There was a two-time major winner, one of golf's brightest young talents and an impossible-to-dislike Indian star playing sudden-death golf in front of a raucous (if borderline sloppy) crowd, on a solid-enough golf course, being shown free of charge without commercials. Removing every ethical and/or competitive integrity conversations from the equation—it’s hard to do, and I’m still getting used to guys finishing their week on a par 3—Sunday’s finish outside Boston was exactly what LIV Golf had in mind when they devised this format.
The finish was borderline chaotic—a stark contrast from the conclusion of normal golf tournaments, which are rather easy to follow—this guy needs to birdie this hole to win, etc. Trying to keep up with the last half-hour of Sunday’s final round was an exercise in whiplash and confusion. Which, from a pure entertainment standpoint, is far from a bad thing. There were a half-dozen players with a crack at the title, and because each of them were finishing on different holes (and at slightly different times), trying to figure out who had the upper hand gave me flashbacks to the calculus nightmares of my youth. A guy might be one shot back, but his last hole could be a reachable par 5, while the other guys’ is a tricky par 3, and my brain hurts just thinking about it.
It was, however, a rather enjoyable streaming experience. Arlo White and David Feherty, when they’re not feeding us canned PR bullshit telling us how incredible every single aspect of LIV Golf are, are excellent broadcasters. And the lack of commercials gave the show a staccato rhythm not used to seeing in golf. I had a few people who went to the event tweet me last night that the on-site experience wasn’t ideal toward the end, for fans couldn’t quite figure out who was finishing where, when, and what the logistics of a playoff would be.
There are clearly tons of quirks that LIV still need to work out—we must remember that this is just their fourth event *ever*, and If I showed you that scene a year ago—Dustin Johnson holing an eagle putt to beat Joaquin Niemann in a playoff, you’d be floored at just how far they’ve come.
All three participants int he playoff raved about the atmosphere and said they did indeed feel those competitive juices down the stretch.
"Absolutely, if not more,” Johnson said of the late-stage nerves. “Especially with that check that you get. You can feel it. Your butthole puckers up a little bit coming down the last few holes for sure."
Lahiri concurred: “People say we're not competitive, the runner-up from this year’s Players Championship said. “If that's not competitive, then I don't know what's competitive. That's all I'm going to say."
Niemann went the furthest of the bunch, and while it’s impossible to know how much of it was genuine and how much was straight from the LIV Talking Point handbook, it’s still jarring to see a guy who won the Genesis Invitational at Riviera call LIV Boston the "the best experience I've had on a golf course by far….Being in contention, with the crowd -- just seeing the crowd so young. You can feel the energy. It's way different."
Johnson, who has always been rather money-motivated (which is totally fine, of course), appears to be having the time of his life. Same goes for his brother, Austin, who’s been a big part of the 4 Aces’ champagne celebrations after their three straight team wins. Nobody’s got it better than Pat Perez, who has been plucked from PGA Tour obscurity and has now made over $2 million from being on a team with DJ, Talor Gooch and Patrick Reed, all far better players than he.
But…and it’s a huge but…did anyone care? Or even notice? Streaming numbers were around 180k on YouTube during the pinnacle of the action, which is higher than the other LIV events but still pretty low, and there wasn’t much chatter or banter on social media. Granted, it’s a holiday weekend, and college football started, but no matter how much money the Saudi Arabian government has, if fans don’t begin to care about LIV Golf it will not survive longer than these original contracts.
The LIV broadcast likes to highlight just how much cash these guys are playing for, and Talor Gooch bragged about Pat Perez' earnings after the round yesterday, but fans don't tune in to watch sports because of how much money the guys are making--particularly those who didn't make that much money when playing in a different league, did not markedly improve their golf and all the sudden are making way more. Of course the LIV players love LIV; they're getting paid way more to do the same job they've been doing. But that doesn't resonate with fans the same way.
LIV execs have maintained that the team aspect will go a long way in creating fans. It’s still early, but I’m not seeing it. The team concept feels like a gimmicky sideshow; every time the announcers bring it up it’s almost a nuisance, and it’s genuinely hard not to laugh when they talk about the "Ironheads making a strong push on Sunday!" I enjoyed watching those three world-class players fight for the title but I could not have cared less about any team competition.
LIV's plan has always been to sell these teams to corporations/people, and that’ll likely still happen, and perhaps it’ll be a different story if we’re talking about an All-American Team TaylorMade or an All-Australian Team Mercedes—those are purely hypotheticals by the way, not based on any inside info—instead of the Ironheads and the Niblicks. LIV executives love to compare their vision to that of Formula One, but Formula One has always been a team enterprise. Asking golf fans to learn about, then keep track of, and care about a team competition when you already have such a new format with the shotgun start is a monumental task. Next year is the true test of LIV, when the league structure is in play and the action's expected to be shown on linear TV somewhere. But you only get one chance for a first impression, and the team aspect continues to ring hollow.