Tour Confidential: LIV Golf’s first season pros and cons, Ryder Cup awkwardness
Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors as they break down the hottest topics in the sport, and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com. This week, our team breaks down LIV Golf’s first season, the format of the finale, and if its players will play for the European Ryder Cup team.
1. LIV Golf ended its inaugural year on Sunday with the finale of its $50 team championship event at Trump Doral. Days earlier, Phil Mickelson said “it’s pretty remarkable how far LIV Golf has come in the last six, seven months” and that it’s “a force in the game that’s not going away.” Now that we can put a bow on the controversial league’s inaugural season, how would you assess it? How have your feelings about it changed over the past year? What worked? Or didn’t? What surprised you?
Josh Sens, Senior Writer (@joshsens): A year ago, most of us on this forum would have said LIV had little chance of taking shape at all. And even less chance after Mickelson’s ‘scary mofos’ comment in February. That it not only exists but has drawn a bunch of green jackets, a former world No. 1, the reigning Open/Players champ, etc., counts as a surprising success. What LIV has failed to do is offer a compelling product — though I’m not sure that’s so much a flaw in LIV as it is a feature of modern professional golf. Many of us started saying this long before Rory brought it up. But what the world needs isn’t more pro golf on TV but less of it. The game should pack it in for a while each year. Let people miss it. LIV came into being partly by exploiting a weakness in the PGA Tour — too many snooze-fest events that too few fans care about. But what LIV is offering as an alternative are snooze-fest events that too few fans care about. LIV’s problem is the Tour’s problem, writ large: Enriching players is not the same as rewarding fans. Sure, the lack of a TV deal doesn’t help. But even my 83-year-old luddite mother knows how to click on YouTube. If tons of people were interested, they’d be watching. And they’re not.
Sean Zak, Senior Editor (@Sean_Zak): I wanted LIV to exist for strict chaos purposes. I saw the potential it could inject into the ecosystem for change on the PGA Tour. Unfortunately, I think it all has gone a bit too far. Who is to blame? A lot of folks. How much time do you have? Greg Norman did not work as a frontman. At least not as a speaking frontman. The team championship worked, which was good because it had been hyped up constantly. But the team formation didn’t work. The only brand I can really think of is the 4 Aces, mainly because they were the best players and they solidified from the second event. At this point, I’m sad that there wasn’t a bit of cooperation between the two sides, but I don’t actually care to blame Jay Monahan. If you give LIV an inch, it’ll want to take a mile. So perhaps we were always going to end up right here. I look forward to breaking down the lawsuit. Or rather, lawsuits.
Dylan Dethier, Senior Writer (@dylan_dethier): I think the biggest story of LIV this season is that its future is … to be continued. LIV has signed enough players and built a successful enough infrastructure that it’s guaranteed to be around next year. That means next year will really serve as its first full season. A league with less determined backers than LIV might have waffled after its mixed bag of results and muted popularity. But these fellas have a long runway, which means they will have every chance to succeed.
2. The team of Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed, Talor Gooch and Pat Perez won LIV’s team championship, which used a unique format of stroke play, match play and alternate shot (not to mention picking your opponent) to decide its winner. Now that we got to see it all unfold, what did you think of the format for the season-ending event?
Sens: The format was fresh but — for reasons mentioned above — it was still a snooze of an event. When it comes down to it, I just don’t know that there’s an answer to be found in the format. We’ve seen it over and over. You can throw as much money — and wrinkles — at the problem as you want. Meaningless events are still meaningless events, whether it’s on the Tour or on the LIV circuit. Most people would rather watch guinea pig TikToks. At least they take up less time.
Zak: Match play worked well, and with a full season perhaps there will be a sense of rivalry built up. But you won’t get any rivalry until you get certain teams taking food off of other teams’ plates. That didn’t happen once during the regular season, but it did Friday, and Harold Varner was annoyed. His season ended early, just as he beat the brakes off Brooks Koepka. Some strife is really good. I’d love LIV to create a bit more strife next season.
Dethier: A lot of the format stuff LIV is trying is fun — especially when taken in a vacuum. But I think what LIV lacks is context. Wins on its tour are worth a boatload of money, but thus far none of this means anything, and sports fans crave context and meaning. For LIV, establishing that meaning might just take time or it might an un-clearable hurdle. I don’t think there’s any way to know. But thus far LIV garnered its attention through curiosity, disruption, politicization and money rather than the format itself.
3. Rory McIlroy told the Guardian he felt betrayed by his European Ryder Cup teammates who left for LIV Golf, although Ian Poulter countered by saying as far as he’s aware they can still qualify for the team. Recently Jon Rahm said LIV players should be allowed, while Shane Lowry was among those who said they should not be. In truth, we don’t know the official answer yet for the European squad, so we have two questions: Will LIV players be allowed on Team Europe? And should they be?
Sens: I don’t think they’ll be playing, but I wouldn’t mind seeing them in the mix. The Ryder Cup is already shot through with partisan divides. What’s a little more tension in the exhibition? It would be only fitting. The teams could even serve as an example, so badly needed these days, that you can disagree with someone’s politics and actions without having to treat them as mortal enemies. As a practical matter, though, it almost seems like a moot point. Aside from Sergio, the now-LIV golfers who played for Europe in the last Cup at Whistling Straits were non-factors. If you really want to win, are you taking any of them at this point? Time for new blood on the team, anyway.
Zak: I think they’ll be allowed AND banned. Shadow-banned, that is. I think they’ll be able to qualify automatically, but will only really be able to do so via majors and DP World Tour events, which they’ll need to work around their LIV schedule. And with half the team decided by captain’s picks, they’ll have to plead to captain Luke Donald and shadow captain Rory McIlroy. It ain’t happening.
Dethier: I’ll endorse Zak’s shadow-banned prediction. These guys may not be outright banned, but it’ll take some strong play in the majors to get them there. The more relevant conversation, to me, isn’t actually who can play on Team Europe but instead who could serve as future captains. LIV swiped the entire lot of ‘em!
4. Our latest Road Rules story identified 18 items that golfers should always travel with. Besides the obvious, what’s the one item you never leave home without when going on a golf trip?
Sens: Baby powder, especially if you’re a walker. And duct tape. Way better than Band-Aids for blisters.
Zak: Duct tape? Sens, do yourself a favor and use athletic tape, my friend. My golf trips always seem to end up with big meals and drinks after. Which generally doesn’t leave as much space for breakfast. So investing in one or two boxes of granola bars can carry you through morning tee times.
Sens: I don’t want to son you here, young man. But take it from any mountaineer — duct tape, ideally with a bit of gauze underneath, directly on the sensitive area. Puts athletic tape to shame. It also has a much cooler DIY quality to it, so it gives you extra street cred, too. I’m with you on the granola bars, though. Great call.
Dethier: It’s good to see Sens bringing some blue-collar sensibility to this space. Duct tape! Patch up your golf bag, your heel, maybe even your hat while we’re at it.
As for me? I’m stressing rain gloves and chapstick. (“Lip balm,” I guess, technically. Chapstick is in that Popsicle/Kleenex generic-brand zone.) You never know when a little sprinkle could disrupt your day — and if it’s windy, sunny or both, some chapped lips can really put a damper on things. Protect yourself!
Sens: How’d you know I do that with my hats?