LIV Golf just had a dream week. Here’s what that could mean | Monday Finish
Welcome back to the Monday Finish, the column that never gets rained out. Let’s get to the news!
LIV GOLF’S DREAM WEEK
It might not mean what you think.
When LIV first announced its schedule for the 2024 season, I was shocked to see its debut event put up against the PGA Tour’s Signature Event at Pebble Beach. It seemed like a huge gamble — and likely a mistake. Relatively few people would watch the Mayakoba event when set against the game’s most competitive field at one of its most storied venues.
But then came the rain. And the wind. And the delay. And the Sunday cancelation. You could argue it’s a mistake to play Pebble Beach in early Feb. You could argue it’s unlucky the Tour had its first 54-hole finish in eight years. You could wonder if somehow LIV had enough money in its coffers to order up a monsoon. Whatever the reason, the controversial league ended up with a dream start to its 2024 season.
It’s hard to overstate just how many things broke right for LIV on Sunday. But let’s try to count a few of ’em:
There was suddenly no PGA Tour event to compete with (1), but PGA Tour fans had been planning on some afternoon golf viewing (2), leaving them primed, ready and able to flip to LIV. There was no LPGA event (3), either, eliminating Golf Channel as a landing spot for alternate live tournament action. As time has gone on and the PGA Tour and LIV have broached the idea of a future together, some fans have become more open-minded to the idea of watching LIV (4) — or resigned to the idea that it’ll be part of pro golf’s future (5). There also was no NFL football for the first Sunday since early September (6), leaving sports fans jonesing for something. With LIV’s continued signings and improved depth, there was an excellent chance for a compelling leaderboard — but this went well even by those standards. With two holes to play, the trio of Sergio Garcia, Joaquin Niemann and blockbuster signee Jon Rahm were all tied (7), with the former two ultimately heading to a sudden-death playoff (8) that finished in the darkness, stretching LIV’s TV window toward primetime (9) as Niemann putted for the win, illuminated by the greenside scoreboard on 18. There have been LIV highlights before now — think Bryson DeChambeau’s 58 or Dustin Johnson‘s playoff win — but this felt like the first time LIV had a real moment all to itself (10). I’m not saying everyone who tuned in loved it. But yeah. It was a good week for LIV.
It was a rough week for the PGA Tour, too. This was an event the circuit had circled on its calendar for months, leaning into the idea of its best players in contention on a football-free Sunday in primetime at one of the most iconic golf courses in the world. This was also the week the Tour announced its deal with the Strategic Sports Group (SSG), providing its top players with league equity and its new for-profit enterprise with $1.5 billion, with another $1.5b promised later. It seemed like a chance to reward its players, cement plans for the future and dunk on LIV in the process. But then it wasn’t.
So — now what?
The dominant reaction I saw in the wake of Sunday’s action was a renewed call for the two sides to come together. I get that thinking. More people watching LIV means more people reminded what the PGA Tour has lost with Niemann, Garcia, Rahm off to play elsewhere — not to mention Brooks Koepka, Cameron Smith, Johnson, DeChambeau and others.
But I’d argue this week made quick compromise less likely, if anything.
In the offseason LIV and the PGA Tour weren’t necessarily on the same page but their trains were parked in the same station. Now? The PGA Tour is headed northeast and LIV is headed northwest and they’re each picking up speed, getting further apart every minute. LIV just got its best indication yet that it has tapped into something. The PGA Tour just secured enough funding that they feel no urgency to compromise. Playing chicken with the Saudi Public Investment Fund is a risky maneuver. But getting into business with the PIF is no guarantee of victory, either.
There are still plenty of reasons a compromise could happen. The PGA Tour doesn’t want that game of chicken. The PIF could still benefit tremendously from association with the PGA Tour. The SSG investors may be keen on connecting with a fresh source of funding. And the PIF may be keen on connecting with the SSG, opening doors to other sports leagues in the process. But it doesn’t feel like anything is happening soon.
It’s clear that not everybody is on the same page about the Tour’s future nor its best interests. Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy struck notably different tones in their descriptions of the PGA Tour’s future; Spieth essentially said that the Tour will be just fine without PIF investment while McIlroy said the sport is ripe for ruin if they don’t seek out compromise. That’s a notable ideological split from a longtime leader of the Tour (McIlroy) and the man who replaced him on the Tour’s policy board (Spieth). That’s not to say they’re on opposite sides — the two spoke on the phone for an hour and had a “pretty frank discussion,” per Sports Illustrated. But while McIlroy said the Tour’s future without PIF is “not an option,” fellow board member Adam Scott backed up Spieth’s assertion that the Tour’s business future is secure with or without a LIV deal.
“It’s no secret that the idea is to try and somehow unify the game,” Scott told SI. “I think I’ve heard that used a lot over the last seven or eight months. And that was being used when the framework agreement was originally talked about. And I don’t know how realistic that really is at the moment.”
So where does that leave us? Still stuck in limbo. And adjusting to the idea that limbo may be our new reality. The PGA Tour has its plan. It’s financially viable. It has history and habit and top broadcast channels on its side. And there are golf fans who will resist watching LIV because they don’t like the idea of shotgun starts or team golf or — this one’s probably the biggest — a sovereign wealth fund taking over their favorite sports league and using it to advance its place before the world. But LIV has doubled down on its product. While its path to profitability is murky, its funding seems, for now, secure. Coexistence is here.
Finally, we should be careful (and it may already be too late for this column) not to overreact to one week and one data point. This coming weekend we’ll get another head-to-head showdown between the two leagues, and this time they won’t even be separated by time zone — the WM Phoenix Open is less than 300 miles from LIV’s event in Las Vegas. LIV is smart to tie its Vegas event to Super Bowl weekend, as plenty of sports fans and famous people will be in town with nothing scheduled for Saturday’s final round. But how will that compare to the biggest party in golf? We’ll see.
And then we’ll see what happens in the weeks that follow. The PGA Tour is anticipating Tiger Woods’ return at the Genesis, its marquee event of the winter. LIV’s next tournaments will be in March, with Jeddah and then Hong Kong in back-to-back weeks before returning to North America in April. This two-week bloc may feel like ancient history by the time we hit the Masters.
On Sunday, LIV got the chance to showcase its product to an entirely new audience. Morality and politics aside, there’s plenty to like from a dynamic broadcast. I’m not sold on the team integration and I’m not sold on a Sunday shotgun start and I’m not sold on some of the production choices but at the end of the day they were left with a few golfers playing their final holes in a tense stroke-play competition. It’s not hard to see why PGA Tour fans would find that entertaining.
But there’s still an air of grievance that hangs over the proceedings. It was telling that Niemann’s first words post-win were about how he’s still not eligible for the majors. It was telling that announcer Jerry Foltz finished the broadcast by decrying the politics holding LIV golfers back. It was telling that Wyndham Clark‘s Pebble Beach 60 was immediately compared and contrasted to Niemann’s 59. It’s clear that LIV still has its eye on golf’s establishment with whom it’s eager to compete and by whom it’s eager to be slighted. It’s just not clear what gets those trains tracking back in the same direction.
Who else won the week?
Wyndham Clark won the shortened AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am with a remarkable third-round 12-under 60 on Saturday. He’d been playing reasonable but unremarkable golf since his U.S. Open victory but things suddenly look different now; winning the elevated Wells Fargo Championship, the U.S. Open and the Signature Event at Pebble in a 16-tournament stretch is big-game stuff.
Ludvig Aberg finished one shot back in second place; he was likely the most frustrated player in the field not to go out for a Monday finish. Still, his consolation prize is a check for $2.16 million and a jump to No. 11 in the world. Not bad…
Matthieu Pavon backed up last week’s Farmers Insurance Open with a bronze-medal finish at Pebble, the second-best performance (by OWGR points) of his career coming the week after the first.
I won’t run through the entire leaderboard, I promise. But even though I’m sure Mark Hubbard and Thomas Detry (T4, $877,500 each) would have loved to compete for the win come Sunday, I’m sure they’re thrilled to know they’ve locked up serious FedEx Cup points this early in the season — without even suffering a Sunday sweat.
Justin Thomas has now played five events (four on the PGA Tour) since the end of the 2023 FedEx Cup Playoffs. His T6 finish on Sunday is his worst finish of that stretch. Watch out, folks.
Over on LIV, Jon Rahm‘s Legion XIII team won in the debut event for Rahm, Tyrrell Hatton and 19-year-old Caleb Surratt, for whom the event doubled as his pro debut. Rahm’s bogey-bogey finish to finish T3, two shots outside the playoff was clearly frustrating, but he said the team win was a satisfying consolation prize.
Garcia posted the second runner-up finish of his LIV career, earning $2.25 million in the process. And Dean Burmester tied for third with Rahm, emphasizing the fact that his stellar offseason was no fluke.
Dylan Frittelli won the third DP World Tour event of his career at the Bahrain Championship. The exchange program from the DP World and PGA Tours has revealed talent on both sides; Pavon’s win last week came after graduation from the DP World Tour, while Frittelli played in the Bahrain field in a new eligibility category for PGA Tour players who finished outside the top 125 last season. Frittelli described a long road that included thoughts of giving up the game. Now he’s back on top.
Certain PGA Tour players seem like winners, too, based on the $1.5 billion in equity coming their way this year and next. We’ll take a deeper dive if and when we find out who gets what…
NEWS FROM SEATTLE
Monday Finish HQ.
This weekend marked the first 2024 playing of the Pan-Am Tour, a monthly-ish outing staged by a group of my Seattle friends, a mix of mostly Chileans (no doubt thrilled with Niemann’s victory) with a few Americans sprinkled in, hence the name. Anyway, it was a soggy-but-sunny Saturday morning in Bellevue. Preferred lies were in effect. I did not win.
3 things to watch this week.
1. Scottie three-peat?!
This year’s WM Phoenix Open doesn’t just mean the biggest, loudest, most degenerate weekend on the golf calendar. It means a chance for the World No. 1 to tick off the fascinating accomplishment of winning the same event three years in a row. Scottie Scheffler is roughly 5-to-1 to pull off the first three-peat since Steve Stricker at the John Deere Classic from 2009-11.
2. LIV in Las Vegas
I’m intrigued to see what crowds are like, what celebrity presence is like, what Super Bowl spillover to LIV is like, what Saturday night-Vegas-Super Bowl Weekend-Brooks Koepka is like.
3. Bud Cauley’s comeback
He hasn’t played much on Tour since his 2018 car accident and hasn’t made a PGA Tour start since 2020, but Bud Cauley will be back in action this week in Phoenix, playing on a Major Medical Exemption. He’ll need 391 FedEx Cup points in 27 starts to keep his card. We’ll figure out what that means at a later date.
In the meantime, enjoy the golf! And the Super Bowl. We’ll see you on the other side.
Dylan welcomes your comments at email@example.com.