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Monday Morning Rap: An Honest Assessment of Where LIV Golf Stands After Its First Season

Eric Espada. Getty Images.

Fair warning: Today’s edition of the MMR will be a bit LIV-heavy. This is not to be misconstrued as any sort of endorsement or indication of preference. Rather, the disruptor of all disruptors held its season-ending event this week at Trump’s Doral property in Miami, which brings us to a natural point of reflection after a tumultuous summer. On the contrary, the PGA Tour event in Bermuda this week featured exactly one player ranked inside the top 50 of the world rankings and is sandwiched by stronger events on the schedule. As such, there’s simply more LIV stuff to dive in to this week. Without further ado…

The buddy-buddy press conferences aren’t doing LIV any favors

Yes, the inaugural year of the Startup Unlike Any Other came to a close on Sunday with the completion of LIV’s Team Championship. The Dustin Johnson-captained 4 Aces held off the all-Aussie Punch GC to win the team competition and its $16 million grand prize. We’ll dive into the format in just a bit, but let’s begin with the pre-tournament press conferences, which got pretty chirpy. Phil Mickelson opened proceedings by reminding Brooks Koepka of their showdown at the 2021 PGA Championship. Brooks then teased Phil for never reaching world No. 1, and Phil clapped back by asking where Brooks’ green jacket is. Brooks then referred to Bubba Watson as ‘Booba.’ Ian Poulter said he was excited to play with Kevin Na because they both hit it short and could hold hands down the fairway. Na suggested no one wanted to play a team match with Poulter. 


You get the idea. For all the messaging and promotion of LIV’s team concept, this was the only time all year there was true team-on-team combat, and it seems officials nudged the fellas to needle each other. LIV has consciously branded themselves as the anti-PGA Tour. If the PGA Tour zigs, they zag, and they want their events to look and feel totally different from the admittedly stale run-of-the-mill PGA Tour week. They’re letting their players bring their content crews inside the ropes to shoot videos. They’ve permitted players to wear shorts during competition. They pump electronic music during competition and aggressively pop champagne after it. And before the week even starts, they put a bunch of players up on a podium at the same time and encourage them to talk shit like you would before a match with your buddies. 

I get it. It can be funny—not all of it, but some of it—and it certainly fits with LIV’s we’re younger, we’re different, this isn’t that serious vibe. We’ve certainly never seen guys talk this way during PGA Tour press conferences. And it’s true; good-natured trash talk is a bedrock of golf camaraderie. There were definitely plenty of people who got a kick out of watching some of the best golfers in the world pick on one another like 12 handicappers.

But therein lies the issue: it all felt like a crew of buddies shooting the shit before a meaningless weekend round. Think about press conferences at the Ryder Cup. They’re a whole lot of this:

“Yeah, obviously they’re two super talented players. We’re going to need to play some fantastic golf to beat them. Definitely looking forward to the challenge.” 

Sure, that’s a bunch of press conference mad libs. But look at any other sport and it’s the same shit. Professional athletes don’t talk trash like you and your pals because they’re not you and your pals. This stuff matters to them, and they want to say as little as possible so they can avoid any sideshow and keep 100 percent focus on the athletic competition. It’s one of the main reasons we love sports: the athletes take their craft seriously, just like you did when you felt like your high school basketball game was the most important thing in your world. You wouldn’t talk trash to your competition at an industry-wide conference. That’s just not how one handles serious business. 

Watching Phil and Brooks yuck it up reminded me of two previous pressers they’ve done: Phil’s, before his original The Match bout against Tiger Woods in Las Vegas, and Brooks’ leading up to his mano-y-mano competition with Bryson DeChambeau last Black Friday. In both instances, they needed the cheesy trash talk to promote the matches themselves because the competition itself lacked meaning of its own. There’s a word for meaningless competitions created purely for entertainment: exhibitions

Watching Perez & Co. spray bubbly all over a podium on Sunday, with Cameron Smith joining in on the fun immediately right after his team lost, in front of a few hundred people in person and a few thousand on YouTube, with ribbons falling from the sky and some hired MC proclaiming “THIS IS GOLF, BUT LOUDER”—I couldn’t help but cringe. It certainly didn't feel like the heavy emotional fatigue that settles in after the completion of an important golf tournament. There’s a nonzero chance we look back on a scene like that years down the line and think, what kind of fever dream was that?


LIV’s Team Championship format delivered, but as of now it’s an anomaly

We said something negative about LIV, now we’ll say something positive: if they’re ever going to make Team Golf a thing that people genuinely care about—and all signs point to that being absolutely vital for LIV’s long-term viability—there need to be more weeks with team-first formats like this week’s. You had teams facing off in the quarters, with the top four sides from the regular season receiving byes. Each quarterfinal match consisted of two singles matches and one foursomes match, with three total points up for grabs. Win two matches, and your team advances. The final day consisted of stroke play: every team member plays, every team member’s score counts. It was simple enough to follow, with no individual competition to muddy the waters. Objectively speaking, that’s a solid format.

The problem with the team concept throughout the first seven LIV events is that it felt like a sideshow to the individual competition. That’s because we never saw the teams actually play against one another like we do in Ryder and Presidents Cups and, for that matter, the NCAA Championships. (They’re also wearing different outfits, each with different sponsors, which doesn’t help the we’re-one-group cause). LIV’s options are to lean all the way into the team stuff or to ditch it entirely—I maintain that the most compelling LIV event of the year was the Boston event, where DJ beat Joaquin Niemann and Anirban Lahiri in a playoff, and that had nothing to do with the team competition. It was three great players facing off, and it looked shockingly similar to golf tournaments we’ve grown accustomed to watching. But LIV isn’t going to ditch the team aspect because it’s their only path to profitability, distant as that may seem. Making these teams valuable, and then selling them to a wealthy person or corporation that wants a  shiny toy, is an integral part of this business plan. So something’s gotta change.

It’s just hard to care about how The Cleeks are doing vis a vis The Fireballs if all the team members are playing stroke-play, on different holes, in different outfits. Team competition is only compelling if the teams actually play against one another, and totaling up scores at the end of a stroke-play round does not qualify. 

LIV now has a three-plus month break before the first season of the LIV League kicks off in February, and now’s the time for them to take an honest and sober assessment of their product and make necessary tweaks. (And we’re sure they have eyes on luring over one or two more superstars before the league begins). This will require LIV to admit that this first season was not absolutely perfect, as their heavy-handed broadcast and social channels would leave you to believe. Should they continue to want to invest in the team portion of this, perhaps they’ll consider splitting up the team and the individual competitions. It’s already a lot to ask fans to conceptualize golf as a team sport, but they’re making it even harder by obscuring the team concept on a weekly basis.

Some new golf lingo, courtesy of Seamus

Seamus Power was the only top-50 player to tee it up at last week’s Butterfield Bermuda Championship, and the Irishman went out and won the tournament. It’s his second PGA Tour win and the latest high-point of a late career renaissance; Power was on the Monday Qualifier grind as recently as 2020 before catching fire, and he’s now in excellent position to qualify for next year’s Ryder Cup team. 

In more pressing matters, his victory, coupled with his rather emphatic last name, will now result in the creation of a new golf term: A Power Move. 

A Power Move (n.) - An instance when a professional golfer is the highest-ranked player in a weaker-field tournament and then wins the tournament. 

Obviously this term is not applicable to events chock-full with the top players in the world. Other examples of A Power Move: Viktor Hovland’s win at the 2021 BMW International Open, Jon Rahm’s win at the 2022 Mexico Open at Vidanta, Tony Finau’s win at the 2022 3M Open.

Certainly beats a 9-to-5

One of the guys Power beat is Ben Griffin, who last year hung up the spikes to take a job in a mortgage office. It took convincing from friends and some funding from a kind-hearted sponsor to get Griffin back inside the ropes, and he got his PGA Tour card via a strong season on the Korn Ferry. Griffin, 26, jumped all the way to world No. 141 with his T-3 on Sunday, and he’s off to a great start in his first season as a full member.

“You know, playing golf for a living's just really fun,” Griffin told reporters. “It just means the world to be able to compete out here, and I can't get mad at anything that I do because it's so cool to be able to play on the PGA Tour.”


Dustin Johnson has to be Pat Perez’ favorite person on the planet

Pat Perez owes Dustin Johnson. Big time. Perez wouldn’t have gotten a LIV offer if it wasn’t for DJ, who openly campaigned for PP to be on his team. That resulted in a $10 million lump sum being deposited into Perez’ bank account earlier this summer and, in turn, a commitment to play for Johnson’s 4 Aces team for the rest of the season. 

Perez finished 49th in individual earnings for the season—you’ll recall there are usually only 48 players in the field, so he wasn't exactly lighting the world on fire—but took home more than $8 million total thanks mainly to riding the coattails of his more accomplished teammates. The 4 Aces won last week’s team championship for a $16 million grand prize (to be split four ways) in addition to the four team competitions they won during the regular season.

“All the pushback,” Perez told Sports Illustrated on Sunday, “all the negative comments, everything we’ve gotten…at this point I don’t really care. I mean, I don’t care. I’m paid. I don’t give a damn.” 

Johnson, who won $18 million for winning the individual points race this season, pushed his total LIV earnings past $35 million with Sunday’s win. And that doesn’t include the $100 million+ of guaranteed money he received for putting pen to paper.

Life on the line, I’m turning to Cam

Cameron Smith might not be the best golfer in the world, but if I were put in one of those situations where I need someone to shoot 65 to save my life, he might be my pick. Sunday’s do-or-die format meant every player turned up to the golf course with some serious pressure, and Smith delivered a seven-under 65 that beat 14 of the other 15 players by at least five shots. Add this “final” round masterpiece to his 10-birdie Sunday at the Players Championship and his chase-down of Rory McIlroy at the Open Championship and you’re looking at arguably the premier pressure performer in all of golf. 

The money’s cashing, but people aren’t really watching

The viewership numbers for LIV’s Team Competition were poor. Per Apex Marketing Group, an average of roughly 36,800 people watched throughout the weekend. And before you blame that solely on football, an average of just 32,938 watched on Friday afternoon, before any major football coverage. 

It’s not just the low number of viewers that’s concerning, it’s the downward momentum. The most-watched LIV events were their first ones, and the first round of the Miami event had the lowest average LIV YouTube viewership of any day of the five U.S. events. 

My read: people tuned in initially for the novelty. They wanted to see what all the fuss was about, and maybe they wanted a glimpse of a logo-less Phil Mickelson. But, all the media coverage aside, LIV does not seem to have built much of an audience throughout its first year. Now, let’s not underestimate the technological incompetence of many Americans. Having to go on YouTube to watch is one step too far for plenty viewers who are accustomed to flipping on Golf Channel and not really changing it. With LIV expected to be on linear television next year—they may have to pay for the privilege, but they can afford it—we’ll get a truer indication of just how big a footprint LIV Golf has among the general U.S. populace.


Having been to a few LIV events myself, I can confidently tell you that it’s an enjoyable in-person experience, and there’s definitely a buzz on site. The very-rich players feel like they’re trailblazers fighting a chorus of haters, the fans on site love the non-stuffy vibe, and LIV executives feel justifiably proud over how far they’ve come in a year. Yet this in-person bubble is but a small part of the overall fan-interest picture, and after one year, it’s clear LIV’s devastating and constant displays of fuck-you money aren’t going to be enough to make people care. 

Athletes—they’re just like us. Sometimes.

Switching gears…We just got back from TaylorMade Media Days. This was the boys’ third go around but my first, and it was just a preposterously enjoyable experience. We can’t divulge any details as to new products or the content that we filmed, but just know we’re excited as hell for you all to see it. 

What I can discuss is the wild difference between being around these guys in a competitive or “official” setting—like when I’m asking them questions at tournament press conferences—and seeing how freakin’ normal they are outside of competition. Every player we filmed with was a great sport, super un-pretentious and seemed to genuinely enjoy themselves during the process. We also hung out at Justin Thomas’ (not a TM guy, so we obviously didn’t film with him at Media Days) house for a bit and again, this was just guys being dudes, throwing back a few beers, shooting pool and bantering throughout Monday Night Football. The same holds true across sports. Just watch the last two Fore Man Scrambles we put out (NOW!), against the New York Islanders and the reigning Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche, and you’ll see a bunch of guys talking like normal guys. 

I’ll see these golfers guys again throughout the year, and I’ll definitely be more comfortable around them…but not too comfortable, for these guys morph into a completely different person when there’s a scorecard in their back pocket. They turn from Average Joe to World-Class Athlete, and World-Class Athletes radiate a certain energy. We all talked about this on the pod this week, and Riggs understood what I was trying to say: that it’s sometimes hard to believe that the Max Homa he sees walking off the 18th hole at the U.S. Open is the same Max Homa he’s talking shit to on a random Tuesday in Scottsdale. These guys have an unbelievable ability to lock in when they’re doing their thing. The phrase that keeps coming to mind is Man In The Arena. He is so very different from the Man Outside the Arena. 


—I’m a bit sad, because Halloweekend marks the unofficial end of the golf season here in wonderful New York State. And the worst part about it is the courses in the Northeast are at their absolute peak right before it gets too cold to play—because it’s so hot in the summer, superintendents can’t cut greens to short for fear of the gras dying. That, plus the humidity in the air, means the courses are typically wet and soft until the nights start cooling off in mid-September. By mid October, the courses are bouncy, the greens are glassy, the rough is juicy and the foliage is popping…and then, just like that, it’s all over. It’s days like these that have me wondering why I still live in a place that does not allow me to play golf all year round. 

—No surprise here, but some tournament directors of non-elevated PGA Tour events are feeling a bit salty. “There are people who are very concerned and upset that [the PGA Tour has] created this system,” one director director told Golf Digest.  

“Everybody realizes the tour is trying to do something to combat LIV Golf, and that’s understandable. We all want to protect the tour and see it continue to grow. But a lot of us can’t believe they did this. Some sponsors are pretty hot.”

The Tour didn’t have many options when it came to elevating events for 2023 because the schedule was already laid out; only certain events in certain parts of the country made sense. The PGA Tour has said they could change which events are elevated moving forward, though the vision is not for a rotating cast of events. I wrote about this last week, but it would be a wild miss if at least one of these events didn’t take place outside the United States. It’s not in the PGA Tour’s best interest to be seen globally as America’s tour given LIV’s emergence and emphasis on its global nature. 


—Englishman Jordan Smith cruised to a three-shot victory in this week’s DP World Tour event, the Portugal Masters. Two other names jump off the leaderboard: Eddie Pepperrell, perhaps golf’s most interesting character, took solo fourth and is steadily climbing the world rankings after a barren few years. And Alex Fitzpatrick, younger brother of Matt, carded a final-round 65 to finish T-15. It’s the recent Wake Forest grad’s fourth finish of T-40 or better in his last five starts on the DP World Tour, and he’ll now play the final stage of Korn Ferry Qualifying School in Savannah, Ga. This week.

—Some more Q-school details: this is the last year that Q-School won’t offer a direct path to the PGA Tour, as the top five finishers in final stage will get PGA Tour cards starting in 2023. For this year, the medalist in final stage will be fully exempt for the whole season; finishers 2-10 and ties earn 12 guaranteed starts; finishers 11-40 and ties get eight guaranteed starts; and the remainder of the field receives conditional status. Some marquee names in the field: John Augenstein, Wesley Bryan, Parker Coody, Alex Fitzpatrick, Chris Gotterup, Cole Hammer, Spencer Levin, Willie Mack III, Grayson Murray. 

Keep an eye on Alistair Docherty of Vancouver, Wash., who will be decked out in Barstool Golf gear. Our man made it through second stage on the number after thinking he was eliminated. 

—Caleb Surratt, an 18-year-old freshman at Tennessee and the former world No. 1 junior, made his first PGA Tour start this past week in Bermuda. He proceeded to shoot 64 on Friday, 85 on Saturday and 65 on Sunday. That’s an awesome bounce-back and could well be a fun trivia answer in a decade, when this kid’s an established PGA Tour star. 

—LIV Golf is done until February, there’s no DP World Tour or LPGA Tour event this week, and we’re officially getting to the painfully slow part of the golf schedule. The PGA Tour heads south of the border to dreamy Mayakoba in Mexico, where the World Wide Technology Championship is headlined by Scottie Scheffler, Collin Morikawa, Tony Finau, Billy Horschel, Seamus Power and defending champion Viktor Hovland. 

—The Department of Justice’s investigation into the PGA Tour for potential anti-competitive practices has been broadened to include the USGA, the PGA of America and Augusta National. It certainly seems the Feds are looking into whether the PGA Tour unlawfully colluded with the major championships against LIV Golf and its players—any communications between any of these organizations could well come to light in coming moths as the discovery process plays out. Keep an eye out. 

—LIV Golf and the PGA Tour are suing each other, which will lead to some pretty spicy revelations in the coming months. Chief among them this week: LIV requested a list of 71 players to the PGA Tour, essentially asking the tour to show any communication they had with said players about LIV Golf. Included in that list was one particularly intriguing name: Anthony Kim, golf’s white whale. 

Does this mean AK’s coming back? No sir. But it does mean LIV likely had AK on their radar, which is a fun thought. 


—The best Halloween costume I saw this year goes to my high school classmate and ex-coworker Kyle Horn, for this absolute beauty: 

Until next week,