LIV Golf and its various guises have been in the pipeline for decades. George Cooper digs into the roots of the biggest shake-up in the sport's history
In February 2022, LIV Golf was still a Saudi-funded fantasy, void of any golfers, who no one was ready to take it seriously. Just take Rory McIlroy, who called the project “dead in the water” as Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau pledged allegiance to the PGA Tour. Few could question him.
Even one of the league’s few candid advocates, Phil Mickelson, was forced to disappear from the spotlight as it looked like the pipe dream would remain just that.
But fast forward six months, and suddenly LIV Golf had revolutionised into a legitimate rival to the PGA Tour, boasting almost half the major winners from the last five years and causing more noise than a bull in a china shop.
So just how did we reach this point? And what have been the biggest moments in the tumultuous timeline of LIV Golf? A history is lesson is in order, and we’ll start way back in…
LIV Golf timeline
December: The modern-day PGA Tour is formed after players split from the PGA of America to establish the Tournament Players Division.
November: Greg Norman, then World No 2, and media proprietor Rupert Murdoch attempt to spearhead a World Golf Tour. The project picks up early momentum, agreeing a TV deal with Fox where it plans to stage an eight-event, 40-player series.
December: The endeavour is quashed by Arnold Palmer and PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem, who threaten legal action against anyone willing to defect. (Sounds oddly familiar, right?)
January: Fast forward two decades, and the Premier Golf League (PGL) is formed. The project aims to have 54-hole, shotgun start, no-cut team events, and holds talks with investors from Saudi Arabia.
PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan is forced to hold a meeting with players to inform them they will not be permitted to play in both his circuit and the PGL.
Phil Mickelson and Sergio Garcia pair with numerous Saudi finances at the 2020 Saudi International Pro-Am, including Majed Al Sorour – CEO of Golf Saudi – and Yasir Al-Rumayyan – Governor of the Public Investment Fund (PIF).
March: Talk of the PGL’s emergence picks up more traction, and McIlroy raises concerns over its ties to Saudi Arabia: “I didn’t really like where the money was coming from.”
November: As rumours of a rival league intensifies, the PGA Tour and DP World Tour announce a “strategic alliance” to co-operate schedules and improve playing opportunities.
January: Talks breaks down between Saudi investors and the PGL. Instead, it is a believed a separate ‘Super Golf League’ funded by Golf Saudi will form in 2022. Elsewhere, the PGA Tour launch its $40 million Player Impact Program (PIP), promising financial rewards for online engagement.
May: The Telegraph reports several players – including Mickelson, Johnson and Justin Rose – have received offers up to $100 million to compete in the Super Golf League.
October: The Super Golf League officially launches. Except it’s called LIV Golf – and guess who’s appointed CEO? Norman also announces that LIV Golf and Golf Saudi have agreed a $300 million partnership with the Asian Tour.
February: While competing at the Saudi International, Mickelson bashes the PGA Tour by saying “obnoxious greed has really opened the door for opportunities elsewhere”.
Then, in a now infamous interview with Alan Shipnuck, Lefty refers to the Saudis as “scary motherf***ers” before claiming LIV represents a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity”. Following heaps of backlash, Mickelson announces he will be taking time away from the game.
On the same day, Monahan tells players they will be banned from the PGA Tour if they join LIV. Norman responds by warning him that “this is just the beginning”.
March: LIV announces its 2022 schedule, consisting of eight events starting at Centurion. No field is set, but the league reveals a $255 million prize purse. Sticking with the original PGL theme – events will also consist of 12 teams, shotgun starts, 54 holes, and no cuts.
May: The field is confirmed for the first LIV event, headlined by Johnson, Garcia, Louis Oosthuizen, Ian Poulter, and Lee Westwood. Mickelson later follows suit and signs for a reported $200 million, ending his four month hiatus.
June: The inaugural LIV Golf Invitational tees off at Centurion. Minutes after the first tee shots, the PGA Tour indefinitely suspends any members competing at the Hertfordshire club.
It’s won by Charl Schwartzel, who pockets $4.75 million. LIV soon announces the signings of major champions Bryson DeChambeau, Patrick Reed and, just days after committing to the PGA Tour, Brooks Koepka.
In an attempt to overhaul the threat of LIV, Monahan announces he will be incentivising the PGA Tour by upping the purse at eight of its flagship events, while DP World Tour CEO Keith Pelley fines members who competed in the first LIV event. He also suspends them from three tournaments, including the Scottish Open, before the two tours announce a new ground-breaking alliance to fend off the threat of LIV.
July: Branden Grace wins the second LIV Golf Invitational in Portland, before three LIV golfers, including Poulter, overturn their Scottish Open bans. With the court case set for February 2023, LIV players are allowed to continuing playing on the circuit.
Later that month, The Open becomes the first battleground of golf’s civil war. Norman is asked to stay away from the past winners’ dinner, causing Tiger Woods to weigh in at St Andrews. After winning the 150th Open, Cameron Smith sparks speculation he will be next to defect.
Then, in a spectacular turn of events, Ryder Cup captain Henrik Stenson is announced as LIV’s latest signing. The Swede is subsequently axed from his role as Team Europe’s skipper. Stenson is victorious on his LIV Golf debut in Bedminster, before LIV Golf unveils plans for a new schedule in 2023, which includes a 14-event season.
August: More legal drama as 11 LIV golfers file an antitrust lawsuit against the PGA Tour. Three players also seek a restraining order to play in the FedEx Cup Playoffs. In an eyebrow-raising court battle, the judge rules against Talor Gooch, Hudson Swafford and Matt Jones, and the golf world has a field day.
The civil war heats up as Woods and McIlroy lead a PGA Tour players’ meeting to strategize against LIV. Elsewhere, Reed files a billion dollar defamation lawsuit against Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee.
The month ends with Norman finally getting his man as Smith signs with LIV after weeks of intense rumours.
September: Dustin Johnson lands his first LIV Golf title in Boston a week before what we’re going to call the War at Wentworth and see if it catches on. An abundance of LIV golfers tee up at the BMW PGA Championship causing a series of beefs and prickly moments, including Garcia withdrawing and heading home in a grump.
Then, the world rankings debacle begins. Void of obtaining any points, every LIV player signs an urgent letter pleading with the OWGR to give them accreditation.
A drama-filled September ends with Mickelson and several others pulling out of the PGA Tour lawsuit, leaving behind just three players. Two days later, the PGA Tour countersues LIV over contract interferences.
But it just wouldn’t be right without some more Mickelson drama, as Lefty drops several bombs during his most bizarre press conference yet. On the same day, a LIV player wins on the DP World Tour for the first time.
A report published by The New Yorker exposes a series of LIV bombshells, including how the league’s Saudi backers are plotting to stage their own majors – a claim that is later described as a “misrepresented”.
October – and, indeed, LIV Golf’s inaugural season – ends with 4 Aces GC winning the Team Championship in Miami. Johnson, Reed, Gooch and Pat Perez pick up $4 million each for their part in the season finale.
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