One thing's for sure, LIV Golf is here to stay. But are they on the right track? George Cooper assesses the breakaway tour's maiden campaign
Well there we have it. After months of controversies, field changes, legal dramas and a whole lot of noise, the inaugural LIV Golf season is now in the history books. Eight lucrative events came and went as Dustin Johnson and his 4 Aces GC were crowned team champions and earned another mouth-watering payday.
So, with all that said and done, and as LIV Golf turns the corner with increased optimism ahead of a revamped 2023, the time has come to assess how successful the league’s debut season really was. From the players, to the broadcast, to the questionable team names, here’s our breakdown of the craziest five months in the history of the sport.
Can you believe it’s been five months since LIV revealed who’d be teeing up for its first event at Centurion? Such has been the flight of Greg Norman’s series since it’s easy to forget how ridiculed the original 48-man field was. Blake Windred? Still haven’t a clue.
Since then, the growth of LIV’s arsenal in such a short time has been by far the league’s biggest success story. While some eyebrow-raising additions remain, ultimately money talks, and by boasting 12 of the last 22 major winners – including Open champion Cameron Smith – the field has shaped into something none of us predicted back in May. The next question, of course, is who’s next?
NCG verdict: Success
The unique, albeit stolen idea of 54-hole, no-cut, shotgun start events was always questionable. And for now, it remains that. The concept of having everyone tee off concurrently is certainly chaotic, and we’re yet to see its true flaws with every event yielding a winner from the final group so far – a circle which includes Dustin Johnson, Cameron Smith, Brooks Koepka, Charl Schwartzel and Henrik Stenson.
Aside from the obvious issue of omitting OWGR regulations, the novelty of LIV’s format still feels forced, although it does offer something different on a Sunday evening which fits the league’s mould well. Sure, there’s potential there, just as the wild finish at LIV Boston proved, but a boring golf tournament is always going to be a boring golf tournament, as is an exciting one going to be exciting, regardless of the format.
NCG verdict: On the fence
Besides it being aired for free on YouTube (we’ll get to that in a minute), the cringe fest that is LIV’s broadcast remains a flaw. While David Feherty adds some legitimacy to proceedings, the pre-rehearsed jokes and over the top fandom are incredibly irritating. The oversaturation of shots also gets annoying, although having players mic’d up is a welcome touch. Overall, I get what they’re trying do, but at this point it seems the coverage is alienating more fans that it is garnering them.
NCG verdict: Fail
The team aspect
LIV Golf’s season finale in Miami offered a glimpse of the team aspect’s potential here, while also hinting that perhaps more match play is the way forward as the likes of Cameron Smith and Phil Mickelson battled it out.
Early on, it was always going to be tricky for people to get on board with the team concept given the constant chopping and changing taking place. But with growing camaraderie and potential rivalries on the cards, it seems the team aspect should be what LIV are building off more than anything – especially as more star names are lured in and teams amass a concrete identity.
Franchising may also help, while also adding legitimacy, revenue, and the elimination of those hideous team names (sorry Niblicks GC). The building blocks are certainly there, but for 2022 at least, the team aspect was not only secondary, but was more often than not unnecessarily confusing.
NCG verdict: Fail (for now)
LIV is billed as ‘golf but louder’, and well, you can sure say it’s delivered on that front. While on the course the action felt a bit, meh, LIV’s ascent into world golf has been nothing short of seismic, drawing just about every headline on a day-to-day basis and creating the civil war as we know it today.
LIV Golf had every intention of creating chaos, of changing professional golf forever. Factoring this in as we weigh up the success of LIV’s inaugural season – which is a must given the league’s pledge to be the disruptor circuit – then yes, it’s been nothing short of a success story.
NCG verdict: Success
The viewing figures
If the development of Norman’s field is LIV Golf’s biggest success story of 2022, then its waning popularity – at least based on viewing figures – is easily its biggest failure. Amid all the chaos, major coups and triggering domino effects, LIV has hardly captured the imagination of the wider public so far.
While it seems to have attracted a new breed of boisterous golf fans – who have us questioning what on earth they were doing before – the lack of viewership on its free-to-air YouTube channel represents a significant hurdle at this moment in time.
Yes, the agreement of an inevitable TV deal will solve a chunk of this issue, but a quick glance at the viewing figures show that on YouTube, the intrigue diminished rapidly as LIV’s 2022 season wore on…
NCG verdict: Fail
Success or failure?
So with all that being said, was the first ever LIV Golf season a success or a failure? Clearly, the hurdles are still there for all to see, and its divisive nature has never been more apparent as we conclude the debut year and look ahead to 2023. But at the same, just take a minute to ponder exactly where we’ve come over the past six months.
It was only in February that LIV remained nothing more than a Saudi-funded fantasy. A fantasy yet to boast a single golfer, yet to be taken seriously by anyone, who Rory McIlroy called “dead in the water”, and who was on the brink of folding after Mickelson’s infamous “scary mother****er” comments.
Fast forward several months, and suddenly LIV Golf is the league its fans can’t get enough of, and who its haters can’t stop talking about. It’s revolutionised into a legitimate rival to the PGA Tour, has lured in almost half the major winners from the last five years, and has triggered revolutionary change elsewhere which has changed professional golf forever.
Yes, its shortcomings are still there for all to see, shortcomings which will need to be rectified moving forward as Norman and his men turn the corner and enter a crucial 2023 season. But weighing up these tumultuous past few months, just ask yourself, did all this feel possible when murmurs of a ‘Saudi Golf League’ were floating around at the beginning of the year?
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