First Impressions: LIV Golf Orlando

Captain Cameron Smith of Ripper GC hits his tee shot during the pro-am ahead of LIV Golf Orlando at Orange County National on Thursday, Mar. 30, 2023 in Winter Garden, Florida. (Photo by LIV Golf)

by George McNeilly

ORLANDO, Florida – When I was a very little kid, Bob and Susan on a TV show called Sesame Street would sing

“One of these things is not like the other,
one of these things just doesn’t belong,
can you tell which thing is not like the other
before I finish this song……..”

While I promise not to sing, I want to take you back to a time when I was first introduced to a Rawlings red, white and blue ball, the Nassau Coliseum, the American Basketball Association’s New York Nets and a future hall of fame player who was not a physician, but they still called him “Dr. J”. Julius Erving helped legitimize the ABA before it merged with the venerable NBA after the 1975-76 season. The hook shot specialist would go on to operate in Philadelphia where he led the 76ers to the 1983 NBA Championship and everyone lived somewhat happily ever after.

I arrive at this week’s LIV Golf Orlando tournament with no such expectations of a fairy tale ending. The PGA TOUR drew its line in the sand following the defections of a number or prominent stars who took the enormous money being offered. The financing, as we all know, comes from the public investment fund of Saudi Arabia and we see very little branding evidence of the sponsorship participation and activations we’ve grown accustomed to at other established sporting events.

As LIV Golf begins its second season of existence, the negative baggage it has attracted has been so well chronicled, I see no reason to reheat the hash and dish out leftovers.

Captain Bubba Watson of the RangeGoats GC speaks at a press conference during a practice round ahead of the LIV Golf Orlando at Orange County National on Wednesday, Mar. 29, 2023 in Winter Garden, Florida. (Photo by LIV Golf)

One of the fan favorites here is Bubba Watson, a 2-time Masters Champion who chose to LIV his life on his terms and tee it up on Orange County National’s Crooked Cat golf course the week before the golf world’s attention shifts to Augusta National.

“Normally I don’t play the week before, so this is new to me, but it’s good. Get some reps under my belt. Taking so much time off last year with the knee surgery, just get some more reps, get grinding, get going. Obviously, this course is going to be way different than Augusta but try to get some good thoughts in your head going into next week.”

It’s a 3-day tournament featuring a limited field of 48 golfers divided into 12, four-man teams and in addition to individual prize money, the winning team also gets the opportunity for a share of a designated prize purse.

As I walked to the first tee with another major winner this morning, Bryson DeChambeau was very approachable and seemed pleased to catch me up on his thoughts en route to playing in the pro-am.

Captain Bryson DeChambeau of Crushers GC hits his shot from the fairway on the fourth hole during the pro-am ahead of LIV Golf Orlando at Orange County National on Thursday, Mar. 30, 2023 in Winter Garden, Florida. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/LIV Golf

With music blasting in the background from speakers installed on the driving range, the 2020 U.S. Open Champion said he likes the team component a lot and remains hopeful that other noise in the form of LIV criticism might come to an end.

Based on my time covering the PGA TOUR in recent weeks, I am not seeing that happen anytime soon.

Still, as I wandered around the stylish facilities including “Club 54”, the media center and grandstand viewing areas, things appear ready for whatever crowds attend and the telecast on CW Network, LIV Golf’s new television partner which is a crucial component the league did not possess in its inaugural season.

As I drove away, I also could not help but reminisce about the original United States Football League which lasted three seasons, around Dr. J’s playing days, before folding. It was springtime professional football loaded with talented stars. The fatal flaw was the USFL spent more revenue than it generated and then decided to take on the NFL and go head-to-head – and clearly one of those things was not like the other.

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