Good or bad, the golf world hasn’t been buzzing over something like LIV Golf in quite some time.
The Saudi-backed league that was started to be a competitive alternative to the PGA Tour debuts this week in London.
While much of the attention LIV has received has been negative, it’s heavily funded and has managed to steal a few players from the PGA. It also has landed a notable local name in James Piot.
Here’s everything you need to know about the LIV Golf League, including insights from a trio Michigan golf media members.
What is the LIV Golf League?
The LIV Golf League is named such as LIV is the Roman numeral for 54. That is how many holes will be played at their events. It also represents the score if a golfer birdied every hole on a par-72 course.
Many reference it as the “Saudi Golf League” as it is financed by the Public Investment Fund. That is basically a financial piece of the Saudi Arabia government.
Due to its connection with the Saudi regime, the league and its participants have received a lot of backlash. Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018, with U.S. intelligence agencies concluding that Saudi crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman approved the operation. That’s just one of many examples of human rights atrocities attached to the Saudi government.
Greg Norman is CEO of LIV Golf Investments and the main mouthpiece for the new league. He was quoted as saying, “Look, we’ve all made mistakes, and you just want to learn from those mistakes and how you can correct them going forward,” when asked about partnering with the Saudis.
“My first thought is, I don’t have any problem with somebody competing with the PGA Tour and offering an alternative to these players. I think that’s the American way. Competition breeds improvement. Where would we be if we only had one restaurant, one carmaker that kind of thing. My problem is with the source of the funding, and how Greg Norman clearly was so desperate to do something to hurt the tour that he was willing to partner with a murderous regime. These are not the people you want to be in business with,” said Bill Hobson, Executive Producer of Michigan Golf Live.
PGA Tour’s reaction
PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan has promised to suspend or ban any PGA Tour member that competes in the LIV Golf League.
While that could also impact the golfers ability to compete in the PGA Championship or Ryder Cup, it still could leave them eligible to compete in the other major championships.
“I almost wish (the PGA Tour) would be just above it a little more,” said Mike Sullivan, Founder and CEO of Brand25 Media LLC. “Just stop whining about it, so to speak. But, I think it’s also just a perfect combination for why these guys are playing in it right now. I mean, money talks, clearly. It is huge paychecks these guys are getting, but you also combine that with just some of their displeasure that they clearly have with the (PGA) Tour. There are clear issues that these guys have, and it’s kind of a combination of the massive amount of money also with the displeasure with the tour itself.”
The USGA announced on Tuesday that it would allow those LIV competitors to play in the U.S. Open next week if they were eligible.
No TV deal as of yet
Sponsorships have also been difficult for the league to secure, as has a television partner.
“They don’t even have a TV partner because no one wants to put them on the air. A lot of people liken this tour to blood money,” said Detroit News Staff Writer Tony Paul.
Though the league has no current television deal, play will be streamed on YouTube, Facebook and LIVGolf.com. Coverage of the opening tournament begins at 9 a.m. ET on Thursday.
Who is playing in the LIV Golf League?
LIV Golf has been throwing out big offers to PGA Tour members, including Norman stating an offer in the high nine digits to Tiger Woods. Most have declined the offers.
While the league lacks much depth, it still has some big names jumping on board.
Looking for bigger payouts and a lighter schedule, former PGA Tour players have decided to leave for the Saudi-backed league.
Dustin Johnson commits
Leading the way is Dustin Johnson, who ranks No. 15 in the world, but was No. 1 just last year.
“Dustin Johnson stands out as definitely the face of the Saudi Tour,” Paul said. “He committed himself to the PGA Tour a few months ago and now has changed his mind, and that’s big for the Saudi Tour. It certainly gives them a draw.”
On Tuesday, Johnson resigned from the PGA Tour in order to join the LIV, citing it was best for him and his family at this time.
“The tour is way bigger than Dustin Johnson. The truth is, as great a player as he is, and he certainly is a great player, he’s not a needle mover,” said Hobson. “He’s not the one who’s going to make your event a success or a failure. He’s not the biggest name in golf. I’m not surprised that DJ changed his mind and went in this direction.”
Mickelson, others set for first event
Phil Mickelson, who drew a lot of negative attention for his comments on the league months ago, is also joining. He has been absent from the PGA Tour for months, missing the first two major championships. His last event was the Saudi International on Feb. 6.
Reports have Mickelson earning $200 million as a signing bonus to join the league, while Johnson is getting $125 million.
On Wednesday, reports surfaced that Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed will be joining LIV Golf later in the month.
Other notable names like Kevin Na, Sergio Garcia, Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel, Graeme McDowell, Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter will also be part of the league.
MSU’s James Piot playing this week
A big name in the Michigan circle who will be playing for LIV Golf this weekend is James Piot.
The Farmington Hills native was the 2021 U.S. Amateur Champion, the first to come from Michigan.
“(Piot) is a good young man. He he’s got a good head on his shoulders. He’s delightful. I want him to win every time he tees it up. And I say all that because I don’t think it prevents me from saying, I’m really disappointed that he decided to make that decision,” Hobson said. “I get it. It’s a lot of money. It’s a difficult world, in the world of professional golf, where the competition is so tough. But, I would much rather he had taken that route to earning it than to go into bed with these folks that don’t share anything in common with him. Not one thing, since this is a good young man.”
Not currently a member of the PGA Tour, Piot will not face any kind of PGA ban for playing in any LIV event this year.
“I’m assuming he’s going to be in Q School (PGA qualifying Tour) this fall trying to earn his PGA Tour card. But, right now, he’s basically trying to play events,” Paul said of Piot. “This is an opportunity for him. These eight events, if he plays them all and still finishes in last place in each of them, it’s over $100,000 each time. So do the math, that’s a pretty good kickstart to someone’s portfolio right out of college. Plus, he still gets his opportunities to become a PGA Tour member in the future.”
What is the Saudi Golf League format?
The Saudi Golf League will have a different format than what people are used to on the PGA Tour. Each event will be 54 holes with a shotgun start. There will be no cuts of a 48-man field, assuring each player receives some form of payment.
All 48 players will also be part of one of 12, 4-man teams at the event.
“The different formats they’ll be doing is going to be fascinating to see if the average golfer relates to that enjoys it, etc.,” Sullivan said. “Honestly, just the overall coverage of it. How big is this going to be? What is the coverage on social media going to be like? How mainstream is this first event going to be? I think that is what I’ll be just curious to see, and kind of monitor and track how much attention is this first event actually getting?”
While golfers will compete for the individual prize pool, their play will also be factored into their four-man team and how much that group earns.
In 2022, the LIV Golf League will hold eight events, dishing out a total of $255 million to its players. The first seven events each will have a prize pool of $20 million for individuals and $5 million for teams. The finale in Miami on Oct. 30 will have a $30 million pool for individuals and award $50 million for teams.
This week’s event will see $4 million go to the overall individual winner and approximately $120,000 to last place. The $5 million for teams will be shared between the top three squads.
The 2022 LIV Schedule
The full LIV Golf League schedule is:
- June 9-11: Centurion Club in London, England
- July 1-3: Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club in Portland, Oregon
- July 29-31: Trump National Golf Club Bedminster in Bedminster, New Jersey
- Sept. 2-4: The International Golf Club in Boston, Massachusetts
- Sept. 16-18: Rich Harvest Farms in Chicago, Illinois
- Oct. 7-9: Stonehill in Bangkok, Thailand
- Oct. 14-16: Royal Greens Golf & Country Club in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
- Oct. 27-30: Trump National Doral Miami in Miami, Florida
Can I bet on the LIV Golf League?
On Tuesday, FanDuel Sportsbook released odds for the inaugural event. They aren’t, however, currently available in Michigan, so there are no options for the state’s online sports bettors.
DraftKings Sportsbook came out and said the odds for the event are only available Illinois, Oregon, Ontario, Connecticut, Arizona, and Wyoming.
It’s no surprise to see Dustin Johnson as the favorite, opening at +340 to win. Oosthuizen is behind him at +850.
A +340 line for the favorite pre-tournament speaks to lack of overall depth in this league. Most PGA events list a favorite more in the +700-1000 range prior to beginning.
“I just think it could end up, because they just don’t have those big, big names yet, I just think it could end up going the way of the USFL. There’ll be some morbid curiosity to start, and then I think it’ll kind of wean off a little bit with each week. I think that’ll be the same case in gambling markets too,” Paul said.
What else they’re saying about LIV Golf
“I look at the league, as it’s funded by a nation with a very poor human rights record, and I personally believe that it’s blood money. That said, no one’s offering me millions of dollars to play a game that James and other guys have grown up wanting to make a living at. Who knows what we’d all do if we were offered that kind of opportunity and that money? It’s easy to sit back and say what we believe, and I believe what I believe, but I’m not in their position.”
“There are some people who are saying, ‘How dare you criticize these players? They have every right to go and do this.’ Yes, yes they do. Absolutely. Nobody’s saying they don’t have the right. What I’m saying is, it’s not the most beneficial. Just because it’s legal doesn’t make it right in what they’re doing. Whether it’s Mickelson, whether it’s DJ, whoever it is, they’re tarnishing their own reputation by getting into bed with these people who are literally buying their morality. That’s what’s sad about it.”
“The PGA Tour is such a huge animal. It’s such a huge league, I think it’s going to be very tough for anything else to come in and compete with it. Now, obviously, the money is huge. The backing is huge. Some of the names they’ve secured is big. Do I view this as a direct competition and threat to the PGA Tour? I really don’t. I think it’s going to be very interesting to see if this thing actually is sustainable, long term, to be honest.”