Year two means less margin for chucklef**kery from LIV Golf. It’s not off to a good start. The year one cushion created by general curiosity in the potential disruption is gone. What’s required now is something interesting, repeatable, and sustainable. The disruption element of last year must turn into an attractive product, especially given what they made the PGA Tour do to respond. In a twisted way, LIV may end up being one of the better things to happen to the PGA Tour. It focused the bloated organization, forcing them to recognize institutional weaknesses (and strengths), and get a little more creative. The earliest days of the Tour’s first response have been solid in both concept and practice in Phoenix and Los Angeles. The counterpunch also put the pressure on LIV to come back with something more. They have failed to do that in a meaningful way so far, and that was crystalized in a relatively languid season-opening show.
There were some new uniforms and a few new players, but the event in Mexico lacked any real intrigue or differentiation from a sleepier weekend on any other pro tour. We’re already used to money being exchanged via relatively inconsequential golf at Mayakoba. The carnival’s main event, the golf product, didn’t look much more interesting, and the curiosity factor of last year is evaporating. Veteran Charles Howell III, infamous for making enormous sums of money without winning, won by a lot. The CW ratings were negligible for Saturday, though not unheard-of numbers for middling to lower-tier pro golf. Some CW affiliates bumped the broadcast to more remote areas of the cable package. After an offseason of concerning executive turnover and flight, the first official weekend was not an impressive or compelling product.
But worse for LIV is that it seems more frivolous than ever for its players. Brooks Koepka is doing an Instagram Q&A with all the energy and authenticity of a hostage video. Matthew Wolff and Sam Horsfield are ordered to perform a bottle-flipping challenge called Wolff vs. Horsey with a similar level of enthusiasm. Cam Smith, the reigning champion golfer of the year, is enlisted for incoherent TikToks. Rumblings of annoyance and regret are starting to percolate below the “golf, but louder” marketing facade.
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Most concerning after a relatively quiet “offseason” and opener, however, is the current proof of concept and lack of momentum has to solidify the doubt in any highly rated player who might have been tempted at some point last year. The hesitation among any jumpers has to be even higher. Why leave or dabble now when things look stagnant and uncertain, or even grim depending on who you’re talking to? The days of widespread rumors and cascading waves of defections among the top players on the PGA Tour are gone, for now. LIV’s product is out there and Tour’s product is out there, and only one seems to have gotten much stronger since last year. So any salvation in a bunch, or even a couple, of high-profile signings does not seem realistic. The cost to woo someone has to be even higher now, which the Saudis can stomach, if they want to keep pouring money into this endeavor.
Not to go all LIV bot here and blame the media, but I’m sure the media will run to pronunciations of death sooner than needed. It doesn’t seem great right now, but that’s also an easy, juicy narrative to push at this point. There’s some cause for optimism about the reception in Australia to the league’s debut event there. It looks like it could be a scene. But that’s still a couple months away. Given how the last few months have been managed and the underwhelming debut this weekend, it’s hard to expect any rapid advancement in the product.
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