Golf's Great Divide Continues, But LIV Golfers May Have a Point

Yes, the LIV players caused the schism by taking the money, but Bob Harig says the big-picture issues of pay for everyone was helped by their move.
Apr 4, 2024; Miami, Florida, USA; Phil Mickelson plays his shot from the eight tee during the LIV
Apr 4, 2024; Miami, Florida, USA; Phil Mickelson plays his shot from the eight tee during the LIV / Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

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There was a good bit of reaction to the comments from several LIV Golf players last week who expressed their desire to see the game come back together.

Phil Mickelson talked about the game becoming “much more global” and Jon Rahm noted the potential for a “better product for the fans” and Bryson DeChambeau said “it needs to happen fast ... for the good of the sport.”

Of course, the blowback in many circles was intense. The general reaction to those comments was that the game would not be in this situation if those players had not taken the hordes of cash to join LIV Golf.

And yes, on the surface, that is exactly right. Had nobody taken the offers, the game would still see all of them competing together on the PGA Tour and DP World Tour.

But that also misses a big picture. Yes, of course, had there been no disruption there would be no divide. But there would still be the age-old issue of guaranteed pay for the stars, the basis for all the upheaval.

And yet, many of the riches they’ve received have also resulted in greater monetary opportunities for those who remained—a fact that Mickelson pointed out.

Phil Mickelson speaks to media at LIV Golf Miami
Phil Mickelson said at LIV Golf Miami that not everyone sees far ahead in golf's current disruption. / Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

“If you look at all the changes that have taken place with equity for players, elevated events, increases purses … none of that was an option for the guys who left (for LIV),” Mickelson said last week in Miami. “Had LIV not happened and we not done what we did, none of that would have happened now.

“I knew the first two years were going to be difficult. But in the end, where it ends up I think the game is going to be a lot more global, appeal to a lot more people. Appeal to a lot younger crowd and is going to be in a much healthier place in the end.

“But in the disruption phase, which is what we’re in, sometimes not everybody sees that far ahead.”

When LIV golfers say they want the game to come back together, they are not suggesting going back to the PGA Tour. Many are perfectly content with LIV Golf. But they want an avenue to compete against the best more often than just the major championships.

And that’s where it would get interesting if there is ever a deal between the PGA Tour and the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia. Rory McIlroy has suggestea Champions League-type of competition that would see the best players from all the tours compete outside the current structures.

There have been calls for PGA Tour, DP World Tour and LIV Golf events to see their top players funnel to one big circuit outside of the respective tours.

“How great would it be to have these signature events have a team aspect as part of it?” DeChambeau said during an interview at Doral. “It increases the value of those tournaments. You create a 50-50 partnership on the team stuff and call it day. We have certain events outside of the PGA Tour, we play on the PGA Tour and we came together at the end of the season like the NFC-AFC (in the NFL). It’s not a hard fix.”

It is difficult if you are not in favor of team golf, and there appears to be considerable pushback to that idea on the PGA Tour side. How that is resolved is one of the big issues going forward.

But LIV Golf appears content to ride it out. It continues to plan for a future without an agreement as it keeps adding smaller sponsorship deals for its teams while locking down future venues.

If the idea was that Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the governor of the PIF, was going to shutter LIV Golf as part of an agreement, that seems to be far off.

Hence his meeting three weeks ago with Tiger Woods in the Bahamas has taken on more intrigue. Since joining the PGA Tour Policy Board as a player director last year, Woods has stayed neutral on his feelings about the PIF and its possible investment in PGA Tour Enterprises. But previously, he was no fan of LIV Golf and spoke out against it.

Meeting Al-Rumayyan was viewed as important. What they discussed and how much it might have swayed Woods in any manner is unclear.

“Huge. Huge step,” DeChambeau said. “And I appreciate them for doing that. I think it was necessary. A big step for the game of golf. I just don’t know what his intentions (Woods) are. Nobody does. I wish for them to have the best intentions for the game of golf.”

“I have nothing but respect for Tiger. He’s been so amazing for the game. He inspired me to play the game. ... Let’s bring it back together. That’s all that matters now. I don’t care who is the resistance. Let’s come to terms and figure out, sit down in a business room, see what works for both sides.”

Again, it will be easy to take shots at DeChambeau here. None of this occurs if the players who left had not done so.

But as Mickelson said, there’s a good chance that the big purse increases seen through the signature events and the private equity that will make PGA Tour players part-owners of PGA Tour Enterprises would not have occurred, either.

And so complaining about who did what and when they did is not going to change golf’s current plight.

What happens next? To be determined.


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Bob Harig

BOB HARIG

Bob Harig is a senior golf writer for Sports Illustrated. He has more than 25 years experience covering golf, including 15 at ESPN. Bob is a regular guest on Sirius XM PGA Tour Radio and has written two books, DRIVE: The Lasting Legacy of Tiger Woods and Tiger and Phil: Golf's Most Fascinating Rivalry. He graduated from Indiana University where he earned an Evans Scholarship, named in honor of the great amateur golfer Charles (Chick) Evans Jr. Bob, a former president of the Golf Writers Association of America, lives in Clearwater, Florida.