If you are not a fan of golf you may be under the misconception that it is a genteel sport played by professionals and followed by sports fans that are not known for being overtly passionate or controversial. You may well have been correct up until a year ago when LIV burst onto the scene and caused an incredible amount of disruption.
As with anything divisive, the story you believe will be the one with the best PR. There are undisputable facts, of course. But both sides – the PGA Tour and LIV – have their own take on what has happened in the last year or so. Now LIV golfers have been allowed to play in the majors, so you will have seen some old names in the PGA Championship betting tips. But don’t be fooled – the relationship has not improved. What happens next may well be down to which side can tell the best story.
What is LIV?
LIV Golf was founded in 2021 and enjoyed its first season a year later. It is a brand new golf tour funded by the Public Investment Fund (PIF), the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia. It has been able to attract some of the very best golfers in the world to play in its tournaments.
Although LIV states that it wants to exist side-by-side with the PGA Tour, the arrival of this new organization has divided the sport. The PGA Tour is the traditional organization in golf and has run the sport since the early 20th century. Those in charge of LIV say that their tournaments are a new way of playing golf, designed to reach a younger audience.
Why is LIV So Controversial?
Although there are many reasons why a golf traditionalist may take exception with LIV, it is who is behind the organization that most people have a problem with. The PIF is essentially the Saudi Arabian government – and its regime has attracted a lot of criticism over human rights violations.
One of the ways that the Saudis have attempted to become more accepted across the world is by getting involved in sports. This has been denounced as sportswashing by some who see it as a way to buy their way out of criticism. The vast amounts of money offered in LIV prize money doesn’t really stop the critics from believing that the PIF is just buying its way into mainstream society – through organizations like LIV.
Many of the players who originally signed on with LIV in 2022 were understood to have signed NDAs and refused to comment on the financial backing. One player, Phil Mickelson, showed just how important the related PR story is when he went on an anti-Saudi rant while also accepting the fortune he was being paid. LIV has since become a little more aware of getting their version of the story out in front – but it has been an uphill task.
Figure 2 Golf legend Tiger Woods has been a staunch supporter of the PGA Tour
What Does the Rise of LIV Mean for the PGA Tour and Golf?
One of the aspects of the LIV version of events was always that they wanted to change the image of the sport for the better. They were keen to emphasize the amount of money the players could earn by signing up with them. But they saw their stripped-down and faster-paced tournaments as the sort of things that needed to change in the sport to keep it relevant with a younger audience.
When it comes to the PR story, the PGA Tour has always been all about tradition. But they could see that the departure of some of the top players could be harmful to themselves and golf itself. So there has been some reorganization within the PGA Tour. Ironically, this is one of the reasons some players gave for joining LIV in the first place.
The Future of the PGA Tour and LIV
LIV’s main problem is that it is still seen as a tour for golfers who only care about the money. Those PGA Tour’s accusations have been taken as the truth and are difficult to disprove. In the ongoing PR war, it does seem as though it is the PGA Tour that has the support of the majority of the golfing public.
But LIV is still here. The second season is around halfway through, with more top names having joined up. The PGA Tour relented and allowed LIV players to compete in the majors – and one has just won the most recent tournament. But there is still a lot of bad feeling between the two organizations and we have not seen the end of the battle for the sport. It seems as though the two stories are only just beginning.