The news value of its debut last year, championed with patent unease by Phil Mickelson, has long faded. What’s left is just the militant fruitcakery of Greg Norman, whose emanations from his empty luminescent head never quite form into actual substance. To hear Norman tell it, LIV 2023 would begin with a “momentous” TV deal, and seven more top-20 player-signees. In fact, as the second season opens this week in Mayakoba, Mexico, it’s got a laughably desperate TV pact with the CW Network, which also boasts “World’s Funniest Animals,” and no new big names. It was just more blowharding, evaporating into a few lower-level defections such as Dean Burmester and Danny Lee.
“Golf, but louder,” is one of LIV’s slogans, but all that apparently refers to is Ian Poulter’s pants by Pixar. Poulter is at least a likable star, more audience-friendly than laconic burnout cases such as Brooks Koepka, or that aging inveterate scrounger Mickelson, who apparently would take checks from the slaughter of dolphins to get whole. Starting Friday in Mexico, all of them will resume crapping around in an incoherent, noncompetitive, no-cut, drama-repellant 54-hole format with locked-in appearance fees.
The supposed duel between LIV and the PGA Tour for the soul of the game is already over. Which entertainment product is better? Richard Bland and Pat Perez jacking around at places such as Crooked Cat in Orlando, a course that the PGA used for Q-school events? Or the winsome Max Homa weeping with competitive agony as he chases the mighty young Jon Rahm across layouts such as grand old Riviera? The PGA’s new “designated” event format means that 17 tournaments this season are packed with top players on its greatest courses. Small wonder LIV chose this week for its opener: a non-designated week most of the PGA’s top players are taking off to rest.
LIV can’t compete head-to-head. That has become clear. If you want insight into the difference between the world’s best players today and the spine-caved spongers on LIV’s exhibition circuit, watch a couple of insightful episodes from Netflix’s golf docuseries, “Full Swing,” filmed when LIV was just a hard twinkle in Norman’s avaricious eye.
Koepka and Poulter allowed the cameras to follow them especially closely and gave revealing interviews that show just how hollow-eyed and desperate they were over downturns in their careers and fears that they had become second-raters. Their motives for jumping at LIV’s cash are there for all to see; they say it all straight into the cameras. They didn’t leave the PGA because they wanted to play better golf against the best in the world. They left because they couldn’t anymore.
Koepka had lost his edge physically and mentally after a string of injuries, and he knew it. The cameras capture his recognition of that fact as Scottie Scheffler stormed past him to win at the Phoenix Open, what used to be Koepka’s favorite tournament. “I probably lost confidence, if I’m honest,” Koepka told the filmmakers. His fiancee Jena Sims acknowledged, “He’s hearing voices in the back of his head, ‘You can’t do this, you can’t do this.’”
At the Masters, he horseshoed short putts to miss the cut while Tiger Woods ground out a limping resurgence on his surgically repaired leg. Puffy-faced and peroxided, Koepka finally admitted, “I’ll be honest, I can’t compete with these guys week in and week out.” It didn’t seem to occur to him that defecting to LIV for the money wasn’t the cure to his bored, vapid and anchorless existence.
Poulter jumped because at 46, he was losing his battle to stay in the top 50, and with four kids, two homes, and a private plane to support, he couldn’t go on missing cuts. It was costing him. At least he was forthright about that, which was more than others could say. After he missed the cut at the PGA Championship at Southern Hills, he told Netflix, “Your job is not to waste time, be away from them for five days and not cover your expenses … you’re packing your bags and leaving without getting a check. Working for free doesn’t float my boat.”
So much for the phony public jeremiads from Norman and his chief recruiter Mickelson about how LIV is some kind of liberation from PGA Tour oppression, and the future of the game. In fact, it’s mostly a bailout for guys who have lost it. It’s interesting to note that the average age of the PGA Tour’s current top 10 is just 29.5, with Rahm, Scheffler and Collin Morikowa all making huge charges at the age of 26. LIV’s top 10 average age? It’s 35. The leader, and only legit major contender, Dustin Johnson, is 38.
From the outset, LIV was a home for buttercup-bellied moral cowards clutching at cash from a murderous regime, but it quickly has evolved into a refuge for guys who have lost their taste for competition. Who cares who “wins” more money among such a scrabbling bunch? Only the torrent of blood-spattered Saudi coin made Norman’s follies viable in the first place, and now the best young guys are turning down the money. LIV’s incursion is failing, and eventually all that will be left is the unpleasant smell of its corruptions.