The PGA Tour vs. LIV Golf: a giant faces a giant problem

Patrick Reed hits an iron shot at an LIV invitational event. Reed is one of the many PGA players to join the LIV.

Matthew Lewis - Getty Images

Patrick Reed hits an iron shot at an LIV invitational event. Reed is one of the many PGA players to join the LIV.

A little controversy may be the one thing that this sport needs. 

     Golf dates back all the way to the 1500s. From wooden clubs and the Gutta-Percha leather ball, golf has come a long way. Tournament golf gained popularity in the United States during the 1920s, with the official creation of the Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA) Tour in 1929. Ever since, the PGA has been undoubtedly the number one professional golf league in the world. At least that was the case before LIV golf arrived. 

     A common question that millions of golf fans ask is what actually is LIV golf? In simple terms it could be seen as a competitor to the PGA, but in reality they see themselves as just another golf league. The name “LIV” refers to the Roman numerals for 54. The league specifically chose the number to represent the score if every hole on a par-72 course were to be birdied along with the fact that the number of holes to be played at LIV events is 54.

     The LIV gained popularity because of the money the league has available. Across eight events in the league’s inaugural season, a 255 million dollar prize pool along with lucrative signing bonuses would be available. 

     Those benefits led a major movement of PGA players to LIV. Stars such as Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, and as of October 2nd, Golf World rank number two, Cameron Smith signed with LIV. The idea that LIV is stealing PGA players circled around many golf fans’ minds. 

     A major factor in Mickelson’s decision to leave the PGA was because of a 200 million dollar contract offer. Or in simpler terms, Mickelson just has to show up and will receive a fifth of a billion dollars.

     “I understand that many people have very strong opinions and many disagree with my decision, and I can empathize with that,” Mickelson said. “But at this time, this is an opportunity that gives me a chance to have the most balance in my life going forward and I think this is going to do a lot of good for the game [golf].”

     While it may seem that LIV is stealing all of PGA’s best players, golfers like Rory McIlroy, Billy Horschel, and Golf World rank number one Scottie Scheffler have confirmed their loyalty towards the PGA. Horschel says he has no resentment towards the players who left, but he is not appreciative of the players’ comments about the PGA.

     “I have ill will toward comments that they’ve made, comments saying that [PGA Tour commissioner] Jay Monahan doesn’t listen, the PGA tour doesn’t listen to us,” Horschel said. 

     PGA legend Tiger Woods also had to choose between the PGA and LIV. Woods’ Hall of Fame career and impact on the golf world led to an offer of about $800 million from LIV, but the star declined.

     The man behind the majority of LIV decisions is ex-PGA superstar Greg Norman. Norman spent 331 weeks as world number one through the 1980s and 1990s and won 89 professional golf tournaments during his career. Norman failed to get his “World Golf Tour” off the ground in 1994, but now he has been given the opportunity to build a new professional golf tour as the CEO of LIV.

     “Each week, we build the product better and better and better, that’s our goal,” Norman said. “Our runway is a really long one to keep building, because every week is different.” 

     Building a new sports league doesn’t come into place overnight. Any successful league needs a fanbase to have any kind of success. While some people love the LIV, some are skeptical of their morality.

     The problem most people have with the LIV is not Norman or the money offered to players, but the owners of the league. The LIV is financed by Saudi Arabia’s 620 billion dollar public investment fund, the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia. The belief that the money may be “blood money”, meaning that the money comes from the cost of another’s life, has been a hot topic of debate. 

    “While some may not agree, I continue to believe that golf is a force for good around the world, and that includes Saudi Arabia,” Norman said.

     With the LIV gaining popularity worldwide, the PGA and commissioner Jay Monahan have made major moves to reclaim the PGA’s popularity. Notable changes for the 2022-23 season include revoking LIV players’ PGA memberships and increasing their prize pool to 415 million dollars.

     “Every single member of the PGA Tour is going to benefit from the changes that we’re going to be making,” Monahan said. “The tour is going to continue to grow by having the best players in the world committed to it, by us continuing to lean into and invest in our ethos, which is the single-best competitive platform.”

     A powerhouse league that has to adapt and make drastic changes in hopes of retaining its own athletes is a new beat in an ever changing sports world. With the LIV v PGA conflict having no end in sight, the two may have added their names to the list of rivalries that will go down in history.