The Saudi-backed golf series just got a lot more real

Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.

After PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan declared that it was time to move on from speculation about proposed rival leagues, it didn’t take Greg Norman long to come back with details about his LIV Golf International Series. The Series will have eight events including four in the U.S., team play, no-cut 54-hole tournaments and $255 million in total prize money. Perhaps most importantly, there won’t be a requirement for players to join a League, they can simply choose to play some or all of the events. What do you make of this latest announcement?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): I guess it depends on whether Monahan still proceeds with his “you’ll be expelled from the PGA Tour if you play in the SGL events”.  Also, it’ll depend on how guilty the players would feel playing for the “filthy” Saudi lucre.  So many of the bigger names have already declared they won’t jump ship, that I’m afraid this whole Norman Tour will die on the vine.  And I won’t shed a shred of a tear if it does.

Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): I expected we hadn’t heard the last of this. I don’t like how a former Canadian Open Champion laid a LIV Event overtop the RBC Canadian Open. I don’t see him being extended a past champion welcome invitation anytime soon. Its interesting timing, I feel like they should have announced this schedule more than 2.5 months in advance of their first event. Seems rushed. But it will now force players to make some public decisions. If no players sign up, or not enough, I think the LIV idea will take a serious blow in reputation (if that’s possible). I’ll be watching for the entertainment.

Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Hall of Fame Member, PGA of Canada: This is exactly what I expected. A small ‘test’ sample of what we can use to see how the LIV intends to become mobile. At this point, I don’t like shotgun starts and I don’t like 54-hole events, but I guess they are trying to be different.

TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): Well, I guess they haven’t gone away, and Norman seems to have changed his tune a bit, saying his Tour could complement the PGA Tour.  Not sure that is going to fly and I really don’t see many of the top players jumping ship.  The players they might get are the fringe guys trying to eke out a living and happy to earn a big paycheque in a $25M no cut tourney.  But who is going to watch that?  Or sponsor it for very long?  I still don’t see it working, but we’ll have to wait and see.  Perhaps Phil not playing the Masters is an indication he’s willing to take that leap.

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: As spelled out in various media — most articulately and tellingly by Eamon Lynch at Golfweek — the Roman numeral 54 dance and timing of events are all part of a nuanced opening statement interesting only to litigants and perhaps past 40-something players dealing with alimony or other borderless fiscal challenges. Technically, even eventually perhaps legally, some players will be able to LIV with it — but never morally.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): I’m amazed that the media in particular has chosen to cast this Saudi-backed initiative as evil. Why do they draw a line now? Saudi money seems to be ok for the Ladies European Tour, where Aramco (Saudi oil company) sponsors several events. It was ok for the Saudi International, formerly a European Tour event and now on the Asian Tour, when over two dozen PGA Tour players got a release to play there just last month. And other Saudi investments don’t get the same kind of backlash as this new LIV Golf Series. What about Facebook, Citigroup, Bank of America, Boeing, General Electric and Disney, all companies where the Saudi PIF has sizeable investments – in some cases many times larger than what they’re spending on golf. I don’t hear any calls to boycott Disney or pull money out of Bank of America. If Greg Norman were American and the money was coming from Elon Musk, this series would be hailed as a fine example of the free enterprise system at work. But the Saudis and to a lesser extent, Norman himself, are easy to paint as the outsider bad guys trying to hurt America. It won’t work in the long run. Americans still deal with Russia, China and other countries that are considered pariahs on the world political stage but are quite alright when money is the spoken language.

While Norman revealed details about the LIV Golf series, still no player signings have been announced. He did say that he had sent invitations to over 250 world ranked players, and many responded instantly with positive encouragement and excitement. Even though a large number of top-ranked players had pledged their allegiance to the PGA Tour prior to the Players Championship and may face suspensions or bans if they do play, with so much money on the table, it has to be quite appealing. Do you believe some will change their minds and play some LIV events?

Deeks: No.  As suggested above.  I think they’d look like two-faced idiots if they changed their minds.  And really, do they need to?  The top 75 players have or will make enough in the next few years to ensure that at least the next two generations of their families will enjoy very comfortable lives that their “justification” for jumping would not be believable anyway.

Loughry: I’m not sure at this point if anyone on record as saying they won’t play LIV events will change their mind. I think many will wait and see who moves and what transpires. I could see some changing their position after watching all the wrinkles get ironed out (format, pairings, coverage, schedule, depth of fields, etc.). And some, if LIV gets this thing gets off the ground, will see lesser players taking home way more money in shorter time than they do, that just may create some thought around this. Most will stay status quo though – PGA Tour is the gold standard.

Schurman: I read about how much the Saudi Human Rights Record is involved in the discussion of a new league. That’s a total ‘smoke screen’. The real issue is competition. Even if not one PGA TOUR player enters the first few events, someone will. Perhaps some from the Asian Tour, the European Tour, the Korn Ferry Tour, the Latin American Tour or even the Mackenzie Tour. Someone will play and someone will win the $4M first prize. My prediction is that around event #3 or 4 some top player is going to look at the list of money winners and ask themselves “how much can I win if I were to play”. The players are being accused of greed but aren’t they entitled to produce their wares/skills for the most benefit. Today I read where a shortstop was signed for 6 years in a $140M contract. That’s nearly twice the biggest season any golfer has ever had, and it’s guaranteed for SIX years with no expenses. If we were concerned about Human Rights, we wouldn’t turn on the TV and watch the Saudi tournament last month. Anyone who does so is also saying it’s OK but NIMBY.

Rule: As I mentioned above, I can see Phil playing some events based on his latest comments, unless he just wants to rescue his reputation as much as possible.  But it’s interesting he’s not playing the Masters, what does that indicate?  As for other top players, I really don’t see them playing any events.  Again, I think LIV will attract a whole bunch of lower ranked guys looking to hit pay dirt and set themselves up for life.

Quinn: What are they going to do, wait for Phil to come down from his aerie and say follow me or wait, don’t follow me? Not even in the grand scheme of things, but in the most miniscule imaginable scenario, a shot gun start at a Trump course puts it in a real-world perspective and should end all conversations.

Mumford: I like the format. It doesn’t force players to choose one Tour or another; it caters to their desire to be independent contractors and play where they like. The shorter 54-hole events will be appealing and may encourage players to be more aggressive – like a sprint, rather than a marathon. With some events in the U.S. and a huge pile of prize money, LIV is too tempting to ignore. The new series may start with a trickle of PGA Tour players but after watching a few guys win more in one event than they make in a year, it will turn into a gusher.

Last week Henrik Stenson was named as captain of the 2023 European Ryder Cup team. Europe has a lot of former Ryder Cup stalwarts in the wings for future captaincy roles and several players who have already paid their dues as Assistant Captains. Was Stenson a good choice?

Deeks: Sure, he was.  He has the requisite career accomplishments (although not nearly as impressive, perhaps, as it should have been, given his talent).  And he appears to be very well liked and respected by everybody.  So, I’m sure he’ll be a guy that everyone will be happy and motivated to play for.

Loughry: Unlike the American choice, I like this one. He’s a beauty. I know he comes off quite stoic, but I’m telling you, this guy has a lot of character. Stone cold killer on course, but also a great sense of humour. He’ll have some quotable comments leading up to and during that week. He was a good choice.

Schurman: Europe has so many good choices it’s difficult to pick one over another. The one I feel bad about is Westwood who withdrew because he still wants to compete. It’s his decision but I hope in making it he hasn’t taken himself out of consideration in the future given the great line-up of guys who are also in line.

Rule: I was a bit surprised at the announcement because it still seems like Stenson is competitive to a degree.  But because he’s young, he likely has a good connection with the current players, which is important.  He’s a smart guy with a great sense of humour, and he seems to have the respect of the players, so I think it’s a great pick.  He’ll keep that same light hearted attitude among the players that has been the trademark of their recent winning teams.

Quinn: From his interviews over the years, and tales from fellow competitors (not just Euros), he has a great sense of humour. That’s a major qualification right there. And he was/is a terrific competitor who’s been through it. So, what else do you need in the over-blown and massively exaggerated (mainly by the media) role of the guy who has to go to all the meetings and pick the shirts? He’s a little young, but as good as any other choice.

Mumford: Europe has a deep bench when it comes to Ryder Cup captains. That comes from so much winning over the last thirty years. It’s hard to single one out when so may are qualified but Stenson will be more than capable as a captain and may turn out to be quite entertaining too if he can lighten things up a bit with his sense of humour.


The Round Table
The Round Table is a panel of golf writers, PGA members and industry experts.

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