LIV Golf’s Premiere and the PGA Tour’s Punishment

Presentation over substance seemed to matter more in LIV Golf's streaming debut, and maybe in Jay Monahan's punishment memo as well


A few thoughts after an eventful morning watching a YouTube stream from London and reading through the PGA Tour’s response.

1. The broadcast lacked many of the bells and whistles of the normal PGA Tour broadcast. It also lacked commercials. That, combined with the pace of shots being shown, seemed to outweigh all the other missing elements, like a shot tracer or frequent club and yardage information. The sound effect that went off to alert you of the player about to play a shot being shown was maddening and jarring at the start, but it quickly became just a part of the coverage, and sometimes jolted you to jump over to the tab or screen where you might have had the stream running. The leaderboard down the side of the screen was useful at times, even if some of the other scoring elements bordered on unintelligible.

This is not an assessment of the actual golf product – a leaderboard full of mostly unknown players on a boring course with a format and scoring system that’s still nebulous. It was hard to orient yourself with who was playing what hole and how far they had to the pin, but more people just seemed to enjoy having constant golf shots coming at them. The broadcast was not a flop or embarrassment and it looked like a real, professional golf event with some welcome change-ups. Of course, a commercial-free stream affords one some luxury to show a lot of shots. Is that the long-term arrangement or a sustainable one?

2. The “Don’t Blink” catch-up segments of shots we missed were preposterously named and that phrase was overused, but it was illustrative of just how much golf was happening at once and a mild commitment to actually show much of it. Which brings us to a separate point: the shotgun start worked! So far. I was dubious and figured it might result in a jumbled incoherent mess, but for a first round with 48 players out there on a solitary YouTube stream, it was an appropriate format that kept the pace quick. Again, it helps when the stakes are low and people don’t need to be oriented like they might for a U.S. Open next week.

3. Jerry Foltz was a fan favorite on Golf Channel calling women’s golf and other events. But no one turned the propaganda up higher in the first round than Foltz. He was earning that paycheck as he talked about the “sea of humanity” and “sold out” crowds at an event where tickets were given away for free. There were ample talking points about how things were just getting started, this was historic and revolutionary, it was the absolute future for golf, and how Scott Vincent was must-see. At one point, he said everyone was “here for a reason,” suggesting that reason was not tubs of sportswashing money but to grow and advance the game of golf. There’s a balance between serving your master and being legitimately excited for the endeavor you’re involved with, and swerving hard into a state-run-media parody.

Liv Golf

It was nauseating – I got several texts from non-golf watching friends wondering who the hell the tedious cheerleader was alongside Arlo White, who was another propaganda vessel and once suggested the venue looked like an Open Championship (a friend on the ground said it felt like he was in Indiana). This is not to excuse the weekly PGA Tour broadcasts, which have plenty of deluded overhype the audience does not believe or care for. But it was a bummer to see Foltz, who can be a legit good analyst and worked for Golf Channel just a few weeks ago, so unsubtly blather on about how he and all of us in the golf world had found deliverance with this. 

4. I was monitoring the live audience numbers throughout the morning, which started in the mid to upper 40,000s before climbing and jusssst touching triple digits. The PGA Tour keeps its streaming numbers locked up like a state secret, and that’s probably a moving target given how many partners they’ve gotten in bed with over the years, which might now include all ESPN+ subscribers. Perhaps one of those early morning Tiger rounds as he came back from an injury in recent years surpassed the triple digit number LIV touched today? Regardless, the LIV number seems like a strong one, but again this is their only product and there’s some first-time curiosity. There’s no linear broadcast on network TV that came after this, like the Tour can boast. Also, can you juice live YouTube numbers? If you can, presumably an enterprise tied up with the Saudi government would know how to? Not suggesting that happened today, just asking a few questions. They wouldn’t be the first golf organization to juice the numbers. Whatever the total was, there was substantial interest in watching the premiere. The following acts may be harder to attract curiosity, even if there are new top players.

5. Again, the golf product here – the mostly unknown players on an insignifcant course with a format still being sorted out by Saudi bankrollers that don’t really care about the actual competition – is secondary. As a matter of fact, it was the sideshow to the main show on Thursday, which will be the PGA Tour’s battle with this disruptor league. The Tour, notorious for keeping all disciplinary matters private, issued its first wave of punishments for former members who defected, in a memo from Jay Monahan that was shared widely. The memo felt somewhat underwhelming – not toothless or impotent, but some sound and fury that did not feel like a significant deterrent. The players who went to play, whether as resigned members or not, are suspended immediately and indefinitely, and will not be able to play on any exemption at a PGA Tour event, including KFT or Champions Tour events, opportunities I’m sure will be missed by pros collecting all this Saudi cash. Monahan is not going to lay out his entire legal strategy or plan, but the memo did make it feel like he’s at the mercy of his top players’ loyalty, and perhaps some reinforcement riding in from the majors in the form of their own bans. That feels like a precarious position if he wants to maintain the status quo, but maybe the Tour has some radical overhaul to better address some of the vulnerabilities a LIV arrangement and format exploited.

6. Phil’s vest appeared to be a point he was trying to get off in that behind-the-scenes battle, it’s just unclear what statement he’s trying to make and in response to what. Or maybe he just grabbed the first black vest he saw on his way out the door, but for someone whose logoless look would become the subject of a story as soon as he returned to public golf, it felt intentional.

7. Monahan is taking a lot of arrows, and that’s fine. I would just like to take moment to call out Keith (and/or Scott) Pelley, who first welcomed the Saudis into the tent of high-level, OWGR-certified golf and further piqued their interest in the game by giving them a European Tour event. He also now presides over a minor-league and further marginalized product. 

8. The curiosity of Thursday morning at the format, the ongoing drama around the clash between organizations, and the amusement with all the goofy details like team names, will subside. And the golf consumer is likely left with duller, multiple diminished products in disparate places.