ORLANDO, Florida – It’s always refreshing when someone you respect agrees with you – or is it the other way around?
When the No. 1 ranked golfer in the world says what you’re thinking it’s nice to know you have something in common, even if it isn’t a stellar golf game. Rory McIlroy has taken a leadership role in the world of professional golf with a sensible suggestion to solve the volatile, unsustainable and and stressful situation with LIV Golf.
“There’s a few things that I would like to see on the LIV side that needs to happen,” McIlroy said. “I think Greg [Norman] needs to go. I think he needs to just exit stage left. He’s made his mark, but I think now is the right time to sort of say, ‘Look, you’ve got this thing off the ground, but no one is going to talk unless there’s an adult in the room that can actually try to mend fences.'”
For those who may have been spending the past year perfecting their pickleball serve or training 16 hours a day for a WWE comeback, LIV Golf is a competitor to the PGA Tour and DP World Tour, the former European Tour. It is a disruptor to the otherwise usually staid week-to-week tournaments run by the established tours.
Again, in case you have not been following the controversy, LIV Golf gets its money from the Public Investment Fund which is the sovereign wealth fund of the Saudi Arabian royal family, with Hall of Fame member Greg Norman serving as front man.
It’s clear two things about LIV Golf stick in the craw of many observers.
First, is the over-the-top signing bonuses paid by LIV Golf to lure PGA Tour stars. Fan-favorite Phil Mickelson reportedly received $200 million and several other players getting huge sign-on contracts. The list includes Dustin Johnson ($125 million), Bryson DeChambeau ($125 million) and Sergio Garcia who also banked $125 million while British Open Champion Cameron Smith settled for about $100 million. Not unsurprisingly those taking the LIV money lost their right to compete on the PGA Tour with their status in the majors still to be determined.
Certainly, no one begrudges players winning huge sums because of their playing skill but it would appear the line is drawn with payments based on reputation alone. The LIV Golf series is not a tour – at least not in the way most think of as professional competition. In fact, LIV is closer to a series of exhibitions, 48-player fields, 54-hole events with no cut and a payout to each player regardless of how they score plus a team competition with separate winnings.
For contrast, Scottie Scheffler the PGA Tour 2021-2022 leading money winner (25 events, 4 wins, 1 major) won $14 million while LIV Golf’s top performer Dustin Johnson banked $35.6 million in an eight-event season.
Luring stars away from the PGA Tour simply lessens the product without a commensurate gain for fans not to mention the local charities who receive substantial donations from every tournament. LIV Golf has no television broadcast contract leaving those interested to watch resorting to LIV social media channels while onsite event attendance has been minuscule.
Another issue LIV doesn’t address is the source of the money, namely the Saudi Arabian regime. Even considering Saudi’s sizable percentage of the proven world oil reserves and all the critical political factors, the Kingdom’s dismal record of human rights abuses is an almost overwhelming point of contention.
Greg Norman has also become the focal point in the argument and seems to relish that spot. From the initial announcement of the LIV Golf series, it was clear the Aussie and former world No. 1 one was on a mission to “get” the PGA Tour. This likely can be traced back to the early 1990s when Norman’s proposed exclusive world golf tour was vetoed by the PGA Tour. On top of that, today Norman doesn’t seem to be working towards any solution, simply making matters worse with antagonistic comments.
According to comments made by Norman one year ago, LIV Golf’s goal was to grow the game by creating additional playing opportunities for a select number of players. This has not been accomplished since the defectors have lost their membership on the prevailing Tours and, in fact, an acrimonious competitor to the established circuits has been created.
It is becoming clear, unless a solution can be found golf fans and the many charities supported by the PGA Tour are going to be the losers.
McIlroy’s call for Norman to resign from LIV Golf would be a good first step and his comment about bringing “an adult in the room” to open a dialogue between the two sides is a reasonable path.
Now, I can claim to have something in common with Rory McIlroy!