This time last year LIV Golf was a week away from its inaugural Invitational Series event near London.
Just 365 days later and the upstart circuit led by Greg Norman and backed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund has re-branded to the LIV Golf League and is already halfway through its 14-event season. While a few new players joined the mix in 2023, the league kept its format of 54-hole, no-cut events that feature team and individual competitions as well as daily shotgun starts amid a festival atmosphere.
As the season-opener at Mayakoba approached earlier this year, we asked a series of questions that needed answers in 2023. As the league takes a month-long break, here’s a look at which questions have been answered and which still need to be addressed.
Answered – Where's the full schedule?
Two months before the season opener only seven of the 14 events had been announced. LIV slowly but surely released the other destinations and kept its word that it would avoid going head-to-head with major championships and steer clear of so-called PGA Tour “heritage events,” such as this week’s Memorial Tournament hosted by Jack Nicklaus (who recently had a few things to say about LIV).
Since its inception, LIV has been smart and calculated with its schedule. The group targeted big weeks to be opposite down weeks on the Tour and have gone to places of the country, and the world, starved for professional golf. That said, while the Australia event was a big step forward, the season finale will be two bigger steps back.
The LIV Golf Team Championship held at Trump National Doral last year was arguably the circuit’s best event of its debut season. Instead of doubling down on the success in Miami, LIV relegated the event to the regular season and will instead return to Saudi Arabia for its Team Championship this year. The lack of fans on site in the Kingdom mixed with the tape-delayed television product will make what could have been an exciting finale into just another golf tournament in Asia that ended while you were sleeping.
Answered – Who's playing, and on what team?
LIV loves its “Golf but Louder” slogan, but the league was quiet over its four-month offseason despite claims of a bustling transfer window where players could move from team to team between the end of the team championship and start of the first event of the next season. In reality, the only big move was Dustin Johnson dropping Talor Gooch and adding Peter Uihlein – a top-three LIV player – to his team just two days after his 4Aces won the $50 million team title.
When LIV finally revealed its 12 rosters just before the season opener, the biggest names to make the jump were Thomas Pieters, Sebastian Munoz and Mito Pereira. While the question was answered, it wasn’t a great one. All three are solid players, but none move the needle.
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LIV needed its big names to step up in 2023 to cover for the lack of cavalry coming, and a few have done so. Brooks Koepka won LIV Golf Orlando before his run at the Masters and win at the PGA Championship. Last year’s individual champion Dustin Johnson recently picked up a win in Tulsa and Cam Smith is currently fourth in the individual season-long standings.
The interest in LIV last year was largely focused on the off-course drama and not the on-course action. Instead of the results, the conversation was dominated by which players were jumping ship and the war of words between players and commissioners. Golf is now in the spotlight, and the stars need to stay center stage.
Answered – Where can fans watch?
Whether you enjoy it or not, LIV proved it has a product after successfully holding eight events in 2022. The goal for 2023 was to commercialize that product, and LIV has the ball rolling with its TV deal on the CW Network and a first global partner in EasyPost.
In addition to the CW and LIV Golf Plus apps, the league is once again streaming its events on YouTube – where it broadcasted all eight events in 2022 for free – but this time for a fee.
Looking ahead, viewership may appear among the questions that need answers in 2024. LIV Golf reported 3.2 million total viewers for its opening event but has since stopped publicly reporting its viewership following some less-than-stellar industry numbers.
Unanswered – Who’s calling the shots?
Former Chief Operating Officer Atul Khosla, an experienced executive in the realm of professional sports, left in the offseason at a crucial time in LIV’s development. Norman, who has been quiet by his standards so far this season compared to last, then gained a more elevated role when Majed Al-Sorour, CEO of the Golf Saudi Federation, left his position as LIV Golf’s managing director. Court filings in the antitrust case with the PGA Tour have pointed to PIF governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan having a large say with LIV, as well.
Whether it’s the folks writing the checks in Saudi Arabia, the brains of the operation behind the scenes at Performance 54 or Norman’s team in West Palm Beach, Florida, there appearto be a few too many cooks in the kitchen.
Unanswered – Where do we stand with LIV and OWGR points?
A player’s Official World Golf Ranking is key for access to major championships. LIV Golf events currently do not receive OWGR points. The circuit applied last July and is awaiting word as part of an application process that can take up to, and even more than, a year.
Late last year the OWGR announced a Mexican golf tour with 54-hole events would start to receive OWGR points in 2023 after a 16-month process, and noted the tour’s inclusion of a 36-hole cut and open qualifying. While LIV’s format doesn’t include a cut, the introduction of its promotion-relegation system later this year would be a step in the right direction.
Despite shortcomings in the criteria, LIV believes it deserves points and even formed a “strategic alliance” with the developmental MENA Tour in an attempt to force the OWGR’s hand.
Players are plummeting in the rankings and may have to resort to playing Asian Tour events on LIV off weeks to slow their descent or win major championships like Koepka, who jumped into the top 15 from outside the top 50 with his PGA Championship victory. Only four players are currently inside the top 50 of the OWGR: Cam Smith (9), Koepka (14), Joaquin Niemann (31) and Abraham Ancer (49).
Unanswered – And what about the lawsuits?
In August of 2022, Phil Mickelson filed the original antitrust lawsuit against the PGA Tour that went on to include 10 other players, but has since been taken over by LIV Golf. The Tour then filed a countersuit against LIV and in included the PIF and Al-Rumayyan as defendants, dragging LIV’s financiers deeper into the judicial weeds.
A judge in the U.S. Northern District of California court then ruled the PIF and Al-Rumayyan were both subject to discovery and depositions in the United States, a major blow to LIV’s legal team. However, LIV recently picked up a rare win in the case.
LIV’s lawyers appealed the discovery decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in order to further delay the discovery process, and last month a judge ruled the PIF and Al-Rumayyan won’t have to comply with discovery until the appeal process is complete, a decision that could take 1-2 years according to Jodi Balsam, a professor at Brooklyn Law School and former counsel for the NFL.
For now, we’re forced to wait.