LIV Golf’s Competition Problem Could Harm Its Growth

LIV Golf, Bedminster,(Photo by Jared C. Tilton/LIV Golf via Getty Images)
LIV Golf, Bedminster,(Photo by Jared C. Tilton/LIV Golf via Getty Images) /

The headline is certainly not a commentary on the quality of golfer playing on the LIV Tour. Many of them are superstars. Most are champions.

The caliber of golf, on its own, should be second to none with names like Johnson, DeChambeau, Na, Gooch (and probably Smith) teeing off every tournament. Not to mention towering figures like Mickelson and Garcia in the mix.

No, the golf itself is not in question. Rather, LIV’s problem is structural.

What are these top-tier athletes playing for? Cynics would answer “money.” They wouldn’t be wrong. But if that’s it, that’s the end game, then the LIV Tour experiment could be short-lived.

It’d be like watching exhibition games between Bayern Munich and Manchester City in various stadiums across the country with no end. No one argues how great these soccer players are, but without anything to play for, the value of the sport diminishes. It’s fun and entertaining (for a bit), but it loses its luster quickly.

The absence of any stakes, ranking, or championship completely undermines the competition that exists on the tour. The golf world watched on pins and needles this past weekend as Will Zalatoris removed the five-hundred-pound gorilla from his back, winning his first PGA Tour event in dramatic fashion.

Such drama and excitement only come when the players recognize what they’re playing for. And the recent revelations from the LIV lawsuit against the PGA, where lawyers admitted that the weekly winnings count against their signing bonuses further undercuts whatever competitive motivation exists on the LIV Tour.

Now, LIV does several things well. The shotgun starts, for instance, reduce the variance from weather conditions, since all players are starting at the same time. The limited number of events keeps interest centered around the superstars in a way that a run-of-the-mill PGA Tour event struggles to achieve.

LIV’s model is built around assuming every event can operate like the Waste Management Phoenix Open or the Players Championship—strong fields in a rowdy atmosphere. Moreover, the LIV Tour’s team format is a nice idea that breaks up the monotony of strokes-based tournaments forty times a season; though they still have some work to do to make it interesting.

Despite these innovative changes to professional golf, LIV needs to do something to raise the stakes and push its players to bring the intensity and competitive spirit that we see on the PGA Tour, at major championships, or in the Ryder Cup.

Otherwise, LIV amounts to nothing more than exhibition golf.

It’s fun for a time (and lucrative), but if the players aren’t bought into the competition, how can the fans make that investment?

Right now, the only “ranking” that exists to measure the best LIV golfers is money. Ironic, yes. But certainly not a long-term means to measure player performance. And its current approach to a “championship” is loading up the purse ($50m compared to $5m) at the final event of the season for the winning team.

It’s innovative in the sense that it operates like a knockout-style tournament, but this final event begs the question: What were the previous seven events building toward? There’s no cumulative scoring, no benefit for wins during the season.

LIV needs to measure performance through the year in a way that makes fans want to tune in (when they’re able to) to the mid-season events.

Next. Cam Smith Shows his Cards. dark

LIV will fail if it can’t quickly figure out how to make fans care about the Tour (beyond the initial novelty).

All the money in the world may buy players away from the PGA, but it can’t buy fan excitement and competitive golf.