How LIV Could Be Good For The PGA TOUR
The PGA TOUR, European (DP World) Tour and the LIV Tour currently are locked in a titanic struggle for the future of golf. I think at this point, the PGA TOUR and DP World Tour believe they cannot continue to exist if the LIV Tour succeeds. Conversely, LIV may never really get off the ground without the value of name players the two older tours have invested in and cultivated.
There is, however, a future in which LIV could be good for the PGA TOUR (less so perhaps for the DP World) and vice versa. With the proper mindset from all involved parties, the LIV could be a win for the tours as well as the players.
In my scenario, LIV either voluntarily or involuntarily becomes a de facto Mid Pro Tour. Players on that tour will be “names,” in that they played a significant number of tournaments on the PGA TOUR, but who, in their late thirties and forties, likely are past their peak earning years.
Indeed, if you look at the names being (correctly or incorrectly) associated with the LIV tour, it seems as though that’s where LIV golf is headed: Robert Garrigus, Martin Kaymer, Lee Westwood and Richard Bland are among those mentioned. All are fine players. Kaymer, for example, is a two-time major winner, but last won in 2014.
I don’t want to cast aspersions or suggest that anyone in particular has even thought for a second about jumping to the LIV Tour, but there is a large list of potential candidates from players in the bottom half of the current FedEx standings. It doesn’t take much imagination to identify them. They are players whose names you recognize, but who haven’t won in years — if ever.
What LIV gets from such an approach are “name” players, including former major winners. Golf fans may very well be interested in seeing players of the stature of Martin Kaymer and Lee Westwood tee it up in a 54 hole, no-cut, shotgun start tournament.
And what does the PGA TOUR get from a Faustian bargain with the LIV?
Letting players go to the LIV will be golf equivalent of football teams trading popular older stars go to clear up money and roster space for younger, potentially greater players.
In the case of the PGA TOUR, there are any number who currently are clogging up the “roster.” These pros continue to maintain their Tour cards (or play through various exemptions) and yet realistically have no chance of contending, let alone winning. Some are aging stars who are hanging on until they qualify for the PGA TOUR Champions. Others are journeymen — talented golfers who have made a good living making cuts but who rarely, if ever win.
If these players were to leave the PGA TOUR for the LIV Tour it could free up slots for newer, perhaps more exciting players. The TOUR would lose its long-term investment in those players in terms of brand promotion, but might get more in return.
Seriously: What do PGA TOUR fans want to see? An aging journeyman with 600 starts and three wins, or a young just-out-of-college talent with unrealized potential?
An LIV focused on mid to late career pros could work out for the players as well. The on-the-bubble players would lose their spot on the PGA TOUR, but would be able to get a couple of years of sizable paydays in the exchange. At some point, players have got to know that they are not going to bask in the glory of a win and should instead focus on socking money away for retirement (or perhaps in paying off significant gambling debts). They could do that by grinding away on the PGA TOUR — or — they could get a few nice paydays from the LIV.
A potential downside for LIV players might come from a more difficult entry into Majors. The strength of field in LIV events might not be enough to get them inside the golf ranking cutlines for an exemption through qualifying.
The European Tour would be in a slightly tougher spot. That entity already loses its top stars to the PGA TOUR, and invests a lot in building fan interest in its roster of players. If the LIV were to start poaching the European/DP World Tour’s players, it could be devastating. The European tour could end up as a farm team, investing in players only to see the LIV and PGA TOUR take advantage.
For my “everybody wins” scenario to work, the PGA and European/WP World Tours would need to accept that players are going to leave. Players who choose to play on the LIV will need to accept that they will lose their cards and their regular tour careers are over — at least until they decide to try to qualify for the PGA TOUR Champions. For its part, the LIV will need to accept a position as the de facto Mid Tour.
I think that last will be most difficult. LIV Commissioner Greg Norman has long had it out for the PGA TOUR in disagreements extending back to the 1980s. He tried to launch an alternate World Tour in 1994.
Norman, however, should look at the history of the creation of alternate sports leagues for guidance. The WFL and USFL might have succeeded if they had not attempted to take on the NFL by poaching name players. The WFL, for example, broke the bank by signing Lary Csonka, Paul Warfield, Ken Stabler, Daryle Lamonica, Calvin Hill, and fifty-plus other NFL stars.
The USFL signed three Heisman winners right out of college: Herschel Walker, Doug Flutie and Mike Rozier. The alternative league also signed other major college talent as well as NFL players like Brian Sipe and Joe Cribbs.
The current USFL incarnation — at least thus far — seems content to try to make it with second tier players who for one reason or another never succeeded in the NFL. It’s an entertaining product, even if it is not the best football you’ll ever see. USFL 2.0 might survive if egos and payrolls are kept in check.
Two other alternate sports leagues — the ABA and World Hockey Association – also ultimately failed, but had teams subsumed into the larger leagues.
The Saudis of course have much deeper pockets than the WFL, USFL, ABA and WHA entrepreneurs. The principle, however, I think is much the same.
There is space for the LIV to succeed. It just likely isn’t the same space as the established tours. There also is space for the PGA TOUR to benefit from LIV.