There is no getting around the controversial aspect of the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Series, which teed off Thursday at the Centurion Club outside London. There have also been no shortage of reminders that the renegade league that has poached a number of big-name players from the PGA Tour with more on the way is somehow revolutionary and therefore will change not just how players approach golf but how fans watch and think about it.
In some ways, it is very different from the weekly grind of the PGA Tour.
There’s the team concept and the wacky team names and graphics. There was a player draft and a shotgun start with all groups teeing off at the same time across 18 holes. Of course, there is the enormous sum of money up for grabs in each of the 54-hole, no-cut slate of tournaments.
Ah, the money.
Whereas the PGA Tour has over the last handful of years eschewed its money list in favor of its season-long FedEx Cup points race — the winner of which gets $15 million — LIV Golf has spared no expense in driving home the point of what this new league is all about. Even as Kevin Na and Talor Gooch earlier this week comically tried to explain that one of the biggest appeals of joining the circuit was the shotgun start because it eliminates being on the wrong side of a PGA Tour draw, there were ample reminders throughout the broadcast of the first round what’s at stake financially.
Splashy black and highlighter-green graphics showed just what everyone is playing for: a $20 million purse for individual players, with $4 million to the winner and $120,000 for last place. For context, the richest winner’s check on the PGA Tour is $3.6 million for the victor of the Players Championship, an amount that was upped significantly and recently in response to the threat of the new Saudi league. And unlike on the LIV tour, there is no guaranteed money on the PGA Tour.
That’s not all, either, with the top three four-man teams in the LIV tournament getting $5 million, $3 million and $500,000, respectively.
The announce team also embraced the concept and talked repeatedly about the riches that await, including analyst Jerry Foltz, formerly of the Golf Channel, waxing about being a fan of the format, that there is a place in the game for the new tour and how it brings players up to speed from a compensation standpoint with other sports, where guaranteed contracts are the norm.
While team golf is only a thing in golf once or twice a year at the Presidents Cup or Ryder Cup, or at the PGA Tour’s Zurich Classic, players have embraced that angle in concept and in choosing video-game like names, including Phil Mickelson’s Hy Flyers and Sergio Garcia’s Fire Balls. This most certainly is not your grandfather’s golf, or even your father’s.
With most of the league’s biggest stars delegated as captains of each team, the league draft earlier in the week however had a somewhat dubious feel with Bernd Weisberger — a 35-year-old Austrian with eight DP World Tour victories — being the No. 1 overall pick.
As for the telecast, the production was relatively slick, particularly given the short amount of time and it being streamed only online. With players having all teed off at once there was no shortage of action, though in many ways it felt like every other golf broadcast because in golf there are inherently only a few seconds of action followed by lots of walking no matter the format.
However, there were elements that were noticeably different about the presentation, too.
The leaderboard — a black and highlighter-green rail on the left side of the screen — did a good job bouncing back and forth between team and individual scores, showing how many holes remaining there were and what number shot a player was on at a particular hole. It also featured team names and logos, though individual names were head-scratchingly abbreviated to a few letters. As Dan Katz from Barstool Sports tweeted, “Feel like I’m watching a Dude Perfect Challenge.”
From a coverage standpoint, though, much else felt the same as it always has been, save for some jazzed-up cut-ins. The action didn’t move any faster than usual. And a post-round interview by Su-Ann Heng with Dustin Johnson was typical of most post-round interviews, even as she tried to pep Johnson into a more energetic answer about having been aggressive with his driver.
There was also the league’s hype video, with Dennis Quaid doing the voice-over hyping.
In the video, the 68-year-old actor narrates about evolution, the ability to adapt and change and acknowledge imperfections. At one point, he riffs that the “evolution of the game you love begins today.”
LIV Golf is indeed here. It’s not going anywhere anytime soon. Whether players and fans come to embrace it, or whether it sparks larger change within the game, time will tell.