Tour Confidential: LIV Golf’s TV deal, LPGA drama, Jon Rahm domination
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, we discuss LIV Golf’s TV deal, LPGA drama, Jon Rahm’s dominant run and more.
1. LIV Golf announced it had officially signed a “multi-year agreement” with the CW, granting broadcast and streaming rights to the network for its events beginning this season. The opening round will be available only on the app, with weekend coverage broadcast on TV. A source also told GOLF.com’s James Colgan that LIV is not paying the CW to broadcast its events. Finding a broadcast partner was paramount for LIV. Now that it’s done, what do you think of this deal?
Josh Sens, senior writer (@joshsens): This can’t be the deal LIV was dreaming of from the start. Far from it. But elements of it do square with LIV’s current sales pitch. The league is pushing the team and franchise angle hard, with messaging that tilts toward a younger demographic. Throw in the team names (Crushers, Fireballs, Hy Flyers, etc.), and it all has a kind of a Ninja Turtles teen sheen to it that fits CW’s traditionally teeny bopper audience. One disconnect is that aside from Smith and Niemann, LIV’s biggest names skew older. And the overall golf market is of course much older, too. But it does seem like LIV is making a long play for a younger crowd, looking to build those team allegiances that it can sell down the road. How will it all play out? Anyone claiming to know the answer is full of it, I’d say. Lots of Brooks Koepka/Buffy the Vampire jokes floating around. But the other factor is that CW has new owners with a different vision of what they want the network to be. To accurately forecast, you’d have to know how successful they’re going to be in attracting a new audience, and then how/where LIV would fit in with that. The one thing I can predict for sure is that my own personal happiness will not hinge on how the Hy Flyers perform. But then, I thought Holey Moley was unwatchable, and I never understood why people bought pet rocks, so don’t go by me.
Jessica Marksbury, multimedia editor (@jess_marksbury): Whether LIV paid for the TV time or not, it definitely seems like a step in the right direction. Maybe I’m becoming a bit of a dinosaur, but watching things on TV still seems like an upgrade from streaming-only, even if the audience is smaller than YouTube’s. At the end of the day, though, in terms of being a legitimate competitor to the PGA Tour, I feel like the TV home matters much less than the world-ranking points issue.
Dylan Dethier, senior writer (@dylan_dethier): Like everything in our strange, divisive world, the CW deal has enough positives in it to give the pro-LIV faction something to celebrate — and the anti-LIV crowd plenty to make fun of. To Sens’ point, I think it’s hard to know how this will look until we know the future of the CW and the level of commitment to reinvention from parent company Nexstar. Overall, it feels like a win for LIV to be in so many households — especially given so many other broadcast opportunities were never going to happen. But the whole thing is still a bit surreal. A PGA Tour rival on the CW! Get your One Tree Hill jokes off while we figure out what’s going on.
2. How much will TV ratings tell us in Year 1? How much stock should we put in them?
Sens: I predict poor ratings this year, but that’s obviously not a deal-breaker to a circuit with bottomless funding. What I’d watch more closely is whether LIV can continue to attract big names, which in turn would drive interest. Which in turn gives them a chance at drawing TV sponsors. And so on. Meantime, provided the Saudis stay interested, there will be a year 2, and a year 3 and …
Marksbury: I’ll be surprised if ratings aren’t higher than what we saw from YouTube’s numbers. But I don’t think it will matter all that much either way. As Josh said, LIV seems determined to plug along for the foreseeable future.
Dethier: If we’re able to get exact ratings, I’d expect LIV to do fine. I’d be shocked if it was an overnight sensation — but there’s a large contingent of people who get the CW and there’s also a large contingent of people who like watching golf on weekend afternoons. I’m guessing they’ll find a few coins between the couch cushions to spend on marketing, too. What’s interesting to me is that by going from YouTube to broadcast TV, LIV seems to be playing on the PGA Tour’s turf. It is, as Jay Monahan said a couple weeks ago, “product vs. product.”
3. Brooke Henderson won the LPGA’s season-opening Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions on Sunday, but the event’s locker room situation — or lack thereof — made headlines earlier in the week. Some players, however, were miffed the controversy took away from the first event of the year. Where do you stand with all of this? Was it a big deal? Blown out of proportion? Something in-between?
Sens: Subpar locker room storage is what is known as a very privileged problem. So in that sense, overblown. But not overblown in the sense that this would never happen to the men, and if it did, can you imagine the whining?
Marksbury: Something in between. The belated locker delivery seemed a bit clunky. It wasn’t the lack of the physical lockers themselves that was the main problem, but rather the lack of onsite private space for the female competitors. But the event is a unique one on the LPGA schedule — a pro-am with both male and female competitors, and the venue simply didn’t have the accommodations that the players are accustomed to week-in and week-out. So I find myself agreeing more with the players who shrugged it off as a blip on an otherwise cool tournament week.
Dethier: I think the locker talk was merited, but I think everyone involved would have preferred it stayed in-house — and that that energy were redirected to the competition, which featured a head-to-head showdown between a couple of the game’s most compelling players (Brooke Henderson and Nelly Korda) plus an appearance from rising star Maja Stark. Hopefully this gets the LPGA to double down its focus on its players and we chase compelling golf-related storylines.
4. On the PGA Tour, Jon Rahm continued his sensational run, holding off Davis Thompson to win the American Express tournament by a shot. With Rahm owning two wins already in 2023, we’ll set his win-total number at 4.5, and ask you if he goes over it, or under.
Sens: We’re seeing the Rahm we saw in 2021, in the runup to his U.S. Open win, when the only thing that slowed him was a bout of Covid at Muirfield Village. He will win five or six this year. You can currently get him at 11-1 at Augusta. The betting favorite. Which seems about right.
Marksbury: When Rahm finished the first round trailing by two in La Quinta, he said that he was filled with confidence because he was scoring well even when he didn’t have his A-game. Reminded me of Tiger. When a player of Rahm’s talent gets in that zone, the sky is the limit. Given the start he’s had this year, I think five is his number, so I’m definitely betting the over.
Dethier: We’ve seen a bunch of players hit hot streaks in recent years. But finding a second peak is rarified air, and now Rahm feels like he’s doing exactly that. I still think four wins is probably more likely than five — in golf, “under” is always the smart money — but I sure wouldn’t be shocked if he finished the year with seven wins, either. He’s currently one of the three best golfers in the world — and he’s not third.
5. Max Homa graced the cover of the latest issue of GOLF Magazine, and in Dylan Dethier’s profile (which you can read here) we learned about Homa’s battle with self-belief, his rise to the top, Presidents Cup stardom and more. Homa also said, “For a while, with the social media stuff, people were all like, ‘Man, I’d love to have a beer with that guy.’ Well, I don’t know if you really would.” Which brings us to this uber-important question: Which pro (or two) would you most want to have a beer with?
Sens: One of the older guys with stories to tell and no hesitation telling them. I always found Craig Stadler to be a fun interview. Calcavecchia if you could get him going? Or maybe one of the Europeans. Sam Torrance. Monty. The younger guys would be less interesting, I think, unless you could slip truth serum into their beer.
Marksbury: Totally agree, Josh! You want someone with a minimal filter for sure, and a down-to-earth mentality. I’ll choose from the PGA Tour for variety’s sake: Harry Higgs, Viktor Hovland, Shane Lowry. All three seem like straight shooters and a lot of fun.
Dethier: You couldn’t go wrong picking Joel Dahmen, as long as you’re willing to have one beer turn into seven. A pint at Lowry’s local pub would also be a thrill. And it would be an honor to be there for 20-year-old Tom Kim’s first-ever beer.