The results at LIV Chicago this past week weren’t particularly surprising: LIV’s clear No. 1 player, Cameron Smith, won the individual competition, while the league’s clear No. 2 player, Dustin Johnson, came in second. DJ’s 4 Aces GC notched its fourth straight team title, an achievement that announcer Arlo White likened to the Chicago Bulls’ run of six NBA championships in eight years. Very normal comparison, sir!
(In case you’re wondering, I have Dustin Johnson as Michael Jordan, Talor Gooch as Scottie Pippen, Patrick Reed as Dennis Rodman, and Pat Perez as… I don’t know, Dickey Simpkins?)
Of the five tournaments the Saudi-bankrolled tour has put on so far, LIV Chicago produced the least amount of buzz. Media coverage was minimal, Twitter discourse was tame, and average viewership of the YouTube broadcast was way down. It was the first LIV event that didn’t feel like the most important golf story of the weekend—except for those five minutes when we held our collective breath and prayed that Bryson would survive his encounter with a gallery rope.
There are a few plausible explanations for the tournament’s quiet reception. One, LIV didn’t introduce any new big-name signees this week. Two, the final round was up against regular-season NFL games. (There’s a reason the PGA Tour fought hard to move its playoffs from September to August.) And three, the initial novelty of the rebel tour may be wearing off.
None of this means that LIV is in trouble. It may even be on television pretty soon. According to a report from Front Office Sports, Fox is the “leading contender” to purchase LIV’s U.S. media rights. LIV spokesman Will Staeger added that the league is in negotiations with “virtually every major media company.” Staeger is probably exaggerating—the Wall Street Journal reported that Apple and Amazon said no, and PGA Tour partners NBC and CBS are presumably not interested—but I’d be surprised if LIV doesn’t have some kind of U.S. TV deal by the end of the year.
Plus, Greg Norman and co. are playing the long game. With the backing of the Saudi Arabian government’s Public Investment Fund, they can withstand the occasional dip in YouTube views and Meltwater mentions. For now, in fact, LIV may be okay with the spotlight shining elsewhere.
Consider how little media scrutiny players faced at Rich Harvest Farms this past week. A reporter who was on site told me there was “barely anyone” in the media center on Thursday. The most recognizable faces were the Fire Pit Collective’s Alan Shipnuck, who is writing a book about the golf’s “civil war”; SI/Morning Read’s Bob Harig, who has become something of a specialist in LIV-themed exclusives; and ESPN’s Mark Schlabach, whose outlet’s website has recently given LIV results more prominent billing. A total of nine press conferences were held from Thursday through Sunday, all in the outdoor “flash zone” rather than the media center. Only once did a reporter broach the subject of the league’s Saudi funding.
This is not a critique of the state of golf journalism. I covered LIV Portland in person, and I came away feeling that there wasn’t much real reporting I could have done. Player access was too limited. Besides, everyone knows we’re not going to get new, interesting answers to the blood-money question.
My point is that as the first storm of interest in LIV dissipates, life will get comfier for the league’s players. And the PGA Tour guys who turned down Norman’s offers for fear of PR repercussions may end up reconsidering.
This piece originally appeared in The Fried Egg Newsletter. Subscribe for free and receive golf news and insight every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.