Opinion | LIV Long and Prosper? Probably Not

Opinion | LIV Long and Prosper? Probably Not


Fans watch on the 17th hole during the LIV Golf Invitational Series Chicago in Sugar Grove, Ill., Sept. 18.



Photo:

Brian Spurlock/Zuma Press

The latest battle in the golf-tour wars was fought this weekend in Chicago, where the upstart LIV staged an event featuring shotgun starts, booming music, skills tests for fans, and a growing list of players who have bolted from the straitlaced PGA Tour for what the new circuit calls “Golf, But Louder.”

Phil Mickelson

collected a reported $200 million to join LIV, backed by Saudi Arabia’s $620 billion Public Investment Fund.

Dustin Johnson

and

Bryson DeChambeau

got more than $100 million each. The latest big-name defector, 2022 British Open champ

Cameron Smith,

signed for a similar sum before his LIV debut this month in Boston, where commissioner

Greg Norman

parachuted to the first tee and tossed beers to fans.

The golf establishment had hoped LIV would be on life support by now. Instead it kept making headlines and converts. Last month the PGA Tour announced multimillion-dollar boosts in prize money and a new guaranteed minimum of $500,000 a year for players who stay in the fold. Loyalists including Tiger Woods, who turned down more than $700 million to join LIV, and

Rory McIlroy

are teaming up for “Monday Night Golf.” Such long-overdue innovations might not have happened without pressure from LIV.

Pressure is one thing; “blood money” is another. That is how

Bob Costas

describes LIV’s wealth, charging defectors with helping the Saudi regime “sportswash” its human-rights record. Opponents dubbed LIV the Bonesaw Tour, a reference to Saudi assassins killing journalist

Jamal Khashoggi.

Donald Trump,

who hosted a LIV event at his course in Bedminster, N.J., has predicted an “inevitable” merger between the tours like the National Football League’s absorption of the American Football League in 1970. Mr. Trump could be right, though it bears remembering that he owned the New Jersey Generals of the U.S. Football League, which won an antitrust suit against the NFL and was awarded $3 in damages.

One looming question: Will golf’s major championships blacklist LIV players? That wouldn’t be smart. The Masters bills itself as “a tradition unlike any other.” It backs that claim with an annual Champions Dinner for all living champions. Banning Masters champs who joined LIV would end all that.

It’s also hard to imagine a 2023 U.S. Open or PGA Championship without stars like Mr. Mickelson or Mr. Johnson, or a British Open without its defending champion. They’ll probably tee it up in an uneasy truce with PGA Tour stalwarts. Even so, the majors’ fields will be thinned because LIV golfers don’t earn world-ranking points for play on the new circuit. They’ll have to rely on past performances in the four majors and tours outside LIV, like the DP World Tour.

LIV Golf has given the sport a much-needed shakeup, but its impact is likely to end there. The best comparison is not to the old AFL but to the XFL of

Vince McMahon.

Founded in 2001, the XFL was loud, beery fun at first. It went under for the same reason that will sink LIV Golf in the long run: Nobody cared who won.

Mr. Cook is a former editor of Golf Magazine and author of “Tommy’s Honor” and “Titanic Thompson.”

Wonder Land: As former PGA Tour professionals follow the money to LIV, the new Saudi golf league has the sport talking about scandal, dishonor and murder (06/14/22). Images: AP/AFP/Getty Images/Reuters Composite: Mark Kelly

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Appeared in the September 21, 2022, print edition.



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