LIV Golf Season 2 – Big targets and acquainted points lined up for the league

IT WAS ALMOST a 12 months in the past that writer Alan Shipnuck revealed Phil Mickelson’s controversial feedback in regards to the PGA Tour and the Saudi Arabian monarchy’s historical past of human rights abuses and alleged involvement within the loss of life of Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi. Mickelson, who was allegedly recruiting gamers to LIV Golf, informed Shipnuck that he was working with the Saudis solely to achieve leverage with the PGA Tour.

“They’re scary motherf—ers to get involved with,” Mickelson informed Shipnuck. “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.”

Mickelson, a six-time main champion, later apologized for his remarks. He misplaced a number of longtime sponsors, together with KPMG, Workday and Amstel Light. Mickelson went into self-exile earlier than returning to play at LIV Golf’s inaugural occasion exterior London in June.

Once Mickelson’s feedback had been public, a number of PGA Tour members who had been speaking to LIV Golf backed away from the circuit that’s being funded by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund. Major championship winners Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Patrick Reed and others pledged their assist to the PGA Tour. As Rory McIlroy famously mentioned on the time, “It’s dead in the water, in my opinion. I just can’t see any reason why anyone would go.”

Not lengthy after, nevertheless, Johnson, DeChambeau, Reed and others did an about-face after receiving assured signing bonuses reportedly value as a lot as $150 million, and made the bounce to LIV Golf. More than 30 PGA Tour members would find yourself defecting, leading to suspensions by tour commissioner Jay Monahan. LIV Golf and a few of its gamers filed a federal antitrust lawsuit and accused the PGA Tour of being a monopoly; the tour countersuited and alleged LIV Golf interfered with its contracts with gamers.

Make no mistake: If LIV Golf’s motivation throughout its inaugural season was to be a disruptor in a sport that had largely remained unchanged for greater than 50 years, then it succeeded. With the deep pockets of Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, which has dumped greater than $2 billion into the enterprise, LIV Golf was in a position to stage eight occasions world wide with $25 million purses, the richest within the historical past of the game. It even plucked reigning Open Championship winner Cameron Smith from the PGA Tour a couple of days after he competed in its Tour Championship.

While its staff format and 54-hole tournaments with no reduce and shotgun begins weren’t for everybody, particularly golf traditionalists, LIV Golf gamers appeared to be having enjoyable, particularly those who had been getting very wealthy. As Johnson and his 4Aces teammates celebrated with a champagne bathe on the 18th gap of Trump Doral in Miami, after successful LIV Golf’s $50 million staff championship in October, LIV Golf appeared to have momentum. It may very well be argued that the brand new circuit is the most important story in males’s skilled golf since Tiger Woods arrived on the PGA Tour in 1996.

THE DAY BEFORE LIV Golf’s inaugural season resulted in October with the ultimate spherical of its staff championship, three LIV Golf executives met with a number of reporters to temporary them on the brand new circuit’s targets for 2023.

Among their lofty aspirations: signing community tv offers, each domestically and internationally, to develop LIV Golf’s publicity world wide; securing company and staff sponsors; and growing a franchise mannequin that they hoped would at some point make LIV Golf’s 12 groups value tons of of tens of millions of {dollars} — every.

“Our goals are to transition to the league, have 12 teams established and get them off the ground, and clearly build on the on-course and fan experience we are seeing and the engagement we are seeing,” then-LIV Golf COO and president Atul Khosla informed reporters that day. “And yes, we have to start commercializing the product. Got to get on TV. Need to find corporate partners. Those are milestones we need to hit going into next year.”

LIV Golf introduced it will develop to 14 tournaments and lift purses from $150 million to $405 million complete this 12 months. Behind the scenes, it was eyeing a handful of different PGA Tour stars, together with previous Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama of Japan and Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele, two of the very best gamers from the U.S.

A couple of days after the 2022 season ended, LIV Golf CEO and commissioner Greg Norman, a two-time Open Championship winner, informed reporters on a videoconference that his circuit was simply getting began. He advised that there had by no means been a brand new sports activities league accomplish what LIV Golf did in its first 12 months.

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“LIV has only just begun,” Norman mentioned. “From my perspective, it was one heck of a year. It was one heck of a beta season. It was one heck of a launch.”

Then, over the following few months, LIV Golf’s momentum appeared to sputter. The league that promised to be “golf but louder” barely made a whimper throughout its offseason.

WITHIN SIX WEEKS of that assembly in Miami, Khosla and one other one of many executives within the room, chief communications officer Jonathan Grella, had been now not working at LIV Golf. There had been two different important departures: Matt Goodman, the league’s president of franchises, and Kerry Taylor, its chief advertising officer. Sources informed ESPN that the departures weren’t voluntary. Golf Saudi CEO Majed Al Sorour additionally stepped away from his position as LIV Golf’s managing director, though he stays on its board.

As the LIV Golf League begins its second season at El Camaleon Golf Course at Mayakoba in Mexico on Friday, selections at the moment are being made by a small variety of executives surrounding Norman. Gary Davidson, Richard Marsh and Jed Moore, three executives from Performance 54, an England-based worldwide golf advertising and consulting group, at the moment are calling the photographs at LIV Golf, together with Norman.

In current weeks, LIV Golf staff officers expressed considerations to ESPN about LIV Golf executives not repeatedly speaking with them and delaying necessary selections. For occasion, LIV Golf rolled out its 2023 schedule in three bulletins — on Nov. 30, Dec. 14 and Jan. 23. One cause for the delay, in accordance with sources, was that LIV Golf groups pushed again on having to return to Saudi Arabia for the second straight 12 months. The buyers gained that combat; the LIV Golf staff championship shall be performed in Jeddah on Nov. 3-5.

According to sources, shifting the staff championship away from Trump Doral did not sit effectively with former U.S. president Donald Trump, who owns the membership. A LIV Golf event will nonetheless be performed there on Oct. 20-22, in addition to at nation golf equipment Trump owns in Bedminster, New Jersey, and Sterling, Virginia.

Team officers additionally complained that rosters had been unveiled over three days — and solely a few week earlier than the beginning of the season. The final announcement was delayed three days, after Belgium’s Thomas Pieters was a last-minute addition for Hudson Swafford, who’s present process season-ending hip surgical procedure.

The New York Times reported in December {that a} administration consulting agency employed by the Saudis wrote a report in 2021, code-named Project Wedge, through which it advised {that a} new league must signal the world’s high 12 golfers and land TV offers in a sport with declining audiences to make it. To get the most important return on funding, the Saudi advisers projected that the brand new league must signal Mickelson, McIlroy and Woods. McIlroy and Woods have been two of the PGA Tour’s most vocal supporters and have helped reshape it in response to the LIV Golf risk.

Pieters, who gained six occasions on the DP World Tour and is ranked No. 35 within the Official World Golf Ranking, was the highest-profile participant signed by LIV Golf in the course of the offseason. The different new gamers embrace Chile’s Mito Pereira, Colombia’s Sebastian Munoz, South Africa’s Dean Burmester, New Zealand’s Danny Lee and Brendan Steele. It was hardly the star energy that Norman had hoped for.

ON JAN. 19, LIV Golf introduced it had reached a multiyear U.S. broadcast tv and streaming settlement with the CW community to air its reside tournaments. Financial phrases of the deal weren’t launched. Sources informed ESPN that it’s a revenue-sharing association and that LIV Golf will not obtain rights charges from the CW community and would proceed to pay manufacturing prices, because it did throughout its inaugural season in 2022.

The opening rounds of LIV Golf tournaments shall be streamed on the CW app; the second and third rounds of LIV weekend tournaments will air reside on Saturdays and Sundays on the CW and the CW app. The league’s six worldwide occasions shall be broadcast on tape delay on the weekends within the U.S. Fans can watch the abroad occasions reside on the CW app.

On Thursday, the circuit launched LIV Golf Plus and, which it mentioned would enable viewers in 180 international territories to look at its occasions reside and without spending a dime.

The circuit goes all-in on selling its staff idea. While the inaugural season had a rotating forged of gamers, barring accidents, groups can have static rosters this 12 months. Players wore matching uniforms on the driving vary in Mexico on Wednesday. Their shirts, hats and customized golf luggage had been largely void of kit producer and different sponsor logos they proudly displayed whereas competing on the PGA Tour.

While the tools and attire firms did not appear to decide on a facet within the battle between LIV Golf and the PGA Tour final 12 months, their backside traces are inflicting them to make troublesome selections now. Puma/Cobra did not renew its take care of DeChambeau. An Adidas spokesman confirmed to ESPN that it ended its longtime relationships with Johnson and Sergio Garcia. Adidas had sponsored Johnson since shortly after he turned professional in 2007.

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“I was with them for 15 years,” Johnson informed reporters in Mexico on Thursday. “We had a great relationship. It’s still really good. We mutually agreed on parting ways. It just wasn’t working. Obviously, playing for LIV and the way things kind of go, it was better for both of us to part ways. For me being the captain of the team, obviously being able to go out and find a clothing sponsor is more beneficial than waiting another year.

“Everything we do, particularly from now going ahead, goes to be in regards to the staff and what’s greatest for it. That’s undoubtedly the aim and would be the aim from now going ahead.”

According to representatives of a handful of apparel and equipment companies contacted by ESPN, their contracts with golfers include annual event minimums. For instance, if a player was competing on the PGA Tour when he signed, he might be required to compete in 20 tour events. There are other qualifiers, including those tournaments not being a team event like the Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup, in which players wear team uniforms, and the event being recognized by the OWGR.

Once players jumped to LIV Golf last year, according to representatives of the equipment and apparel companies, most didn’t meet the minimum event requirements and were paid only a fraction of what they would have been otherwise owed. One executive described last year as “Christmas” because his company was being promoted by a highly ranked player for “pennies on the greenback.” Another equipment representative said it was difficult to make accurate evaluations of players because there was so little data available in terms of marketing and TV metrics because LIV Golf’s events in 2022 were available only on YouTube, the tour’s official website and a streaming service.

With players wearing their team logos on their shirts this season, there’s little room left for potential sponsors this year.

“That’s what we had been paying for usually,” an equipment company representative said.

WHEN MANY PLAYERS made the jump to LIV Golf, they were assured that the new circuit would be recognized by the OWGR. Sources told ESPN that LIV Golf players won’t receive OWGR points for their results in Mayakoba and that a resolution on the issue isn’t expected in the next couple of months. The OWGR notified LIV Golf that it will have to address a few issues before it can be included in the rankings, which the four major championships and other tournaments use to determine exemptions and qualifying. LIV Golf’s 54-hole format and smaller fields aren’t expected to be insurmountable obstacles, but it might have to add a 36-hole cut or adjust in other ways to meet the required criteria.

LIV Golf players didn’t receive points during the first season, either, causing many of them to plummet in the rankings. While Smith is No. 5 in the world, other LIV Golf stars haven’t sustained their lofty rankings. Johnson, a two-time major champion, is ranked No. 54 in the world, the first time in 13 years he hasn’t been in the top 50. Brooks Koepka, a four-time major champion who was ranked No. 1 for 47 straight weeks, has fallen to 85th. DeChambeau, once ranked as high as No. 4 in the world, is 114th. Bubba Watson is 189th and Mickelson is 298th. It is the first time Mickelson has been ranked outside the top 200 since 1992, the year he turned pro.

“If [we] do not obtain world rating factors, then the world rating system is flawed,” Watson told ESPN. “It’s damaged. You know, when you consider the golfers which might be right here, if you are going to play towards the very best on this planet, you need to rank us too, as a result of we’re a few of the greatest on this planet. It’s a flawed system should you say no.”

Six LIV Golf players, Smith, Mickelson, Johnson, DeChambeau, Reed and Koepka, have exemptions into each of the four majors this season for being a past champion of at least one of them in the previous five years. Other past Masters champions, Garcia, Watson and Charl Schwartzel, have lifetime invitations to Augusta National. Henrik Stenson and Louis Oosthuizen are eligible to play in The Open until they’re 60, and Martin Kaymer has exemptions into the PGA Championship and U.S. Open.

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Abraham Ancer, Pereira and Steele are eligible for the PGA Championship after ending within the high 15 at Southern Hills final season. Joaquin Niemann is eligible after reaching the Tour Championship final 12 months; he’s additionally ranked No. 23 on this planet and would in any other case qualify. Other LIV Golf gamers, together with Harold Varner III, Jason Kokrak and Kevin Na, are eligible by ending within the high 50 on this planet final 12 months.

“It’s always great to go play in the majors, especially at The Open,” Reed informed reporters in Mexico on Thursday. “We’re just happy they did the right thing, so just go out and play well in those events again, because at the end of the day you go out and you win major championships, it all takes care of itself.”

While LIV Golf alleged in its federal antitrust lawsuit that the PGA Tour was colluding with the majors’ governing our bodies to maintain LIV Golf gamers out of the majors, none of them imposed bans. In truth, even the PGA Championship did not put restrictions on LIV Golf gamers. The PGA Championship requires gamers to be members of the PGA of America to compete within the event. Most gamers meet that requirement by being members of the PGA Tour. In the previous, PGA of America CEO Seth Waugh had indicated that gamers who had been suspended and weren’t in good standing with the PGA Tour would not be allowed to play.

“Our decisions are always based on what’s in the best interest of the PGA of America and conducting the best championship possible,” Waugh mentioned in a information launch on Wednesday. “Sadly, the current division in the professional game is not good for the sport or the future of the game. We hope there might be some resolution soon. In the meantime, as always, our focus will be on our mission to grow the game and improve the lives of our members, who work so hard to impact millions of lives every day.”

In an interview with Sports Illustrated final month, Mickelson advised that the OWGR had misplaced all credibility by not together with LIV gamers.

“There will probably be another ranking system that is a more credible system as it includes all golfers in the world,” Mickelson mentioned. “This one has lost any credibility. I wouldn’t be surprised if tournaments stopped using it as a criteria for qualifying. I think it is ultimately hurting the tournaments more than the players. If you’re a major championship and you’re using it as a qualifying factor and you’re taking a system that is not getting all the best players in the field, it hurts the tournament more. That’s why you might see tournaments go away from it as qualifying criteria or have a new ranking system.”

ALTHOUGH LIV GOLF claimed a victory when it comes to the majors, it has been dealt a few massive blows in its ongoing authorized battle with the PGA Tour. On Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Beth Labson Freeman dominated that the tour can add the Public Investment Fund and the fund’s governor, Yasir Al-Rumayyan, as defendants in its countersuit. U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan van Keulen had earlier rejected arguments from PIF attorneys that the fund and Al-Rumayyan had been shielded from the tour’s subpoenas on the grounds of sovereign immunity as a result of they had been brokers of a international authorities.

A case administration convention is scheduled for Friday. Freeman might select to delay the beginning of the trial, which was supposed to start in January 2024.

The U.S. Department of Justice additionally opened an antitrust investigation into the PGA Tour’s alleged monopolistic actions and it stays energetic, sources informed ESPN. An arbitration panel in London is predicted to announce quickly whether or not LIV Golf gamers also can compete on the DP World Tour.

Clearly, a 12 months after Mickelson’s feedback had been revealed and put the golf world into turmoil like by no means earlier than, the state of affairs stays a large number.

On Thursday, when LIV Golf’s Pat Perez was requested by a reporter for his ideas on beginning the season at Mayakoba, the place the PGA Tour used to carry an annual occasion, his reply was succinct.

“I love it because we’re here and the tour is not,” Perez mentioned. “End quote.”