A new-look LIV Golf is coming. Here are the 5 biggest changes
From the podium at LIV London, the first-ever event hosted by the upstart league, commissioner and CEO Greg Norman peered out to the crowd and bellowed a promise.
“Free agency is finally coming to golf,” he said.
The fans rumbled with raucous applause. The players looked on excitedly. But Norman, it seemed, had forgotten one key thing: free agency hadn’t come to golf. Not yet at least.
For the first 18ish months of LIV’s existence, the league operated its roster management largely under a cloud of secrecy. Some players changed teams (Matthew Wolff was a notable switchover) and others suffered relegation, but most of those changes happened quietly. There was no formalized process for the offseason and, perhaps most concerning for the folks around LIV, no buzz.
This struck many close to the league as strange. Free agency had been the first words out of Norman’s mouth as the league’s commissioner, but the league’s promises of a Formula 1 or NBA-adjacent offseason filled with high-profile roster moves had fallen flat. LIV had brought the idea of free agency more informally to golf by creating a bidding war for many of the PGA Tour’s top players, but it had fallen well short of creating the kind of self-sustaining intrigue that would be crucial to its long-term success.
And then came Wednesday morning.
The announcement from LIV arrived early, and the headline revealed all: “LIV Golf announces sport’s first-ever transfer window.” A glance further down the press release revealed what Norman had been teasing all along: free agency had finally arrived to professional golf … two years late.
Of course, the news was hardly a surprise: LIV had been teasing these precise changes since the first hours of its existence. But it marked a significant development for the league as it turns its attention toward the 2024 season. So without further pretense, let’s outline the changes coming to LIV Golf, and provide a little bit of background about what they all mean.
5 changes coming to LIV
1. The play-in tournament
Yes, LIV is landing a play-in tournament. From December 8-10 in Abu Dhabi, golfers will compete in “LIV Golf Promotions,” a 36-hole tournament with a $1.5 million purse and three coveted exemptions into next year’s LIV season.
The tournament won’t do much to fight against the OWGR’s contention that LIV doesn’t have enough opportunities for promotion and relegation, but it will provide some golfers with the opportunity to join the big tour straight off the street.
2. The re-sign period
At the end of each season, LIV will stratify its players on expiring contracts into three “zones”: The “lock zone,” the “open zone” and the “drop zone.”
You can think of those in the “lock zone” — given only to the league’s top 24 finishers — as restricted free agents. These players are guaranteed a contract extension offer from their current franchise, and can choose whether to re-sign or to reject that offer and enter free agency.
Each year, LIV’s free agency will begin with a negotiation period where members of the “lock zone” are permitted only to speak with their own franchise.
Those who finish 45th and worse find themselves in the “drop zone,” for players who have been relegated from the league. This group is given an automatic bid into the play-in tournament, but is not a guarantee to have any future with LIV.
3. Free Agency
After the re-sign period ends, it’s open season for LIV Golf.
Unsigned members of the “lock zone” and members of the “open zone” — who finish from 25-44 — now become unrestricted free agents. These players are free to sign with whichever team they wish.
Notably, these rules leave open the possibility that LIV will sign additional pros from other pro golf tours, like the PGA Tour. Such signings would result in members of the “open zone” losing out on their roster spots in the league.
Should none of those signings happen, however, the only material difference between the “open zone” and the “lock zone” is an assured re-sign bid.
LIV will now allow in-season trading, opening a window in which teams will be permitted to trade players and negotiate contract extensions.
This window arrives in the wake of Brooks Koepka and teammate Matthew Wolff’s very public falling out during the course of the 2023 season. Under the new rules, Koepka would be able to trade Wolff to a different franchise before the season ended.
5. The draft
It won’t be quite as high-profile as LIV’s franchise-forming draft way back at LIV London 2022, but LIV will now host a draft in which the top-3 finishers in the play-in tournament and the winner of the Asian Tour’s International Series Order of Merit will find themselves plucked by LIV franchises for the season ahead.
As with everything else, an idea is only as good as its execution. The changes outlined by LIV on Wednesday offer a glimpse into a solidified vision for the league that’s been promised since the beginning, and while they have plenty of potential, they’re also rife with risk.
The play-in tournament could add some wattage to the LIV lineup, but the intrigue around the tournament will likely be tied to the quality of the field, which remains a mystery. The trade period could produce the sort of high-octane blockbuster that annually ignites the offseason of the five major American sports, but that’s assuming anyone of note gets traded, or that anyone is attached enough to the existing rosters to care at all. The draft could be great, but it depends on who emerges through the play-in field. And all that is to say nothing of the free agency period, which won’t matter if it lands like a game of musical chairs.
Tiger Woods was quoted on Tuesday offering a rare criticism of LIV, saying he “couldn’t figure out what the hell was going on” when he tuned in for the first time. Of course, Woods is incentivized to say that, given his long-time partnership with the PGA Tour and the launch of his own new golf league, the TGL. But his words belie a deeper issue for LIV: far too many members of the golf world can say the same.
The good news for the upstarts is that these new ideas represent a legitimate action plan to attack those concerns. But will they come to mean anything? Ultimately, the fans will be the judge.