Now that LIV Golf has completed its first season, surprising some doubters while igniting what feels like golf's version of a holy war, and the PGA Tour has discovered millions of dollars to deepen the pockets of its players while redesigning its fundamental model, the unavoidable question remains:
What happens now?
Hopefully, some peace and quiet, at least for a little while. The noise level and angst meters have been in the red zone for too long, and everyone can benefit from some quiet time.
But if you’re hoping for sugar cookies and a Christmas miracle, you’re better off turning to Hallmark Channel than Golf Channel regardless of whether Greg Norman or someone else is LIV's front man.
What we saw this year was likely a prelude to what we will see next year. It’s like “The Crown”: one season building on the next, with the center line remaining the same. The PGA Tour as the monarchy? If the golf shoe fits …
At this point, both sides have dug into their respective positions, and there is no suggestion a resolution, a compromise, a meeting of the minds, is possible, at least until the two sides go to federal court in California in January 2024.
Greg Norman and his lieutenants at LIV insist they are open to discussions with the PGA Tour, but seemingly only on LIV’s terms. Part of what has made LIV’s arrival so disruptive is the Saudi-funded rival tour’s insistence on bending the rules to fit what it is doing.
The PGA Tour isn’t interested.
Critics have been quick to blame commissioner Jay Monahan for not at least listening to what LIV had to say. Monahan is a smart man and open to new ideas, but he doesn’t act alone. Though it’s fair to assume tournament sponsors aren’t happy about finding more money for funding their elevated events, it’s also fair to assume some of the tour’s biggest sponsors suggested to Monahan that he not get involved in what LIV is selling.
It remains a meritocracy and the aspiration goal of players chasing greatness. It is the standard by which players are judged, and that won’t change. Careers are made by success on the PGA Tour. LIV likely won’t ever have that.
Reports surfaced last week that Norman was on the verge of being replaced as CEO by former TaylorMade boss Mark King, who now runs Taco Bell. The rumor has been out there for a while, but to this point LIV insists it's nothing more.
"Greg Norman is our CEO and Commissioner. Any suggestion that changes are being made to Greg's title or role is patently false," Majed Al Sorour, LIV Golf's managing director, said in a statement.
Replacing Norman wouldn't necessarily make selling LIV to the media and the masses any easier – the Saudi connection is the inescapable issue – but the perception that Norman has a personal vendetta against the PGA Tour lingers, adding to LIV's challenge.
LIV’s arrival has cost the tour a number of familiar names, and there may be a few more to make the leap before next season, but the PGA Tour will continue to be the pinnacle of professional golf. It may not be able to win the money battle, but LIV can’t buy the history, legacy and value the PGA Tour has.
Players go to LIV to cash in, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Dustin Johnson banked well more than $100 million this year and didn’t seem to do much heavy lifting.
There are tens of millions of dollars available on the PGA Tour as well, but it comes with more. It remains a meritocracy and the aspiration goal of players chasing greatness. It is the standard by which players are judged, and that won’t change. Careers are made by success on the PGA Tour. LIV likely won’t ever have that.
It’s hard to find common ground between the two. LIV players are committed to playing 14 events next year, and there are investment incentives in the team concept which will come more fully into focus in 2023. If the top players on LIV get into the majors (many have qualified by virtue of their major-championship victories in recent years), that would be 18 events, a fairly full schedule these days.
The PGA Tour isn’t going to give LIV players five or six starts of their choosing. Why would it? Tour members would balk at that, and they should. Several LIV players resigned their tour membership, and others are facing suspensions that will last years. There's no coming back for them.
Official World Golf Ranking points aren’t likely to be available to LIV players any time soon, and if they eventually do come, they are likely to be diluted because of the size and structure of the tour. It’s another advantage the PGA Tour has.
What would a merger look like?
That’s the problem. There isn’t a good option.
The PGA Tour isn’t backing down and LIV isn’t going anywhere, so nothing is likely to change any time soon.
LIV doesn’t bring anything to the table in terms of television/streaming exposure. LIV’s leadership keeps saying a deal is coming and that it needs to happen. LIV wasn’t designed to live on YouTube. Can it come close to matching what the PGA Tour has on television? It doesn’t seem feasible.
It’s true that LIV has forced change on the PGA Tour, which seemed to be knocked back by the number of defections earlier this year. The tour has responded – with the direct help of Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy – by redrawing its tournament formula, pushing more money and more events bringing together all of the top players.
Norman is more than happy to take credit for the changes happening on the PGA Tour, even while assurances given to LIV players – there would be no tour suspensions, they would get world-ranking points, LIV would become part of golf's ecosystem – remain more conceptual than real.
“I thank them and the players should be thanking LIV. I’m so happy it has happened,” Norman said at the LIV golf finale near Miami last month.
“Be happy for us because we have a different platform. You can do both. You can go play both tours. My boys want to play both. They want to play the European Tour. They want to play the PGA Tour. They want to play LIV. They love playing golf.
“The divisiveness is coming more from Jacksonville than from anywhere else.”
It sounds like those on LIV’s side want it all. The PGA Tour wants to protect and enhance what it has. Both believe in what they are doing.
This may be as good as it gets for a while.
Top: LIV's top team of Pat Perez, Talor Gooch, Patrick Reed and Dustin Johnson enjoys the enriching ride.