If you follow professional golf, you’ll already know a lot about the schism in the sport. The ‘rebel’ LIV Tour has poached some of the world’s top golfers, and the PGA and some fellow professionals aren’t happy about it. The LIV Tour has started off in a relatively low-key fashion. Would a casual golf fan be able to tell you the winner of the inaugural LIV tournament in London? It was Charl Schwartzel, if you were wondering. Fellow South African Branden Grace leads the tour in earnings.
But the interesting aspect of LIV Golf is not where it is now, but where it is going. We saw recently that Cameron Smith refused to rule out playing with the rebels. Auspiciously, Smith made the announcement after winning The Open at “the home of golf”, St Andrews. That would have given the traditionalists pause for thought.
More of the top players joining
And yet, we wonder if LIV Golf will reach a tipping point. That is to say, if it will reach a point where more of the world’s best players are considered rebels than loyal to the PGA and other tours. There is evidence, of course, that LIV Golf is quickly gaining traction. At the inaugural tournament, four of the world’s top 25 golfers played, and just eight in the top 100 overall. At the third tournament at Trump Bedminster in New Jersey, the field features ten players from the top 50, and 21 of the top 100. That’s over 20% of the world’s top golfers.
Still, there is a long way to go. If you look at the US Open golf odds for 2023, almost all of the betting market leaders are, as it stands, PGA loyalists. Cameron Smith is the only player in the top 14 players in the betting markets for that event who has expressed a vocal interest in joining LIV. Many of the rest, including Rory McIlroy, have been openly critical of LIV.
As we know, money talks. And while some players have resisted the temptation of joining LIV so far, it won’t be that way forever. The more exposure LIV gets, the more mainstream it becomes. And if the likes of Dustin Johnson can play LIV one week, and return for a Major the next, other players will ask, why not me?
LIV looking at other types of talent
Perhaps what has been overlooked by the sports media of late is the fact that LIV is trying to attract other types of talent, not just golfers. For instance, the tour is currently hunting the services of Charles Barkley, the popular NBA broadcaster. LIV has also recently acquired the services of David Feherty, the face of NBC’s golf broadcasts. It’s clear LIV is going for the full package. There are questions about television viewership. We have seen reports of how the numbers have “tanked” in the first few tournaments. But the backers of the tour will be patient, and they have the money to back up that sentiment.
But this is a marathon, not a sprint. And LIV is just a couple of months old. It might take years for it to challenge golf’s incumbent organizations, but the tipping point will come if it continues on this trajectory. The question is not whether LIV will challenge the PGA and other tours, but whether the sense of acrimony will remain. We just don’t have an answer for that yet.