The future of world golf has never been so uncertain. The launch of the controversial Saudi-backed LIV Golf Tour has changed the landscape for men’s professional golf and this has led to a lot of uncertainty about the future of the game and the direction it will take.
What is the LIV Golf Tour?
Reports of a new breakaway league first emerged in 2019 but gathered pace last year as two-time Open champion Greg Norman became the face of the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Series as its chief executive.
With Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund financing the series, there is a clear link to the Saudi Arabia government, whose record on human rights has been criticised by groups such as Amnesty International.
LIV Golf Series events will be played over three days and 54 holes, rather than the traditional four-day events with 72 holes. There won’t be a cut, so the 48 players who start the week will play all three rounds.
There will also be individual and team competitions within the same event. The individual competition will be won by the player who shoots the lowest score over 54 holes, as normal.
This new format, coupled with huge payouts for both the individual and team events, is hoped to shake up a sport that has traditionally been seen as “stuffy” and it is hoped that the tour will attract a new, younger audience.
What happened at the first LIV Tour Event?
The first event of the LIV Tour was held at the Centurion Club just outside of London in early June and, after all the talk of politics, “sports washing”, human rights abuses, and who would actually be taking part, the golf tournament itself was a success.
The inaugural event of this fledgling tour was won by South African Charl Schwartzel. In posting a score of 7-under par for his three rounds, Schwartzel took home the biggest first-place cheque in the history of golf – $4 million.
He was also a member of the winning team, collecting a further $750,000.
This is a phenomenal amount of money for three days of work and for a player that hadn’t won on the PGA Tour since 2016 and whose best finish prior to victory at the Centurion Club was a T2 at the 3M Open in 2020-21.
Despite winning the Masters in 2011, this will likely go down as his most notable victory to date thanks to the enormous sums of money at stake and the amount of press coverage the tournament generated.
Who is playing on the LIV Tour?
One of the reasons the LIV Golf Tour is shaking up the world of men’s golf so much is the players that are now starting to migrate over to the tour. Often referred to in the media as the “rebels”, the LIV Tour is slowly starting to attract more headline names across from both the PGA Tour and the DP World Tour.
The inaugural event at the Centurion Club featured a number of older players who are undoubtedly coming to the end of their careers on the PGA Tour. Players like Schwartzel, Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter, Sergio Garcia, and Martin Kaymer have all enjoyed highly successful careers on both the PGA and DP World Tours, however, they are not huge drawcards anymore.
At the Centurion Club, Dustin Johnson was the highest-ranked player in the world competing – his ranking at the time was 15. He was joined by Louis Oosthuizen with a world ranking of 23 as the headline name alongside serial major winner, Phil Mickelson.
The next event, to be held at Pumpkin Ridge in Portland, Oregon will have a very different look. The field will feature a total of nine of the last 21 major winners, four former World No.1s and almost half of the competitors currently ranked in the top 100.
The LIV Tour announced this week that Matt Wolff, Carlos Ortiz and the world No.2 amateur, Eugenio Chacarra will be joining the tour, kicking off with the event in Portland from June 30 – July 2.
Notable players lining up in Portland include:
- Dustin Johnson (world number 16)
- Brooks Koepka (19)
- Abraham Ancer (20)
- Louis Oosthuizen (23)
- Bryson DeChambeau (30)
- Patrick Reed (38)
- Talor Gooch (39)
- Sergio Garcia (59)
- Phil Mickelson (83)
- Lee Westwood (85)
Johnson is the early favorite with Betway Sports to take out the second event of the LIV Golf Series at 8.00 with Oosthuizen priced at 11.00 and Ancer at 12.00. Schwartzel is priced at an attractive 26.00 following his win in the inaugural event.
How have the PGA Tour and DP World Tour responded?
In late June, the PGA Tour and DP World Tour announced a 13-year strategic alliance to combat the emergence of the Saudi-backed LIV Golf series.
According to a release, the PGA Tour will increase its existing stake in European Tour productions from 15 to 40 per cent, with an aim to “continue to coordinate a worldwide schedule.” Additionally, as part of the increased alliance, the top 10 finishers on the DP World Tour season rankings will earn PGA Tour cards for the following season.
The PGA Tour also banned all players who teed it up at the inaugural LIV Golf Invitational Series event at Centurion and announced they would ban all those who play in future events.
According to Golf Monthly, “In a strongly worded letter from commissioner Jay Monahan, the Tour says that LIV Golf players are “suspended or otherwise no longer eligible to participate” in PGA Tour events. They will be removed from the FedEx Cup rankings following this week’s RBC Canadian Open and will not be eligible for the FedEx Cup or Presidents Cup.”
Whilst the DP World Tour has not yet banned LIV Tour players from participating in DP World Tour events, they have been fined £100,000 and banned from the co-sanctioned Scottish Open taking place in early July.
According to the Guardian, “LIV Golf rebels have been warned further sanctions are likely if they continue to play in the Saudi-backed breakaway series”.
The article goes on to say, “The DP World Tour chief executive, Keith Pelley, refused to confirm whether Ryder Cup participation was also at stake but stressed the qualification criteria for next year’s event in Rome had not yet been finalised.”
Whilst LIV Tour rebels have been allowed to play in the final two majors of the year – The US Open and The Open Championship – it remains to be seen if the imposed bans will apply to the four Majors held next season. Amongst the LIV rebels are five former Masters champions in Johnson, Reed, Garcia, Schwartzel, and Mickelson. Traditionally, winning the Masters guarantees you entry into the tournament for life, along with an invite to the Champions Dinner the night before the tournament commences so there will be some big decisions ahead.