The LIV Golf Tour has been the hottest topic in professional golf during 2022. For years, the PGA Tour has been undeniably the most prestigious and decorated golf league in the world, featuring the best golfers and courses along with the highest tournament prizes and most iconic events. However, in October 2021, the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Tour was announced as a serious competitor to the historic PGA Tour, and its developments have left many wondering about the future of professional golf in its wake.
Financed by the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, the country’s sovereign wealth fund owned by the royal family, the LIV Golf Tour is able to compete financially with the PGA Tour, enticing major players to choose the Saudi-backed league over its well-known alternative. This has presented a major problem for the PGA Tour that it has never seen a challenge on: money.
While the PGA Tour model rewards players financially based on how they fare in season tournaments, the LIV Golf Tour offers players guaranteed contracts with the opportunity to win bonus money through performance at its events. This guaranteed money has been a lucrative offer to some of the world’s top players, many of which feel as though they are compensated more fairly through the LIV Golf Tour.
Because of the PIF’s links to the Saudi Government, LIV Golf has faced accusations of sportswashing, unfair money practices, and human rights violations. PIF’s chair is Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the son of Saudi Arabia’s king. Bin Salman runs his dad’s government and has been accused of ordering the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a journalist who was critical of the Saudi government.
Sportswashing is the practice of an individual, group, corporation, or government using sport to improve their tarnished reputation, through hosting a sporting event, the purchase or sponsorship of sporting teams, or by participation in the sport itself.
As a response to these claims, the PGA Tour has announced that any players who accept the invitation to play on the LIV Golf Tour will be indefinitely barred from competing in certain PGA Tour events. Despite this, many top golfers from around the world have already announced their departure from the PGA Tour and declared they will begin playing in the new league. Many of these golfers have shown resentment towards the tension between the two organizations, expressing hope that the PGA Tour will eventually allow them to participate in their events alongside the LIV Tour. The LIV Tour has not expressly barred its members from playing in events run by competing organizations like the PGA Tour, but the PGA has been explicit in its removal of any players associated with the LIV Tour.
Although the LIV Tour has not secured any golfers currently ranked in the world top 15, former World No.1 and two-time Major champion Dustin Johnson, six-time Major champion Phil Mickelson, four-time Major champion Brooks Koepka, 2020 US Open winner Bryson DeChambeau, Masters champions Patrick Reed, Sergio Garcia and Charl Schwartzel, former Open champions Henrik Stenson and Louis Oosthuizen, three-time PGA Tour winner Jason Kokrak and Ryder Cup stars Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter and Martin Kaymer are the big names headlining the LIV Tour.
Rumors continue to circulate about other stars who may be lured to abandon the PGA Tour and DP World Tour in favor of LIV Golf in the near future, including 2022 US Open winner Cameron Smith, Hideki Matsuyama, Adam Scott, Marc Leishman, and Bubba Watson.
Fans of the sport have expressed concern about the two leagues diminishing the quality of events, as many top players will not be allowed to compete against each other since they are in different leagues. Others believe that LIV may be the future of professional golf, allowing golfers to have more financial freedom while sponsoring major new golf events that may drive the sport forward.
The LIV Tour officially began in June 2022 with the Centurion Championship, but the Tour is expected to ramp up in 2023 with a new cast of world-renowned golfers and a new format with major events across the world.