DORAL, Fla. — To truly understand LIV Golf requires some time. How much do you have?
There’s the aspect of a steal. Years ago something called the Premier Golf League began as an idea, with an 18-event schedule for about 50 of the best players in the world built into 4-player teams. For those new to this circuit — no, the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Investments did not create this format on their own. But they did bankroll it, and they did it first.
There’s the aspect of golf’s splintered ecosystem. What was once a straightforward pyramid looks more and more like a Rubik’s cube. LIV and the PGA Tour are suing each other. Augusta National has produced paperwork for the U.S. Department of Justice and that wouldn’t happen in any other year. The DP World Tour might need to find comfort being the little brother. Many toes have been stepped on.
There’s the aspect of this week alone, the team championship that every LIV staffer has been oh, so excited about all season long. And with pretty good reason, we can now understand. This is, on its own, a golf tournament unlike any we’ve seen across the world. Uniqueness is rare these days. And Friday’s quarterfinal matches provided at least one upset. We like that in other sports.
Whether golf fans enjoy LIV Golf beyond this debut season will depend on additional examples like that — the stuff we enjoy from other sports. Harold Varner III provided a touch of it Friday afternoon after beating Brooks Koepka 4 and 3. The rest of his team lost their matches and Varner wasn’t thrilled. His big-money sweepstakes was over.
“I didn’t really like how [James] Piot handled himself,” Varner said, his normal pep beaten out of him by defeat. “I think no matter if you’re losing, you keep your head up and just take in on the chin.”
It sounds like Piot didn’t do that. Inner-team turmoil! We haven’t seen it yet at LIV, this band of brothers who left the PGA Tour for bundles of cash and started talking in nearly-scripted unison. It’s turmoil of the tiniest variety, to be sure, but a sliver of the same kind of disappointment the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are feeling these days. That’s something we don’t see in golf.
The exaggerated marketing of LIV Golf relentlessly promised just that: something we don’t see in golf. But at its core it all feels mostly the same. The fewest strokes win here and on the PGA Tour and everywhere else. During LIV’s first seven events, the team component has hovered in the background simply as a bonus pool of extra dough. If only a handful of players are actually wearing their team logos, how strong is their allegiance to these brands? The same brands that rostered different names from week to week. The same brands that … might get tossed out the window next season. LIV Golf adjusts everything, it seems.
The actual golf was different Friday, in form if nothing else. There were make-it-or-your-season-is-over putts. There were crucial matches won on the final hole. There was a legitimate battle between Phil Mickelson and Cam Smith that you’d tune into every single time had it happened during the match-play events of the past. But more than anything, there was a cut. LIV Golf’s first time sending players home before Sunday. And what do you know, it produced a bit of strife.
See, LIV? Cuts aren’t so bad! This one helped trim the fat.
Poking holes through LIV’s product has been as simple as scrolling down the leaderboard. Cameron Smith and Dustin Johnson look nice up top, but the bottom half has always lacked juice. Hudson Swafford has won on the PGA Tour, but has plummeted outside the top 300 in the world, according to DataGolf. LIV mainstays like Piot, Scott Vincent, Phil Mickelson, Jed Morgan — we need not list them all — would all join Swafford outside the top 300 too. All those boys saw their season end Friday.
What LIV has left is the cream of its crop. Johnson and Koepka and DeChambeau and Garcia and the Open Champion of the Year and the British Majesticks and the South African Stingers. That’s what the hundreds of millions in guaranteed money has been for: engineering a provocative sprint to the finish, with every single shot counting Sunday afternoon. By the time their offseason begins on Monday, we won’t know if it’ll all have been worth it. But we will have have a lot more to talk about.