The sport of golf is undergoing a mass reincarnation and its helm sits an Australian legend. The LIV Golf Invitational Series, otherwise known as the LIV Golf League, has officially arrived, bringing a new energy to the gentleman’s game and a host of controversy along with it. Fronted by former World No.1 and two-time major winner Greg Norman, the Saudi-backed sports league has managed to secure some of the biggest names in world golf, enticed by the massive payouts and appearance fees. But not everyone is happy about the PGA Tour rival, suggesting the future of golf teeters on a knife’s edge. So, what exactly is LIV Golf and why is the sporting world up in arms over it?
What is the LIV Golf Tournament?
Designed as an alternative to the current PGA Tour, the LIV Golf League aims to take the foundations of arena-style sporting events and bring them into the golfing world. A starkly different business model to the traditional format, the LIV system allows for greater financial gain for those involved, not simply through tournament wins. While the PGA Tour does not allow appearance fees, LIV golf does, meaning that players competing for the $20-25 million purse are also eligible to nab extra payment, while they also have the ability to score an additional $5 million prize for the team competition for each tournament.
“Our model is 100 per cent built around the golf ecosystem from the ground up,” Norman told Carlson. “We are not trying to destroy the PGA tour or the European tour. We are they are to work within the ecosystem to show that it’s a big enough space. It’s a multibillion-dollar industry.”
LIV Golf Format
The LIV Golf format sees eight 54-hole no-cut stroke play tournaments and a final Team Championship, which LIV revealed would be a “seeded four-day, four-round, match play knock-out” event held at Trump National Doral Miami in October 2022.
“There will be a seven event regular season where players will compete as individuals and teams for both points and prize money,” LIV Golf explained. “At the end of those seven events, an Individual Champion will be crowned based on points accumulated throughout the season. The eighth and final event will be our season-ending Team Championship match play event.”
One of the most enticing aspects of the LIV Golf Tour is the staggering amount of prize money up for grabs. Across the eight events, there is a whopping USD$255 million to be won, with each regular team event offering a purse of USD$25 million. Withint that, USD$20 million is shared between the field, while a reported USD$4 million is awarded to the winner. The astromical figures is more than twice the entire British Masters purse, with even the man who finishes last netted a cool USD$120,000.
In the Team Championship, things get even more ridiculous. There is a whopping USD$50 million reserved for the final event that will be split between the 12 four-man teams. According to LIV Golf, USD$16 million will go to the winning team while those who end up in last position will still go home with USD$1 million.
LIV Golf Players
Currently, there are 12 teams involved with 48 players signed up for the 2022 season. Remarkably, the PGA Tour rival has been able to snag a series of star performers, pulling them from their duties during the season. Among the LIV Golf players, you’ll find:
- Phil Mickelson
- Bryson DeChambeau
- Brooks Koepka
- Patrick Reed
- Kevin Na
- Dustin Johnson
- Sergio García
- Martin Kaymer
- Graeme McDowell
- Louis Oosthuizen
- Charl Schwartzel
- Lee Westwood
While the list of LIV Golf players does appear to be growing, the standout signing has been Phil Mickelson. The six-time major winner was linked to the tournament as early as February 2022, after biographer Alan Shipnuck published comments where Mickelson was highly critical of the PGA Tour. Contention started to heat up when fans pointed out that the LIV Golf tournament was backed by the controversial Saudi Government, which many believe was behind the assassination of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, alongside further accusations of human rights violations. In June 2022, LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman confirmed that Mickelson would play the first event in London, with his contract worth a reported USD$200 million.
“I understand that many people have very strong opinions and many disagree with my decision, and I can empathize with that, but at this time, this is an opportunity that gives me a chance to have the most balance in my life going forward and I think this is going to do a lot of good for the game,” Mickelson said at the time.
The LIV Golf Tournament Controversy
As alluded to, the LIV Golf League has been fraught with contention since the concept was first floated. Not only a blatant attack on the traditionalists of the PGA circuit, the tour is also financed by the Public Investment Fund, the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia. As a result, many golf fans have been quick to hurl criticism at the event, with human rights groups arguing the tour is an example of sportswashing’, suggesting LIV Golf is part of Saudi Arabia’s political strategy of cleansing their global image. More recently, the country unveiled plans to build a 100 per cent renewable utopia capable of accommodating nine million residents, with global reactions equally critical.
Much of the controversy stems from the Saudi Government and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s involvement in the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The Saudi family has also been accused of being involved with the 9/11 attacks in New York, prompting widespread condemnation of the event. Further contention erupted when a group of almost 2,500 survivors of family members killed or injured during the September 11 attacks wrote an open letter to PGA Tour golfers, thanking them for not defecting to LIV Golf.
“Thank you for standing up for decency,” the letter stated. “Thank you for standing up for the 9/11 Families. Thank you for resisting the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s efforts to cleanse its reputation by buying off professional athletes… To those of you who have chosen what is right over blood money from a corrupt, destructive sports entity and its Saudi backers, please continue to stand strong.”
LIV Golf vs PGA Tour
According to Norman, who was announced as LIV Golf CEO in October 2021, the idea behind the tour was not to directly compete with the PGA, but rather to offer an alternative. The former professional golfer revealed that the invitational series was implemented following a lengthy fan survey into fan engagement and set on a schedule that did not compete with majors or international team events.
“We decided to take a step back, analyse the situation,” he told Carlson. “We knew our model was where it was. We knew that it was there it wasn’t going anywhere. The money was in the bank, so we made an adjustment and we worked around every obstacle that’s been thrown in our path, so we came up with the invitational series.”
That wasn’t necessarily the opinion of the PGA Tour, however, which took significant steps to halt LIV Golf’s progress. In June 2022, the organisation announced that members who participate in LIV Golf events could be sanctioned for playing in a “conflicting event” without the Tour’s permission, ultimately threatening suspensions, fines or bans. The initial stance did seem like an over-reaction but it wasn’t long before the PGA Tour doubled down, reaffirming that “members participating in the first LIV Golf tournament (including current members as well as those who had recently resigned) were no longer eligible” to compete in tour events or the Presidents Cup. Similarly, a number of key sponsors have also opted out for those players willing to join the LIV ranks.
In his interview with Fox, Norman said it “blows my mind,” that those sponsors were willing to pull the plug on professional athletes joining the tour solely for its Saudi ties. Instead, the LIV Golf CEO pointed the finger of blame back at golf’s governing body.
“The PGA tour, I think, has about 27 sponsors who do 40-plus billion dollars worth of annual business on an annual basis in Saudi Arabia,” he said. “Why doesn’t the PGA tour call the CEOs of (these businesses) saying that we can’t do business with you because you are doing business with Saudi Arabia? Why are they picking on the professional golfers? The male professional golfers. “It is a monopoly. They just want to shut us down whatever way they can, so they will use whatever leverage point they can.”
Norman’s point, while not an adequate addressing of his own interests, does raise an interesting predicament. Clearly, the current PGA tour has some skeletons in its own closet and the enormity of interest surrounding the LIV League proves that the golfing world is ready for something new. Importantly, it appears golf fans have little issue with the tournament itself, simply (and quite rightly) the Saudi-backing that underpins its very creation. As for the rift the LIV League is driving between professional players and fans, Norman couldn’t care less.
“I really don’t care. I just love the game so much and I want to grow the game of golf and we at LIV see that opportunity not just for the men but for the women,” Norman said. “We at LIV see it for NCAA and younger generations. We at LIV see it as a pathway to opportunities for the kids to experience a new out there. LIV is the future of golf…because you don’t see what we see in the future. CSR programs, education programs, all the stuff that’s out there that we want to get involved with for golf and growing the game of golf.”
Tiger Woods LIV Golf Offer
Importantly, while LIV Golf has picked up some major names in the sport, perennial fan favourite Tiger Woods has repeatedly turned down the offer. Norman previously told The Washington Post that Woods had shot down a deal he described as “mind-blowingly enormous”, said to be in the high nine figures. In response, Woods confirmed the he allegiances lie with the PGA Tour, which has been his proverbial home for several decades.
“I disagree with it. I think that what they’ve done is they’ve turned their back on what has allowed them to get to this position,” Woods told ESPN regarding the Championship. “I know what the PGA Tour stands for and what we have done and what the tour has given us, the ability to chase after our careers and to earn what we get and the trophies we have been able to play for and the history that has been a part of this game.”
In a recent interview with Fox’s Tucker Carlson, Norman finally revealed just what that payout would have been. When asked whether LIV Golf made an offer to Tiger Woods in the $700 million to $800 million range, Norman confirmed.
“That number has been out there, yes,” Norman responded. “Tiger is a needle mover. So course you got to look at the best of the best. They had originally approached Tiger before I became CEO,” he said, “adding, “yes, that number is somewhere in that neighbourhood.”
LIV Golf Schedule 2022
According to LIV Golf, five of the eight events in the first season will be played in the United States, with one in London, one in Thailand and another in Saudi Arabia. As confirmed earlier, the season-ending Team Championship will be held at Trump National Doral Miami. Here is the current LIV Golf Tour Schedule:
- June 9 – June 11: Centurion Golf Club – London, England. Individual winner: Charl Schwartzel. Team winner: Stinger GC.
- July 1 – July 3: Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club – Portland, USA. Individual winner: Branden Grace. Team winner: 4 Aces GC.
- July 29 – July 31: Trump National Golf Club Bedminster – New Jersey, USA
- September 2 – September 4: The International – Boston, USA
- September 16 – September 18: Rich Harvest Farms – Chicago, USA
- October 7 – October 9: Stonehill Golf Club – Bangkok, Thailand
- October 14 – October 16: Royal Greens Golf Club – Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
- October 27 – October 30: Team Championship, Trump National Doral, Miami, USA
What is LIV Golf?
LIV Golf is a professional golf tour financed by the Public Investment Fund, the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia. It is currently in its first year of operation and has faced much controversy due to its Suadi-backing.
Why are people upset about LIV Golf?
Pople are against LIV Golf dues to its Saudi-backing. Many have suggested the tour is an attempt at sportswashing, where the government can cleanse its negative public image. The financiers of the tour have been previously been accused of involvement in 9/11 and the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.