Players, fans, the PGA Tour and more: The winners and losers from LIV Golf’s first year

Believe it or not, just 143 days passed between LIV Golf’s first event outside London and its eighth last week at the season-finale team championship in Miami.

The upstart circuit led by Greg Norman and backed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund has dominated much of the conversation surrounding the world of golf this year, and will likely continue to do so. Despite a three-month offseason between now and when the yet-to-be-released 2023 schedule is slated to start in February, there will still be plenty to talk about from the ongoing court cases to future player movement.

But for now, let’s take a look back at the biggest winners and losers from LIV Golf’s inaugural year.

Winner – Fans looking for something new

LIV Golf Portland
LIV Golf Portland

Fans make their way through the main gate during the second round of the LIV Golf tournament at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club. (Photo: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports)

Whether you enjoy it or not, LIV Golf offers something new to the traditional 72-hole stroke play tournaments that fans see week-to-week on various tours. There’s a market for the soon-to-be-league, it just depends on what you want from a golf tournament.

If you’re a golf fan who loves the game for history and competition, these events may not be for you. But if you’re a fringe golf or general sports fan who loves festivals and fanfare, you may be interested.

There’s music playing throughout the day and plenty of options in the fan village to keep your attention if the on-course action isn’t doing it, such as varying food and drink options (Greg Norman’s alcohol brand, included), a kids zone, golf activities ranging from putting and chipping challenges to mini golf and even a performance center loaded with multiple digital hitting bays and video games.

You almost forget you’re at a golf tournament.

Loser – Golf fans in general

2022 LIV Golf London
2022 LIV Golf London

Golf fans at the LIV Golf Invitational at The Centurion Club on June 09, 2022, in St Albans, England. (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)

During a presentation of the league model for 2023 with select members of the media, LIV officials repeatedly mentioned how they wanted to be additive to the professional golf scene. Instead, the circuit’s creation started a chain reaction of events that has left the game fractured with fans and players each taking sides.

Rory McIlroy, who has been on the figurative front lines from the start on the side of the PGA Tour, said in a recent interview that the “us versus them” situation has gotten out of control, and he’s spot on.

“If the two entities keep doubling down in both directions, it is only going to become irreparable,” McIlroy told the Guardian. “We are going to have a fractured sport for a long time. That is no good for anyone.”


Winner – LIV players

LIV Golf Bedminster
LIV Golf Bedminster

The 4 Aces (Talor Gooch, Pat Perez, Patrick Reed and Dustin Johnson) celebrate after finishing in first place at the LIV Golf tournament at Trump National Golf Club Bedminster. (Photo: John Jones-USA TODAY Sports)

During just the regular season, of the 68 players to tee it up, a whopping 48 players made more than $1 million, with 15 making more than $4 million over LIV’s first seven events. Dustin Johnson, LIV’s inaugural regular-season champion, blew away the field thanks to $10,575,267 in individual earnings for a $13,637,767 total with his 4Aces team prizes included.

That’s without last week’s team championship money, where the payouts ranged from $1 million to the four teams who lost in the quarterfinals to the $16 million paid out to Johnson’s victorious 4Aces.

Getting paid more to work less is a massive win, but more on that to come.

Loser – LIV players

LIV Golf Bedminster
LIV Golf Bedminster

Former President Donald Trump with Bryson DeChambeau during the LIV Golf Bedminster pro-am. at Trump National in Bedminster, N.J., on July 28, 2022. (Photo: The Record)

You can’t talk about LIV Golf for very long without talking about the money and its controversial source. With Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund as its sole funder, LIV Golf has long been criticized as a way for the Kingdom to sportswash its human rights record. Saudi Arabia has been accused of wide-ranging human rights abuses, including politically motivated killings, torture, forced disappearances and inhumane treatment of prisoners. Not to mention members of the royal family and Saudi government were accused of involvement in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist.

When players left the PGA and DP World tours to join the breakaway, they did so knowing their reputations may take a hit. They knew they would compromise their chances to compete in not only team competitions like the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup, but also the majors due to LIV events lacking OWGR points. Harold Varner III was one of the few to be honest and rational about the situation.

“For me, I think we knew what we were getting into. I think it’s easy to sit here and say what could happen, what should happen. But obviously, for me, I knew what was going to happen,” said Varner, who’s known to tell it like it is. “I knew exactly what was going to happen. I knew what could happen in my career and I accept that.”

Players have lost a lot, from sponsors to the chance to etch their name into the game’s history, but that’s what the big money is supposed to make up for.

Winner – LIV caddies

2022 LIV Golf Boston
2022 LIV Golf Boston

Dustin Johnson and his caddie celebrate after making a putt to win the 2022 LIV Golf Invitational Boston after the final round playoff hole of the LIV Golf tournament at The International. (Photo: Richard Cashin/USA TODAY Sports)

The players get bigger paydays with LIV Golf, which means the caddies do, as well. Those who carried the bag during LIV’s first year also said they felt more like part of the team, a dynamic the league concept is founded on. Not only is it a more relaxed vibe, but caddies can go to player dining with their bosses, and their travel expenses are also covered (this year by LIV, next year by the teams themselves).

“They make you really feel like you’re just another player, which is awesome,” said Mike Hartford, longtime caddie for Pat Perez dating back to 2002.

Each caddie still wants to win and give their player the proper yardage and advice, but no cut and a guaranteed $120,000 to last place certainly lessens the pressure and makes for a more enjoyable walk. That’s a win.

Loser – The broadcast

David Feherty
David Feherty

Analyst David Feherty, shown here on the 18th during the final round of the 2018 Dell Technologies Championship at TPC Boston in Norton, Massachusetts, signed on late for LIV Golf. (Photo: Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via AP Images)

LIV had 20 international partners to broadcast events in 160 different countries, but failed to secure a domestic TV deal in the United States. Instead, American viewers streamed the series on YouTube and LIV’s website.

One of the biggest issues golf fans in the states have with PGA Tour broadcasts is the oversized commercial load and lack of golf actually shown. With zero commercials on the live stream – aside from some in-house LIV promotion – and 48 players all on the course at one time, it was easy for LIV to succeed in that sense. Viewers saw a lot of golf, and the power of the PIF was shown with how quick LIV was able to create a solid visual production.

That said, the broadcast talent, for lack of a better word, fell woefully short. Arlo White’s super-enthused exclamations failed to match the scenes on camera and the overdramatized calls were straight up disingenuous. Jerry Foltz didn’t add much flavor, either. Fan-favorite David Feherty joined late, but wasn’t able to fill the massive holes in the commentary booth. Fairway Feherty might need to pick up the gear again in 2023, because while Bubba Watson had his moments later in the year, this blunder summed up the season for the awkward group of on-course reporters that included Dom Boulet, Su-Ann Heng and Troy Mullins.

Last month, Golfweek reported LIV Golf was nearing a deal to purchase air time for its tournaments with Fox Sports 1. The yet-to-be-finalized deal would have LIV pay for not only the time slot, but also the production cost. LIV called the report “incomplete and inaccurate” at the time, but when specifically asked at the team championship if LIV would be open to paying for tournaments to be aired, COO Atul Khosla didn’t reject the idea.

Winner – Team golf

LIV Golf Jeddah
LIV Golf Jeddah

Brooks Koepka celebrates on the podium with his team following his playoff win in the LIV Golf Invitational-Jeddah at the Royal Greens Golf Club on October 16, 2022. (Photo: Amer Hilabi/AFP via Getty Images)

LIV hasn’t figured it out yet, but the team championship proved that team golf can deliver. You couldn’t have asked for a better ending in Miami: polarizing Patrick Reed made a late birdie to give his team the lead, leaving Dustin Johnson and Cameron Smith to play for $16 million on the final hole.

Sure, most of the matches in the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds were absolute duds that weren’t worth calling up the YouTube stream, but the big names carried the weight. Whether it was Phil Mickelson and Smith going to the final hole in the quarters or Bryson DeChambeau’s collapse on the 23rd hole against Louis Oosthuizen, each day provided late drama.

The regular season events and team rosters still need some fine-tuning, but there’s something to be said for the unique team championship format.

Loser – PGA Tour

PGA Tour logo
PGA Tour logo

A PGA Tour sign is displayed near the tee box on the 13th hole ahead of the 3M Open on July 21, 2021, in Blaine, Minnesota. (Photo: David Berding/Getty Images)

They lost some of the best players with Johnson and Smith taking their talents to LIV. Future international stars like Joaquin Niemann walked out the door, same with DeChambeau, Mickelson, and Brooks Koepka, who all boast their own unique following.

Hindsight is always 20/20, but PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan probably should have taken the Saudi circuit more seriously in the early stages. Monahan had his reasons for ignoring LIV early on. Maybe he didn’t want to legitimize the series. Perhaps he was afraid simply speaking with LIV would ruffle the feathers of sponsors (as we’ve seen with players who have joined). We’ll probably find all that out in a tell-all book down the line. No matter what he or the Tour did, LIV was always going to offer insane amounts of money that would most likely still have attracted some of the aforementioned names. But maybe not all.

His statements of “the PGA Tour is moving on,” in reference to LIV and “we are and we always will be focused on legacy, not leverage,” in reference to Mickelson at the Players Championship sounded good in the moment, but may not age well with time.

Winner – PGA Tour players

2022 CJ Cup
2022 CJ Cup

Max Homa waits his turn on the 18th green during the first round of THE CJ CUP in South Carolina. Mandatory Credit: David Yeazell-USA TODAY Sports

Mickelson said in February that the PGA Tour was obnoxiously greedy, and then he told the Fire Pit Collective’s Alan Shipnuck – who wrote a book on Mickelson – that the Saudis were “scary mother(expletive) to get involved with,” and downplayed the murder of Washington Post reporter and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi and the Kingdom’s deplorable human rights record because he saw a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour operates.”

The PGA Tour has since announced sweeping changes to its schedule and will funnel more money to players. While some may parade this as validation for Mickelson’s words and efforts, the PGA Tour has incrementally increased purses over the years. It’s smart business to slowly move money and not wildly spend in case of emergencies, like global pandemics and antitrust lawsuits.

While many PGA Tour mainstays have left for LIV’s money-green pastures, their absence opens up spots for future stars to shine. The top players who stayed will also reap the benefits of elevated events and enhanced incentives. Win-win.

Loser – Phil Mickelson

LIV Golf Miami
LIV Golf Miami

Phil Mickelson looks off the ninth tee during the first round of the season finale of the LIV Golf series at Trump National Doral. (Photo: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports)

Mickelson still had one of the bigger crowds at each LIV event (despite his poor form) but talk about taking two steps forward and three steps back. Less than a year and a half ago Lefty became the oldest major champion in the history of the sport with his win at 51 years old at the 2021 PGA Championship. He was riding high. The fans were all in on his calves and coffee and bombs off the tee. Then he made those incendiary comments.

The backlash that followed forced Mickelson into a self-imposed four-month hiatus before he returned to the game at LIV’s first event outside London. For most of the year, Mickelson was a shell of his former self, on and off the course. He struggled to find his game in the 48-player, 54-hole, no-cut LIV events, finishing inside the top 20 just twice (in two of his last three events), with finishes of T-33 or worse in his other five starts. He also missed the cut at both the U.S. Open and British Open.

Despite a turbulent year, Mickelson looked to the future after being eliminated early at LIV’s team championship and praised how far the upstart circuit had come over the last eight months.

LIV Golf Miami
LIV Golf Miami

Phil Mickelson looks off the ninth tee during the first round of the season finale of the LIV Golf series at Trump National Doral. (Photo: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports)

“I’m pretty surprised at how far LIV has come because there was a lot of uncertainty, like who would play in London,” said Mickelson. “You look at the strength of the league now and you have a lot of really strong players and you have a lot of really strong characters in the game.”

Players and characters, he said. Another poor year on the course and Lefty is in danger of becoming more of the latter than the former.

Winner – Greg Norman

Managing Director of LIV Golf Majed Al Sorour and Greg Norman, LIV Golf commissioner acknowledge the crowd during the award presentation ceremony after the LIV Golf Invitational – Portland at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club on July 02, 2022, in North Plains, Oregon. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

A two-time Open champion and 20-time winner on Tour, Norman’s company has been involved in various ventures since his playing days, from course design to apparel and alcohol. His shirts are still being worn at PGA Tour events, despite the fact the former world No. 1 has been at odds with the Tour even before LIV, dating back to his failed attempt to create a world golf tour in 1994.

“He has basically found people to fund his vendetta against the PGA Tour,” said McIlroy to the Guardian on Norman. “I think he hides behind ‘force for good’ and all that stuff. … This has been his dream for 30 years, and he has finally found people who can fund that dream.”

LIV has put Norman’s name back in the spotlight, and that’s precisely where he wants to be. Backlash be damned, that’s a win in his book and wallet.

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek