The controversial LIV Gold Invitational Series landed in Portland, Oregon on June 2022. The series is funded by the government of KSA (The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) and promises to deliver, “Golf, but louder”. It’s being spearheaded by Australian golfing icon Greg Norman, LIV Golf chief executive and commissioner. He made a rousing speech at the opening ceremony, urging fans to be more accepting the LIV.
The LIV tour has had a polarizing effect on supporters. Several members of the Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club have resigned in protest, while politicians and 9/11 survivors have also raised an outcry. Their issue is with Saudi Arabia’s serious backing of a tournament that has poached some of the best golf players, hence threatening the PGA tour. Before we dive into the reasons behind this controversy in this article, let’s take a closer look at what the LIV Tournament is all about.
What is the LIV Tournament?
LIV is a brand-new golf tournament that offers substantial prize money and high participation fees. LIV refers to the number 54, in Roman numerals, indicating a 54-hole layout for the tournament. It differs from PGA in various ways, including a three-round format versus PGA’s four. It also has about half the number of golfers that PGA has, meaning there’s no cut-off and that all participating golfers will have to compete from the first to third round unless they decide otherwise.
The biggest and most startling difference to fans is the team play system. While PGA requires golfers to play individually, LIV golf includes captains who draft teammates. The scoring relies on the total score from the team as opposed to individual achievements. The tournament ends with teams playing towards a championship through a knockout event. Teams work together and fight elimination to get to a winner. In the world of golf, LIV is a sensationalized event.
However, PGA comes up short when it comes to collecting payouts. LIV is backed by substantial funds and promises to pay golfers just for entering. This isn’t the case in PGA though, as golfers who don’t get the required score leave empty-handed. The payout format alone might be why PGA golfers Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson decided to enter, earning them a suspension from PGA.
So, why is a tournament that promises a better payout and wants to bring golf to the mainstream such a controversial topic? Keep reading to find out.
Why is LIV a Controversial Topic?
The Saudi-backed LIV tournament is being heavily criticized because of KSA’s history of human rights violations. Fans and other stakeholders believe this is the country’s way of “sports washing”, i.e., diverting attention from atrocities through global sporting events. This was particularly prominent here, where locals are still enraged about 15-year-old student Fallon Smart’s death, which was caused by a Saudi national. The perpetrator in question was never prosecuted and fled to KSA safe and sound.
The situation becomes even more serious when you look outside Oregon. LIV will have five total tournaments happening across the United States and people are outraged. This applies especially to 9/11 survivors or family members of some of the victims, who even held a news conference denouncing the tournament. This is because at least 15 of the 19 terrorists involved in the 9/11 incident hailed from Saudi Arabia.
What’s more, critics of LIV have brought up the killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi back in 2018 by Saudi Arabia’s crown prince and the fact that women in the country were only recently allowed to drive. These blatant human rights violations have made people boycotting LIV left right and center, demanding pro-golfers to step back and calling them hypocrites.
However, Norman made his case at the launch event, saying that PGA earns a significant chunk of revenue from Saudi Arabia’s business. He maintained that he was confused about why PGA supporters were giving him hate considering a lot of PGA golfers stand to benefit from LIV’s gargantuan payout. Norman also spoke about wanting a merger between the two rival tours.
In any case, there is a civil war going on in the world of golf right now and it begs the question: is LIV good or bad for golf?
How Does LIV Benefit Golf?
LIV works for golf in that it achieves two goals, as follows:
- It breaks up the monopoly that is inherently present in golfing tournaments.
- It brings golf to the mainstream.
The traditional golf ecosystem runs on a meritocracy where you have to maintain consistent and clean records, along with participating in tours where you might leave with nothing. LIV provides golfers with guaranteed payouts, even for participating. It could be argued that this will draw more people to the game, creating a larger golfing category and breaking up an existing monopoly.
The team play format and payout options also bring golfing into the mainstream, as KSA’s backing means the tournament will be advertised and broadcast globally instead of just a few selective countries. If you are struggling to understand more about how golf works, checkout The Left Rough for detailed explanations.
How Does LIV Harm Golf?
The biggest way in which LIV harms golf is by creating a split between golfers. Already, LIV has poached some of PGA’s best players and plans to continue doing so. Greg Norman wants to hammer in his legacy with LIV and is collecting pro-golfers like playing cards. The inherent controversy present in the tournament means the golfing community is unable to exist in a cohesive space.
Another potential factor that harms golf is the above-mentioned payout system. Seasoned pros, like Tiger Woods, insist that the only way to come up in golf is to consistently practice, defeat the odds, and stay competitive. With a tournament like LIV where the payout is guaranteed, there’s a chance that golfers will stop honing their skills or trying to be the best. It could result in mediocre performance since payment is guaranteed.
The Final Verdict
While LIV is proving to be a popular tournament despite its nontraditional format, it doesn’t seem to be catching on with hardcore golf supporters. Many have argued that watching sports is a way for fans to blow off steam and escape real-world issues. However, the LIV Golf controversy is forcing fans to take a moral stance, stealing their attention from the actual sport. There is also disillusionment as certain golfing legends joined LIV, disappointing their fans by participating in a tournament that they see as fundamentally flawed.