Tour Confidential: LIV Golf’s newest gets, Phil Mickelson, Tiger and Serena

Team Captain Phil Mickelson of Hy Flyers GC greets fans in the gallery during Day Two of the LIV Golf Invitational - Boston at The Oaks golf course at The International on September 03, 2022 in Bolton, Massachusetts.

Phil Mickelson took aim at the PGA Tour once again.

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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, the most recent defections to LIV Golf, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods taking in Serena Williams at the U.S. Open.

1. The latest batch of LIV Golf defections came in on Tuesday, and the list of players was … not too surprising! World No. 2 Cameron Smith marked the highest-profile signing, joining the new league just weeks after winning the Open Championship at St. Andrews. How important was this batch of defections for LIV?

Cameron Smith, Brooks Koepka and Phil Mickelson.
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Josh Sens, senior writer (@JoshSens): Every player LIV picks up is a victory of a kind. But Smith is the biggest so far–the reigning Open and Players champ, the World No. 2, the first guy, really, who LIV critics couldn’t fully dismiss, whether by saying he was either past his prime or never that gung-ho about competition in the first place. On the other hand, LIV didn’t land Hideki, whose market impact would have felt even bigger.

James Colgan, assistant editor (@jamescolgan26): It felt as if this batch of LIV defections was the first in which you picked your head up and realized, ‘whoa, the PGA Tour has lost a TON of talent.’ Sure, it helps the argument to see a 23-year-old multi-time winner and the World No. 2 join. But it’s hard to keep up the argument the LIV field consists only of old has-beens and burnout youngsters. This crop brought top-tier talent.

Sean Zak, senior editor (@sean_zak): If Sunday was any indication, hugely important. You had Cam Smith vs. Dustin Johnson vs. Joaquin Niemann. That’s entertaining! IT was the first time LIV Golf has truly entertained me with its finish, and I’m not particularly hard to please. I think in terms of marketability, it was massive. Because the reigning Players Champ and Open Champ is now in all their promotional material. That’s a nice bullet to have in the chamber.

2. Phil Mickelson basked in the changing landscape in pro golf at LIV Golf Boston (where he finished T40). On the topic of structural changes enacted by the PGA Tour, Mickelson argued they proved the Tour needed a rival. (“Unless there was leverage, nothing was going to happen,” he said.) With a rival league helping to force major changes on the PGA Tour, was Phil right?

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Sens: He was right about the leverage. No way we would have seen such big changes so fast. And he was right that these changes are great for many pro-golfer bank accounts. It’s also been great for headlines and clicks. Whether all the shake ups have been great for fans is another matter. I don’t see any immediate perks, unless you’re caught up in that weird faux-populist belief that more money for already rich athletes is somehow a victory for the rest of us. To me, that’s been one of the most striking phenomena in all of this. All the cheering from the sidelines about sticking it to the system. Something we see more often in politics. Oh, wait. I forgot. Stick to sports!

Colgan: He was right, of course, but the irony is that he won’t ever be remembered for it. Right or wrong, Phil has tied his legacy to LIV. Maybe the PGA Tour needed his push, but no amount of victory laps is going to bring him back to see the fruits of his labor.

Zak: He was right but also wrong? Phil has routinely glossed over important details and even cited information incorrectly in this process of “being right” against the PGA Tour. So good for him! He can continue to bask in it, but I’ll continue to believe that there was an easier process than looping in money from Saudi Arabia. 

3. Bubba Watson, one of LIV’s newest players, said he was at peace with his decision to join, even if it cost him an invitation to the Masters. “If Augusta National tells me I can’t go, being a past champion, then I don’t want to be there anyway,” he said. Is there any chance Watson, a past champion, doesn’t receive an invitation next April?

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Sens: Maybe I’m being naive, but I don’t see the Masters disinviting past champs. More likely that anyone who’s won a green jacket keeps coming back, with other invites being sorted out by World Ranking points, which is a whole other can o’ worms to be opened soon enough.

Colgan: I’m shocked a number of Masters champs made the jump without assurances from Augusta National that their invite would remain intact, but if a few more go to LIV, they may leave Augusta no choice.

Zak: I’m shocked Bubba even brought it up. I highly doubt any of the majors dis-invite people we would already expect to be qualified. It opens them all up to criticism, for better or worse, and even litigation potentially. No one wants that.

4. The LIV news wasn’t over there! On Friday, Greg Norman announced that players would be allowed to compete in shorts, upending a longstanding rule to the contrary. Is this a step forward for tournament golf, or much ado about nothing?

Sens: Egad! I’m scandalized! Nah. Seems very much on-brand and hard to argue with. Most golf dress codes are silly anyway. No shirt, no shoes, no service should be the extent of it. Not that I’m itching to see pasty legs on a golf broadcast, but it doesn’t really matter a lick to me one way or the other.

Colgan: It always struck me as strange that pants were required, especially when I realized Average Joes wore them to feel more professional during “important rounds” — like my buddy on Pinehurst No. 2 … in 115-degree heat. Shorts are a beautiful thing, even if their professional liberation is mostly trivial.

Zak: The pants vs. shorts rule has been one of the most difficult things to explain to non-golf fans in my entire career. It made no sense. It’s a good example of how a little speedboat like LIV can make quick turns for its benefit and the massive cruise ship that is the PGA Tour has struggled to do so. [It’s also pretty meaningless in scope].

5. And we had a Tiger Woods spotting! In the middle of the week, cameras caught Woods cheering on Serena Williams in her final bid at the U.S. Open. Later, the 15-time major champ tweeted in support of Williams, his close friend of many years. All this GOAT-ness has us thinking: which pro athlete is Tiger’s best cross-sport comparison?

Tiger Woods and girlfriend Erica Herman (bottom left) sat in on Serena Williams' U.S. Open match on Wednesday.
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Sens: Running through some possibilities in my head here. Ali? Too outspoken. Federer? Too gentle a persona. For ruthless dominance, and for staying out of politics even as many hoped they would have more to say, Michael Jordan fits best. But you also have to go to the likes of Arthur Ashe and Serena Williams for the broader context of a Black athlete soaring in a lily-white individual sport. That’s my attempt at a composite sketch.

Colgan: Jordan is probably the best answer, both for his dominance and overall ability as much as his transcendentalism and racial significance. Ashe and Williams are good for that reason, as are Jack Johnson and Jesse Owens. From the perspective of pure talent, Tiger’s best comparison is probably Lawrence Taylor or Michael Phelps — men who redefined the conventional understanding of a sport with their sheer athletic ability and desire for greatness.

Zak: Jordan feels most correct because of the timeline, the level of worldly fame, the Nike and Gatorade deals, etc. Also for their absolutely cutthroat nature. You could take any number of the memeable reactions from The Last Dance and find a similar story from those around Tiger Woods. 

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