You would think by now that the idea of LIV, the Saudi-backed golf league aiming to compete with the PGA Tour, would have been quietly slipped away. The biggest names in golf have turned their backs on the idea, declaring they will stick with the profitable PGA Tour. And one of golf’s biggest names and one of its greatest players of all time, Phil Mickelson, is in a kind of self-exile from golf right now as he reflects on why and how he supported the idea of LIV.
But with all that goes against the LIV and its commissioner Greg Norman, the LIV still manages to make some news. This week, the news is a string of names that are recognizable but a far cry from the tour’s elite, which the LIV tracked earlier in the year.
The rumor mill still has European stars Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter involved with the LIV. The other names are not necessarily new, but intriguing. Two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson is among those names, as are Kevin Na and Jason Kokrak.
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In response to the rumours, Watson posted his summer schedule on Twitter without mentioning LIV and without listing any of the LIV tournaments on his agenda. Was that just a way to shut down the rumours, or had Watson been persuaded to change his mind because even the rumor he was signing with the LIV had a backlash? Several players appeared to have pledged their support for the PGA Tour in February after Phil Mickelson’s comments on the league were leaked and Mickelson was hit with a major backlash.
Watson’s name is particularly interesting because Watson has embraced Augusta National, home of the Masters, not only by playing as a past champion in the tournament, but also by showing up in the pre-tournament drive, chip and putt event every year.
If you believe Norman, who is still the face of the LIV, was dropped from the Masters invite list this year, he believes, because he supports the LIV. Would Watson want to risk that in his career?
It’s probably not fair to say that the other names wouldn’t be greatly missed if they stopped playing PGA Tour events because most players have their fans who enjoy watching them play. But Na and Kokrak are a far cry from Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson, some of the names the LIV expressed an interest in early in the planning phase. McIlroy has never supported LIV, Johnson was among those who said no as recently as February, and Tiger Woods gave the LIV concept a flat no.
The league that won’t go away
Why does the LIV live on? Part of this is that the PGA Tour has made many changes over the past year, and some of these appear to be direct responses to the LIV threat. These changes include increased purses in most tournaments, the establishment of a Players Impact program that gives bonuses to important and popular players, and even talk of a new team concept for the Fall Series similar to what the LIV has been proposing.
The other reason the LIV is going on is Norman himself. For now, at least, Norman has refused to accept defeat, even in the face of the best and biggest names in the game giving the LIV the cold shoulder. In a series of interviews this week, Norman reiterated his belief that the PGA Tour cannot ban players from its tournaments for signing up with the LIV and that he believes the LIV will play no matter who is on the field. He added that at some point better players will want to play for the LIV’s money, knowing they can beat the golfers registered for the league.
The PGA Tour and the status quo in golf can feel good about last week’s Masters, the cementing of world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler with a Masters win and the idea that Tiger Woods remains golf’s biggest and most compelling attraction . The LIV wasn’t even an afterthought at Augusta National.
Will there be a death knell for the LIV in the coming weeks? Norman certainly seems eager to keep the league going, even at the cost of careers and legacies.
Larry Bohannan is golf writer for The Desert Sun. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (760) 778-4633. Follow him on Facebook or Twitter at @larry_bohannan. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Desert Sun.