By Matt Bonesteel
June 8, 2022 — 11.26am
After months of controversy, the LIV Golf Invitational Series begins Thursday outside London with its first tournament. Here’s everything you need to know about the new competitor to the PGA Tour.
What is it?
The LIV Golf Invitational Series is a new league, paid for by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, that was created to compete with the PGA Tour. Australia’s Greg Norman, a two-time major winner and former world No.1, heads up the series operation. Its first tournament starts Thursday at Centurion Club outside London, and seven more events will follow through October, with five of those tournaments in the United States.
How are LIV tournaments different from PGA Tour tournaments?
LIV Golf tournaments will:
Be three rounds, as opposed to four on the PGA Tour, and will feature only 48 players. PGA Tour events regularly consist of well over 100;
Not have cuts, meaning every golfer plays all three rounds and gets paid. At most PGA Tour events, only the top 65 and ties advance to play the final two rounds, and those who miss the cut do not receive prize money;
Consist of both individual competitions along with a team event, in which eight teams of four golfers - as drafted before each tournament by appointed captains - compete for an additional prize;
Utilise shotgun starts, in which groups tee off simultaneously from all 18 holes instead of only two groups at a time teeing off from holes No. 1 and No. 10, which is the standard practice on the PGA tour. This is intended to speed up play and make rounds shorter.
The LIV Golf season consists of only eight tournaments as opposed to the 46 on the PGA Tour (plus the four majors, which are not run by the PGA Tour).
Who is playing?
The biggest names to join are six-time major winner Phil Mickelson and two-time major winner Dustin Johnson, two of the more popular golfers on the planet. At No. 15, Johnson is the highest-ranked player to join in terms of the Official World Golf Ranking, but only three others in the OWGR top 50 have joined him: Louis Oosthuizen (No. 21), Kevin Na (No. 34) and Talor Gooch (No. 35).
There are 14 others who rank in the top 100: Sergio Garcia (No. 57), Richard Bland (No. 67), Shaun Norris (No. 68), Matt Jones (No. 69), Pablo Larrazabal (No. 70), Mickelson (No. 72), Sam Horsfield (No. 74), Lee Westwood (No. 78), Ryosuke Kinshita (No. 89), Scott Vincent (No. 91), Ian Poulter (No. 92), Bernd Wiesberger (No. 94), Hudson Swafford (No. 95) and Oliver Bekker (No. 96).
Yes. Five Australians will tee up: Matt Jones (No. 69), Jed Morgan (No. 235), Blake Windred (No. 259), Wade Ormsby (No. 265) and Travis Smyth (No. 395)
How can I watch?
The tournament will stream at LIVGolf.com, YouTube and Facebook.
How has the PGA Tour responded?
PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan has said any player who joins LIV Golf could be permanently banned, and the tour did not give its golfers permission to play in this week’s event. Norman has countered that Monahan cannot legally ban players who wish to play on different tours.
At least six of the LIV golfers - Johnson, Na, Oosthuizen, Garcia, Charl Schwartzel and Branden Grace - have resigned from the PGA Tour, meaning the tour likely cannot punish them. But that also means they cannot play in PGA Tour events and cannot play in international events like the Ryder Cup and the Presidents Cup. Mickelson has said he will not be forfeiting his PGA Tour membership, though at age 51 his days as a full-time player likely are behind him.
Golf’s four majors are not operated by the PGA Tour and can extend invitations as they see fit. The US Open will be played next week in Brookline, Mass., and the USGA announced Tuesday that any golfer who had qualified for this year’s tournament will be allowed to compete, meaning the following LIV players can play: Mickelson, Johnson, Gooch, Bland, Oosthuizen, Grace, Garcia, Na, Horsfield, Norris and Martin Kaymer.
Who is funding it?
The LIV tour is being funded by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), which takes the country’s vast oil wealth and invests it in numerous industries, including sports. The Saudi government initially pledged $US400 million ($550 million) for the 2022 LIV season alone, with $255 million of that going toward prize money.
Why is this Saudi funding considered problematic?
Saudi Arabia’s investments in the sports world - the PIF owns English Premier League team Newcastle United and has an agreement to purchase Italian club Inter Milan while the country also stages a yearly Formula One race - have been criticised as examples of sportswashing, an attempt by the government to distract from the country’s human rights abuses. Among them is the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which the CIA has concluded was approved by Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman. Saudi Arabia also has been accused of war crimes by carrying out airstrikes in the Yemen civil war, arresting and torturing its political enemies, and criminalising LGBTQ individuals.
What did Phil Mickelson say about Saudi human rights violations?
In February, Mickelson biographer Alan Shipnuck published comments made by Mickelson about any concerns he might have about Saudi human rights violations. Mickelson seemed willing to overlook them to gain leverage over the PGA Tour.
“They’re scary motherf-----s to get involved with,” Mickelson said. “We know they killed Khashoggi and have a horrible record on human rights. They execute people over there for being gay. Knowing all of this, why would I even consider it? Because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour operates.”
In a statement released Monday after his LIV participation was announced, Mickelson said: “I have made mistakes in my career in some of the things I have said and done. Taking time away and self-reflecting has been very humbling. I needed to start prioritizing the people that I love the most and work on becoming a better version of myself.”
Have other LIV golfers spoken up about Saudi human rights violations?
Gooch, at 30 one of the more promising younger players signed by LIV Golf, said Tuesday that he didn’t agree that the new league was an example of sportswashing and that he simply was there to play golf.
“I don’t think that’s fair,” he said. “Also . . . I’m a golfer. I’m not that smart. I try to hit a golf ball into a small hole. Golf is hard enough. I try to worry about golf, and I’m excited bout this week.”
Graeme McDowell, the 2010 US Open champion, in part echoed Gooch’s thoughts and said the Saudis were simply trying to grow the sport.
“We all agree up here that the Jamal Khashoggi situation was reprehensible. No one’s gonna argue that fact,” he said. “But we’re golfers. . . . Speaking personally, I feel that golf’s a force of good in the world. I just try to be a great role model to kids.”
Why are players leaving the PGA Tour?
Put simply, they will be making much more money while playing much less golf. The bigger names such as Mickelson and Johnson reportedly will be paid nine figures simply to join the league, and can make millions more in prize money. Mickelson has made $95 million in career PGA Tour winnings but reportedly will be paid around $200 million for joining LIV Golf, while Johnson reportedly will get more than $100 million from LIV after earning $75 million over his PGA Tour career.
“I don’t want to play for the rest of my life,” the 37-year-old Johnson told reporters in a Tuesday news conference. “This gives me an opportunity to do what I want to do.”
Winners of regular season LIV tournaments will receive $4 million, which is more than winners of all PGA Tour events receive except for the season-ending Tour Championship. PGA Tour winners generally receive between $1 million and $2 million, with the majors and the Players Championship offering bigger prizes.
The LIV Golf schedule features only eight tournaments spread out from June to late October. By contrast, the PGA Tour schedule begins in September and, except for a brief holiday stoppage in November and December, continues every weekend through the Tour Championship in late August. The vast majority of PGA Tour golfers must play (and play well) in numerous tournaments to maintain their status, and they receive no money if they miss the cut. By contrast, LIV tournaments do not have cuts, so all the golfers in the field get paid no matter how poorly they play.
What does “LIV” mean, and how do you pronounce it?
The new league received its “LIV” name because that’s the Roman numeral for its 54-hole format. It rhymes with “give.”