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LIV Golf’s Likeability Problem

When I think about LIV Golf – which isn’t very often, actually – an old James Bond movie comes to mind, “Live and Let Die.”

For me, LIV Golf is “LIV and Let Die,” and I fully expect the second-year golf league funded by the Saudi Arabian government to die soon, and few people will care.

The Saudis are committed to spending a combined $2.4 billion last year and this year to run LIV Golf. Still, you have to believe that they will stop such nonsense once they realize that pro golfers can’t whitewash Saudi Arabia’s ghastly reputation and atrocious history of abusing human rights, including the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The Saudis did lure some big names away from the PGA Tour with their deep pockets; Phil Mickelson was guaranteed $200 million, Dustin Johnson $125 million, and Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau, and Cameron Smith $100 million each before they swung a club, but only Smith was at the top of his game. Before bolting for LIV, he captured the Sentry Tournament of Champions, the Players Championship, and the British Open last year.

Smith wasn’t allowed to defend his title at the Players Championship this month because the PGA Tour has banned all LIV golfers, but only the most avid golf fans missed him. The 29-year-old Australian isn’t the reason most fans watch golf. Scottie Scheffler, Rory McIlroy, John Rahm, Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Max Homa, and yes, Tiger Woods are all playing on the PGA Tour.

While the PGA Tour is about tradition, LIV Golf is all about money. No LIV golfer can deny that. Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Bubba Watson, Paul Casey, Lee Westwood, Graeme McDowell, and Ian Poulter are all in their 40s, so they took the blood money from the Saudis rather than continue to grind it out on the PGA Tour. Patrick Reed is only 32, but he has a reputation for cheating, and Joaquin Niemann is just 24, but he’s still relatively unknown despite winning the Genesis Invitational last year.

Does LIV Golf have a likeability problem?

PGA Tour golfers can thank LIV Golf for putting more money in their pockets. Out of fear of losing more golfers to LIV, the PGA Tour boosted its prize money this year and will copy LIV’s policy of holding several limited-field, no-cut events next year.

PGA Tour Champions could be the biggest loser. It certainly makes sense that those LIV golfers in their 40s will also lose their eligibility to play in the PGA Tour’s league for golfers aged 50 and over. Westwood will turn 50 in April and could have been a threat to win on the senior circuit, but he’ll make more money by not contending in LIV tournaments.

Johnson won at the International in Bolton last Labor Day weekend, but LIV Golf is not returning to New England this year, so golf fans living in this region won’t be able to watch LIV golfers in person near home.

Few are watching on television either. TV ratings on the CW Network this year have been abysmal. Last month, LIV Golf drew a 0.2 rating among the key 18-49 aged demographic for the Saturday round for the opening event in Mayakoba, Mexico. “World’s Funniest Animals” drew a higher rating on CW later that day. Nevertheless, CW and LIV Golf executives insisted the rating was better than expected. The Saturday rating for the LIV Golf event in Tucson, Arizona, dropped to a 0.14 last weekend.

Charles Howell and Danny Lee won the first two LIV Golf events of 2023, and LIV Golf commissioner Greg Norman can’t be happy about that. Neither is a big name. Johnson, Smith, and Koepka each won LIV events last year, but they haven’t seriously contended so far this year.

Considering how poorly he’s played, LIV Golf must be second-guessing paying DeChambeau $100 million upfront. He tied for 44th among the 48 golfers in Tucson.

So LIV Golf’s big names aren’t dominating, and almost no one is watching on television.

By blaring music as the golfers warm up on the range before taking off for their shotgun starts, LIV Golf calls itself “Golf But Louder.”

The problem is that very few people are listening, and I can’t blame them.


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