The past month has not been the friendliest to LIV Golf. Its antitrust lawsuit against the PGA Tour has bled plaintiffs. Enlisting the MENA Tour as an end-around for its world rankings problem has stalled, and despite Brooks Koepka’s tears, LIV Jeddah viewership numbers have struggled mightily. LIV’s inaugural season wraps up next week in Miami with its players heavy with cash but light on solutions to the above problems.
So I find it all the more head-scratching that the LIV rumor mill has remained relatively quiet in regards to the women’s game. Sure, a Saudi-backed women’s golf league seems incongruent for many reasons. And if the overall goal of the entire LIV operation is more in line with Greg Norman’s vendetta against the PGA Tour than a long-term plan to overtake professional golf, ignoring the women’s side of the game makes sense. But if LIV wants momentum, opening up another front in the battle could be their next move.
First, my opinion on the prospect of LIV Golf overtaking the women’s game is that it would be terrible. The words depressing, sickening, and infuriating also come to mind. With that established, let’s play out the following hypothetical (hopefully it remains that way):
LIV Ladies is announced as an international series with eight events starting in 2023 and a minimum $10-million purse at each event. The domino effect would mirror what has happened over the last year in the men’s game, but the dominos that fall are going to be bigger and more consequential. Ten million is the largest purse in women’s golf and a fraction of the cost of LIV men’s events. While LPGA commissioner Mollie Marcoux Samaan and company would try to batten down the hatches, the tour doesn’t have the financial resources to compete, and she doesn’t have the one-two punch of Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy coming to save the day.
To be clear, I do believe there would be substantial pushback from many female professional golfers, some upper -rust stars of the game included, should LIV attempt a takeover. The money LIV could offer, though, would quickly surpass many career-earnings numbers and attract players at a quicker rate than it did on the men’s side.
Say 15 players in the top 50 of the Rolex Rankings jumped to LIV Ladies. Banning those players is a non-starter. A benefit of the LPGA’s schedule is that it isn’t diluted with events every week of the year, so the stars show up to almost every event. If that goes away overnight with a ban, sponsors would start dropping out.
In regards to majors, an LPGA ban would tank the players’ rankings just as it has in the men’s game, so major-championship qualification would become a hot topic. But there’s a big difference between mens and women’s majors: every women’s major has a title sponsor backing it. Those sponsors are vitally important, and you’d have to think that Chevron, ProMedica, KPMG, Evian, and AIG would not be happy about footing the bill with a swath of stars unable to participate. If the LIV Ladies events have strong fields and there’s pressure from the majors’ sponsors, denying Rolex Rankings points gets very difficult.
An international tour with massive purses would be appealing to international players just as it has been for the men. But international players leaving would be uniquely devastating to the LPGA. American players don’t dominate like they do in the men’s game. The rise of the game in South Korea and Japan in particular has produced a deep roster of players overflowing with talent and fame in their home countries. LPGA events in those countries are rare, though. This week’s BMW Ladies Championship is the only time the circuit visits South Korea. A tour that comes to the area more frequently is bound to appeal to a large population of Asian players—the exact ones that the LPGA can’t afford to lose.
LIV has the resources to normalize a Saudi-backed women’s professional golf league with greater ease than it has in the men’s game. Whether the organization chooses to go down that path is TBD, but if you thought LIV moved quickly through men’s golf, the downfall of the LPGA could happen even more rapidly. Happy Friday!
This piece originally appeared in The Fried Egg Newsletter. Subscribe for free and receive golf news and insight every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.