As golf continues to grow in popularity, the longstanding PGA Tour and newcomer LIV Golf compete to find their footing with the sport.
If you’re a fan of professional golf, you’re no doubt aware of the sport’s ongoing cold war between the long-established PGA Tour and the upstart LIV Golf. All the ingredients for a spicy golf conflict are there: big egos, big money, trash-talking pros sniping at their peers, and the elephant in the room—LIV’s funding by the morally suspect Saudi government.
The PGA doesn’t like its monopoly being invaded, and LIV feels its right to exist is being blocked. It’s the heavyweight champ against the new kid in town. Good versus evil.
In just its second season, LIV has carved out a modest stake for the golf fan’s attention by poaching big-name players like Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson with eye-popping signing bonuses, some approaching $200 million. LIV wants to reinvigorate the game, differentiating itself from its PGA counterpart in some big ways. Its golfers are guaranteed money to play in events, and they earn dollars down to last place—unlike the PGA, where money is limited to top finishes. Instead of fuller fields and 72 holes, LIV events are capped at just 48 players playing 54 holes. (LIV is the Roman numeral for 54.)
Regardless of which tour you favor or why, history tells us golf isn’t the only sport to endure such upheaval, and there could very well be a silver lining for golf fans and the game itself when the smoke clears. Pro football, baseball and basketball leagues witnessed new upstarts challenging the status quo during their respective evolutions, with newbies like the American Football League, American League and American Basketball Association luring players with more money and better working conditions. And while sparks flew, the new kids injected fresh perspective and innovation. Without those challenges from an alternate league, the world of sports may never have had Joe Namath’s swagger, the two-point conversion, the three-point shot, Dr. J’s high flying dunks, the designated hitter, and one league versus the other in the Super Bowl, World Series and NBA Finals.
The PGA is the old guy politely shaking your hand. LIV is the kid fist-bumping you. The puritanical PGA still dresses its players in pants. LIV is OK with shorts. The PGA wants the hush of a church pew while teeing off. LIV events have music booming throughout the course during events. “Golf, But Louder” is their marketing mantra.
As LIV enters its second full season, it’s still not clear whether it will be a viable alternative or a temporary part of the PGA narrative. In the meantime, maybe these two tours can learn from each other. Will the PGA keep their pants on—or will they LIV a little?