the PGA tour is a grind. Receiving a tour card allows players to play in any tour event. Even then, there are few paths a player can take. The odds of making it are similar to winning the lottery.
With its lighter schedule and different format, LIV Golf is not professional golf according to the fifth-ranked player in the world, Jon Rahm. For him, the money is already there and is secondary to his competitiveness.
"Truth be told, I could retire right now with what I've made and live a very happy life and not play golf again. So I've never really played the game of golf for monetary reasons. I play for the love of the game, and I want to play against the best in the world," Rahm told Golf Magazine.
Undoubtingly, not every player plays with the fire and passion of Rahm. So, the opportunity to entertain even the idea of such a lucrative tour is understandable. Tiger Woods has inspired an entire generation and a wave of great young players, from Jordan Spieth to Justin Thomas.
These players are now reaping the benefits of Woods popularizing the sport to the point where they can outearn him on a year's money list in less successful seasons measured by victories. This season alone is incomplete; Scottie Scheffler tops the list at $13.1 million, winning four PGA events. In a year that Vijay Singh won nine PGA tour events, he held the record for money in the era of Tiger's prime at $9.8 million. That is growing the game and the pot through winning at the highest level.
The PGA tour is not perfect, and fans who are either bored by golf due to its long technical nature or seeking a more entertaining version of the sport will check out LIV and may even like it. However, despite its imperfections, the PGA has something that LIV does not: its history, which had a dark past that would not allow Bill Spiller to play due to its Caucasians-only policy. Charlie Sifford, the first African American to play on the PGA tour would not do so until 1961.
As the legal battle rages on to legitimize the LIV tour, the Department of Justice has begun investigating the PGA tour as it vies for its existence. Despite the PGA's imperfections, it is well known that the Saudi government financially backs LIV as its interest in the sport has risen over the past few years, an attempt at "sportswashing" or distracting attention away from government abuses and violations through sports.
As a fan of golf and someone who has volunteered at and attended local PGA tour events, I recognize the ways in which the sport can improve. Similarly, a sport that I am also a fan of and that many consider long and tedious, baseball has addressed ways to fix the pace of play and make more entertaining broadcasts. Although the PGA has not been as quick to respond to viewers' complaints, I am optimistic that with the pressure being applied to them, they will adapt.
A few weeks ago, I could not imagine that LIV could exist, even with the players poached from the PGA. Its broadcast is only on YouTube and the LIV Golf website, as they do not have a significant broadcast deal.
The broadcast format is different for me as a lifelong golf fan and it did not appeal to me until they went after the wildly popular and entertaining Charles Barkley.
Even though Barkley is not a golf analyst, capturing an analyst to pair with former NBC golf broadcaster David Feherty could have given them the credibility to pop up on a channel within most cable subscriptions, as the PGA already is.
The league was unable to secure Barkley. However, if that is the direction they plan to go, I could see them creating an entertaining but not competitive product that could coexist with the PGA.
All in all, I come back to one factor in LIV Golf's potential success: its longevity. Sure, the players are earning loads of guaranteed money up front, money that will hopefully secure their families' futures for generations to come. Although, it has not seemed to make a competitive version of Mickelson. But after all of the Saudi investment, will it be able to secure a broadcast deal and make a profit eventually? And if it does not, where will these now polarized golf figures end up?
That is why no one wants to hear about what good it is for the game. No one knows what LIV is or how it is doing. When its players are asked about it, they become defensive as if they do not have much faith either. Mickelson points to international and intergenerational growth, both good areas of development that the PGA has strived to attain. I cannot entirely agree that there is no growth in both regions; golf is more competitive now than ever, with many young stars worldwide.
Only time will tell if it all works out. In the meantime, players in the LIV circuit play in tournaments that do not count toward their official world golf rankings, which helps determine who plays in majors and other high-profile PGA events. A sacrifice they must feel is worth it in the long run because there is no guarantee that the tournaments will become recognized.
LIV players are allowed to make their own decisions for their professional careers. However, I would appreciate transparency regarding why players are making the switch from the PGA tour. If they did it for the money, they should be honest about it. If they believe this is the tour they will eventually retire on, why? Otherwise, I am not interested in tuning in as a golf fan who recognizes that the PGA is better geared toward me.
- Dillon Strine is a journalism senior
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