After only four tournaments over the last three months, the jury is still out on the controversial circuit put together by legendary player Greg Norman with extraordinary financial backing from the Saudi government.
The Saudis have a horrible record on human rights issues, but its fledgling golf tour has made an immediate impact with Norman’s signing of top stars that include Americans Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Brooks Koepka and Bryson De Chambeau.
LIV tournaments so far have been called everything from refreshing to silly. Their prize money is eye-catching, though — $25 million per tourney. We’ll see how it’s received by a Chicago audience when play tees off on Thursday with a pro-am. Three tournaments rounds follow that.
Chicago PGA Tour players Kevin Streelman and Nick Hardy clearly have no interest in going the LIV route, Streelman even declaring “What’s trying to happen is the worst thing I’ve ever seen happen in the game of golf.’’
As players they are turned off by LIV’s departure from the game’s longstanding traditions. Instead of the 72 holes played in a PGA Tour event LIV’s events are 54 holes with a shotgun start to each round. Players begin play at the same time but tee off at different holes.
That’s not a big deal. PGA Tour Champions, the Ladies PGA Tour and most of the top college tournaments are played at 54 holes and the shotgun start is commonplace at most social or charitable events because it enables players to finish at roughly the same time.
I’ve watched – via either YouTube or Facebook – at least part of all four of the previous LIV tourneys to get a feel for what’ll be involved at Rich Harvest. You won’t get what you do at a PGA Tour event.
Spectators — and their numbers seemed to grow significantly with each LIV tournament – enter the playing venue into a giant fan experience that features a food court, putting and video games and a disc jockey playing music.
It’s unfathomable that Jay Monahan, the PGA Tour commissioner, would arrive at a tournament via parachute, but that’s what Norman did for the last stop in Boston.
On the second day of that tournament Norman announced that players could wear shorts, and many did. PGA Tour players are allowed to wear shorts only in pro-ams.
Broadcast coverage is different, too. The graphics are more extensive than what you get from any of the networks at a PGA Tour event and the shotgun starts make for more fast-paced telecasts. The on-air talent is – with the exception of David Feherty – unfamiliar to U.S. viewers. Bubba Watson, who will be playing on the LIV Tour once he’s healthy again, was pressed into service as a commentator in Boston.
LIV tournaments have 48 players, and there’s no 36-hole cut. There’s also a team competition going on simultaneously with the individual play. That led to LIV detractors calling the tournaments “just exhibitions.’’
“Exhibitions’’ don’t offer $25 million prize money, though, and the LIV schedule will be expanded from eight to 14 tournaments in 2023. LIV will also be involved with events on the Asian Tour and its season prize money will be $405 million next year.
LIV isn’t going to go away, and Chicago is on the tentative 2023 schedule for a September tournament at a venue to be determined.
While LIV has its top stars, more are still needed. This year’s regulars include Koepka’s brother Chase, who had been working his way through the ranks on the European circuits.
And Chase has a more recognizable golf name that Shergo Al Kurdi, Eugenio Lopez-Chacarra, Adrian Otaegui, Turk Pettit, Shaun Norris and Wade Ormsby. They’re hardly household names in golf but all finished ahead of Korean-born and California-raised Sihwan Kim in Boston.
Kim, a two-time winner on the Asian Tour, picked up the $120,000 last-place check in Boston despite having the most eye-catching scorecard (87-63) in the first two rounds.
LIV fields have improved with each tournament but Rich Harvest’s will be much like Boston’s – with one exception. Sweden’s Henrik Stenson returns after stilling out in Boston with a minor health problem.
Stenson was the European Ryder Cup captain until he signed with LIV. The European Tour then dropped him from his Ryder Cup duties and Stenson responded by winning in his first LIV start in New Jersey.
The big prize money offered isn’t enough to sway every PGA Tour star, however. The social pressure against joining LIV is still a factor, and Harold Varner III – one who made the jump from the PGA Tour in Boston – admitted “I hate to be hated.’’
To help improve its image the new tour has pledged $100 million to its LIV to Give platform that supports social and environmental efforts in its tournament communities. The Kids Golf Foundation, based at Rich Harvest since 1998, has received “a major donation.’’
“Golf is a force for good,’’ said Norman, “and we’re proud to support efforts that build stronger communities.’’
While I’m not anti-LIV I remain skeptical about the circuit’s future. LIV has disrupted the men’s tournament scene, and that’ll be even more obvious over the next few months when both LIV and the PGA Tour revamp their plans for 2023
LIV INVITATIONAL CHICAGO
SITE: Rich Harvest Farms, Sugar Grove.
SCHEDULE: Pro-am on Thursday and tournament rounds Friday-Sunday. Parking lots open at 8 a.m., gates open at 9 a.m. and shotgun starts to competition are at 12:15 p.m. on tournament days. Apres Golf events start at 5:30 p.m.
ADMISSION: Ground passes are $49. For other ticket information check LIVGolf.com.
LIVE COVERAGE: LIVGolf.com and YouTube.
INDIVIDUAL WINNERS: London —Charl Schwartzel; Portland – Branden Grace; Bedminster, N.J. – Henrik Stenson; Boston – Dustin Johnson.
EVENTS AFTER RICH HARVEST: Oct. 7-9 – Bangkok, Thailand; Oct. 14-16 — Jeddah, Saudia Arabia; Oct. 27-30 – Miami (team championship at Trump Doral).