A few thoughts on LIV Boston, which ended with some fireworks and a DJ playoff win…
Curiosity and context
We’re likely hitting a tipping point of tension for many interested onlookers and voyeurs of LIV. The curiosity factor of the first event or two is waning or completely gone. These are people who came to gawk at the actual product coming out of the biggest golf story since the arrival of Tiger Woods. It was a massive driver for interest at the start, one that captured an audience even beyond the golf corner of the world. But that curiosity is gone, and now it takes something more to fire up YouTube and lock in. For these people, maybe LIV peaked in its earliest days and events, and they’ll reconnect with some of its characters down the road at the majors.
Conversely, each event brings more context to what it is, who’s playing, and for what. There’s some familiarity with the product being built and real competitive moments to build on. There are also stronger fields with each event, peaking this past weekend in Boston, where Dustin Johnson earned the first American win in a playoff that delivered LIV’s best exhibit of competitive golf yet. We’re not getting into history or legacy-building territory here, but layers of familiarity and context are being added as the disruptor presses on, and that will add a legitimacy to it for some. The Boston event delivered its own Sunday show just a week after that thrilling Tour Championship finale. As my colleague Garrett Morrison put it, “We can’t comfort ourselves with the notion that LIV’s golf competitions will never feel competitive.” The shrieking coverage commentary aside, DJ’s winning putt surrounded by revelry cracked that door ajar.
You’re going to have to work for it
Even for the crowd that is getting beyond the sportswashing and early circus appeal to actually buy in, well, it will take some real commitment to keep that energy. Seeking out a YouTube stream during college football Saturdays and NFL Sundays is a daunting proposition even for someone who might think a LIV event is the equal of a major championship. The Shark and Justine aside, there are probably not too many folks out there who actually think that.
Did many people even watch this “signature” DJ moment during a holiday weekend Sunday? Who knows what the actual YouTube numbers are or what they might mean, but the coming setup is not ideal for increasing interest and momentum, at least in the short term for the rest of the 2022 schedule. A TV deal is critical, even for this well-funded venture that has had time on its side.
The warm gag of familiarity
The most legitimizing indicator yet that this is not a meaningless hit-and-giggle but rather some form of competition was a trademark Lee Westwood gag. Westy had it right there on his club, a sand wedge no less, needing birdie to win outright and a simple par to get in the eventual three-man playoff. Instead, the sans-pants Westy stumbled at the line with a bogey and a round that had threatened to break 60 turned into a comforting T-4 and $1,012,750 (plus another $125,000 for his Magic Sticks finishing third in the team deal).
Phil finds some voice
While the late choke was nothing new, the elder Westy must have been encouraged to be competitive. Phil Mickelson continues to have no such claim after a dispiriting T-40. While Phil’s game remains MIA, he did at least start to find some of his voice again, taking a shot (however disingenuous) at the PGA Tour for “magically” finding a few hundred million dollars to implement its new elevated-series program. He also spoke out in an interview with Sports Illustrated, the legendary media power now owned by Authentic Brands Group, which also claims Greg Norman in its “brand portfolio.” Phil has mostly been a zombie on the course and at the mic since January, so here’s hoping some of that personality returns if for nothing more than the entertainment value from the de facto player leader of the disruptor league.