The question is out there, in grill rooms and on walks between shots, tossed back and forth between buddies having beers and friends who are wiping the french-fry grease off their fingers.
Did you watch? What did you think?
Not LIV Golf, which debuted on the CW Network last weekend. They’re talking about the Netflix docuseries “Full Swing,” which, at least based on a smattering of samples, seems to have hit the right notes with its audience.
As for LIV, which launched Season Two last weekend at Mayakoba in Mexico where the PGA Tour used to play, it was another moment to celebrate being new and different – something LIV is very good at doing – and being a bit easier for potential viewers to find should they go looking.
Because the CW doesn’t play the Nielsen ratings game, we may never know how many people actually tuned in to LIV’s American broadcast debut, but everyone has to start someplace, even if all of the good letters (CBS, NBC, ESPN) were already taken.
Just nine events into the LIV Golf experience, it feels like a now-or-never moment for the organization. Banging a drum loudly doesn’t necessarily make music and, to this point anyway, LIV has mostly been banging bongos.
Despite what Greg Norman and others are selling, no one outside the college golf universe was clamoring for a team golf schedule or the cutesy nicknames that land like a shot off the hosel.
Mito Pereira, Dean Burmester, Danny Lee, Brendan Steele and Thomas Pieters may be talented players, but they are not needle movers, no matter how hard LIV tries to sell their recent arrival as something more than it is.
Last year, LIV thrived on the disruption it created. It arrived like an 18-wheeler through the front door. This year, LIV has to survive on its product, and that’s a huge ask.
It’s not enough to have a leaderboard pylon on the screen (nice try, but it gets a thumbs-down from me), and it’s not enough to have Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed, Peter Uihlein and Pat Perez wearing matching golf clothes to be relevant or revolutionary.
LIV needs people to care, not about what it has done to what had been a semi-sedentary world of professional golf, but about the golf it’s putting out there. That’s a really hard sell, especially with a 48-man roster that’s weighted with players who didn’t rate particularly high on the PGA Tour’s charm meter.
It is critical for LIV Golf that it finds a measure of success with its actual product because it’s facing serious headwinds as it attempts to navigate the American legal system.
To this point, LIV Golf is on the proverbial bogey train, taking one legal loss after another in its federal antitrust lawsuit against the PGA Tour. Though it could be easy to dismiss these actions as preliminaries to the main event next January, they are bigger than that.
Federal judges have told LIV Golf and, by extension, Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, the league’s financier, that it must cooperate with American law, which means opening books and sitting for depositions by the PGA Tour.
Don’t hold your breath.
There are far bigger issues for the Saudi-backed PIF and its leader, Yasir Al-Rumayyan, at stake than the fate of a golf league that almost no one wanted. That doesn’t mean they will surrender the fight, at least not this early, but at some point LIV’s leaders will be required to cooperate or have their case thrown out.
Since the outset, LIV has asked the world to agree to its terms: World golf rankings. Access to the PGA and DP World tours. A place atop the game’s pyramid.
It’s as if Don Quixote, not Greg Norman, were fronting the initiative.
LIV doesn’t need to win its antitrust lawsuit against the PGA Tour to survive, but it underpins the basic argument that the tour owns the playground and won’t let anyone else play. LIV has signed enough recognizable names to have long ago undercut its own argument.
Since we’re on the subject of recognizable names, let’s take another moment to appreciate the sweet irony of Sergio García calling Rory McIlroy “a little immature” for how he has reacted to García and LIV. Sergio is the gift that keeps giving.
Meanwhile, it was easy to see LIV’s impact on the PGA Tour last week at the Honda Classic.
The stars took the week off because they find themselves in a stretch of four $20-plus million events in five weeks, and Honda, almost forced to apologize for offering only $8.4 million, suffered. LIV’s arrival helped create the Honda Classic’s problem by making the tour dig up more money for more events.
The question may not be where do things go from here, but is this going to be the golf world as we know it going forward?
Or, is it now or never for LIV Golf?
Top: Mexican mariachi perform before the final day of the LIV Golf Mayakoba event.
Hector Vivas, Getty Images