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We Can't Look Away, But Should We? Ranking 10 Facts of Life in LIV Golf

In less than a month, LIV Golf has changed the pro game for years to come. But will it stand up as a product? Gary Van Sickle takes a closer look.
Dustin Johnson tees off during the LIV Golf Portland tournament.

Dustin Johnson is the highest-ranked player in LIV Golf, but if the series doesn't get world ranking points, he'll start to slide down the list.

A lot of words and column inches have already been spent covering a new golf tour that hardly anyone seems to actually be watching so far.

The LIV Tour, or 54 Tour, as its Roman numerals imply, represents a new idea for the traditionalists who run, play and watch professional golf. Maybe that’s a good thing, maybe not. The PGA Tour and the artist formerly known as the European Tour — now the DP World Tour — have already reacted to the upstart’s challenge by making significant upgrades. In fact, we haven’t seen this much super-sizing since McDonald's decided Americans weren’t already fat enough.

Yes, we have overdosed on 54 Tour news in the last month. Here are the top reasons, as determined by a panel of experts (well, me) at The Ranking, why we nonetheless find it so hard to look away from The 54 Tour …

10. The unplayable lies.

Nobody looks good wearing greed. Any number of golfers have proven remarkably un-savvy when it comes to the media. Sergio Garcia, the man-child with a long history of petulance — spitting into a cup and intentionally damaging greens, among others — had rewritten his legacy as a Masters champion and now replaced it as golf’s SuperBrat. (That’s spoiled kid brat, not bratwurst—this explanation for potentially confused Wisconsin readers.) He ripped the PGA Tour earlier this year when he drew a slow-play penalty and last week, The Daily Telegraph reported Garcia lost his cool when he heard the DP World Tour fined players $120,000 for competing in 54 Tour events without getting a release and said, “You’re f----d!

Brooks Koepka blamed the media for overshadowing the U.S. Open by asking about the 54 Tour and then joined the defectors a week later. He didn’t lie, he claimed, just changed his mind. Sure. Bryson DeChambeau was an early rumored defector, reportedly offered $130 million. He said that wasn’t true … but he eventually joined. Who’s next to backpedal? I don’t know but somebody will tire of watching monster $4 million paydays go to the likes of Charl Schwartzel and Branden Grace and weaken.

9. There’s no “I” in team but there are two in “million.”

For a hundred bucks, go ahead and tell me who won either team event in the first two 54 Tour tournaments. Or just name one of the teams. (Editor's note: Find out here.) I don’t get this part of the charade. They’re fake teams, based on nothing. Wait, you think people like team golf because they like the Ryder Cup or the Solheim Cup? They like those events for the nationalism. To be honest, a lot of international viewers like watching the United States take a beating. Where’s the nationalism when the Majesticks finish ahead of the Crushers? Plus, these aren’t even good city league softball team names, much less clever Fantasy League names such as Saving Matt Ryan; Make America Gronk Again; Joe Buck Yourself; and I Like Big Puns I Cannot Lie. The team portion is supposed to appeal to the younger crowd. Well, I guess that explains why two teams are named after Cleeks and Niblicks, which nobody under the age of dead remembers.

8. Dodgeball, the Sequel.

We’ve watched enough courtroom-lawyer movies to know that witnesses for the defense have to prep. So there’s no reason these pro golfers had that Deer in the Headlight/Bud Light looks in their eyes when asked about the 54 Tour’s money coming from a murderous Saudi regime. Their answers, to paraphrase, included growing the game, being a force for good and, um, I stick to golf, not politics. The murderous regime part isn’t going to go away, what with almost every major TV outlet being a business partner in some form with the PGA Tour, which owns a stake in Golf Channel. You aren’t going to hear any pro-54 Tour stuff on TV. The 54 Tour finally figured out if it started playing, there would be talk about the golf and less about those guys behind the curtain. They’re not growing the game, just their Swiss bank accounts.

7. No soup for you.

Want to see some marquee golfers suddenly swallow hard? Cancel the Masters invitations of 54 Tour players. The rulers of Augusta National make their own rules and do they really want all the chatter that comes with inviting 54 Tour rebels to the Masters? I can see a December letter that begins, “Sorry, Dustin, but you can’t come back to the annual Champions Dinner because what you’ve done isn’t good for golf and we here at The National are growing the game. Enjoy the Saudi Arabia Invitational.”

That penalty wouldn’t bother chaps like Ian Poulter or Lee Westwood, who weren’t going to qualify for an invite, anyway. But Dustin Johnson and Patrick Reed are two former champs, and players such as Koepka and DeChambeau certainly live to play on the game’s biggest stage. Would the Masters really take a stand like this? I don’t know but I needed a No. 7 item. As an addendum, the 54 Tour will squirm a bit if its events don’t accrue world ranking points, which would mean its members will play their way out major championship qualification within 18 months or less. The OWGR has yet to rule …

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6. The Empire Strikes Back

Admit it, it is kind of fun to see the Rebel Alliance that is the 54 Tour take on the Empire that is the PGA Tour. A renegade league with a chance to succeed? We haven’t seen that since the old AFL-NFL days, or the ABA-NBA merger. The concept of this Rebel Alliance is far more exciting than its actual product. They play only 54 holes? Oh, you know who else does that a lot? PGA Tour Champions. A shotgun start? Maybe that tightens the online viewing window but it’s far less golf viewing for on-site spectators, not that anyone in the Death Star cares about them. The team angle? The 4 Aces, if that's what they’re called, don’t quicken my pulse. Neither do the team results unless the top two teams are going to merge and play in the next Presidents Cup. (Note to the Writing Award Judges: I just mentioned the Presidents Cup in an LIV column. They said it was impossible. You’re welcome.)

5. How Long Does a Crusade last?

I like Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee and respect his depth of knowledge immensely. I have no doubt he despises the Saudi regime that he keeps slamming on the air and online. But sports fans (and athletes) are an ambivalent bunch. I think a poll would reveal that many fans agree with Charles Barkley, who said, “For $200 million, I’d kill one of my relatives.” The Saudi money is blood money? If you’re going to get picky, ALL money in the world is blood money. Talking about the politics here is important but we get the point. The marketplace will decide. 

4. The Super World Tour?

The 54 Tour is not that. Not even close. Charl Schwartzel and Branden Grace, the first two Tour 54 champs, are good players. But Schwartzel, 37, hadn’t won anything of note since the 2016 Valspar Championship and Grace, 34, won last year’s Puerto Rico Open, one of his two PGA Tour wins, and has nine European Tour victories. They are not world-beaters. The 54 Tour fields are full of guys named Wade Ormsby. For example, Mickelson had another dreadful outing in the just-completed second event in Portland, Oregon. Here’s who he finished ahead of in the 48-player field: Itthipat Buranatanyarat, Blake Windred, Turk Pettit, Shaun Norris, and Jediah Morgan. Which leads back to the question, Who’s watching?

The artist formerly known as the European Tour has been exposed. In a new working agreement-but-not-quite-a-merger, the top 10 players on the ET’s Order of Merit will earn PGA Tour cards. The ET is now a feeder system for the PGA Tour. If you’ve been following closely, most ET events this year have had such weak fields, they earn only the minimum Official World Golf Ranking points. Take the money … please. Recent ET events such as the Magical Kenya Open, ISPS Handa Championship in Spain, Betfred British Masters and BMW International offered first-place prizes between $310,000 and $385,000. The LPGA Tour’s Cognizant Founders Cup paid $450,000 to the winner while the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, a major that upped its purse, paid more than those ET events paid to its first four finishers.

2. Surrender, Dorothy.

For many of 54 Tour migrants, leaving is a tacit admission that, “I can’t win anymore” or “I don’t want to work hard enough to compete anymore.” It is a white flag. A few months ago when the LIV Tour was still a tangled web, I mentioned something positive about it and got a reply from an adamant Twitterati, “But where’s their pension plan?” The 54 Tour IS a pension plan, buddy. They’re retiring with this sack of money. The young amateurs, however, had no direct path to the PGA Tour. So it made sense to take the money when the alternative was, if you made it through qualifying school, you spend a year as an indentured servant on the Korn Ferry Tour. The rest of you guys just gave up.

1. Big Money, Big Money.

While that sounds like a squealing contest on “Wheel of Fortune,” it is so obvious that it’s hardly worth mentioning. But it had to be No. 1 on this list. With last-place money at $120,000 per player and eight events this year, that’s $960,000 for anyone with perfect attendance. And if they happen to be on the Aces or Cap’n Crunch team or whatever and win some extra dough, they’re easily over the $1 million mark. Fourteen events are on the 2023 schedule. You can do the math. (I’m assuming you have a high-power technical tool such as a slide rule.) But if you’re a player on the magnitude of Schwartzel, well, it’s just stupid money. Even second place is more than $2 million. Schwartzel won nearly $21 million over his PGA Tour career. He won almost a fourth as much in his first 54 Tour event. Jinichiro Kozuma finished sixth in Portland and raked in $800,000. Yes, that Jinichiro Kozuma. I think Barkley had it right.

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