Now that emotions have cooled and, as the announcers of TV reality shows are fond to say, ‘the results are in’, how was Season 1 of LIV Golf for you? Are you counting down the days until Season 2 gets underway?
A cursory look at the injection of new faces and names throughout the eight-part Series, which started in London in June and concluded with a team event in Miami in October, highlights that there was indeed growth in the breakaway circuit.
With Charl Schwartzel becoming the first winner of a LIV Golf Series event, pocketing $4-million, plus extras for being in the winning team, the quality of the fields definitely got stronger.
Andy Ogletree, then ranked 1 406th in the world, carded rounds of 82, 77 and 75 in signing for a 54-hole score of 234, some 24 shots over par at Centurion Club outside London, and 31 shots behind Schwartzel over three rounds.
For his efforts, Ogletree was paid $120,000. It was his first and only appearance, but highlighted everything that was wrong with the Saudi-backed venture. He earned $40 000 for each round that he shot on the par-70 course, averaging 78.
Ogletree wasn’t invited back, as the Saudis started luring golfers higher up the food chain to fill up their 48-man invitational fields. Ahead of the second event, in Portland, new names and faces were introduced, PGA card members who had thrown in their lot with that Tour and crossed the floor. One of them was Pat Perez, who arrived at the pro-am party in a gaudy long-sleeve collared shirt emblazoned with $100 bills. While others who had signed on the dotted line kept to their paymasters’ directive that ‘we’re here to grow the game of golf, we’re here to play less and spend more time with our families,’ Perez’s actions had spoken louder than any hollow words. Slowly, but surely, the golfers started to talk about the real reason why they’d broken away from the regular tour – they couldn’t say no to the money.
And that’s totally fine.
But, you can’t have your cake and eat it. The demand came for world ranking points – despite playing in limited 48-man fields with no cut. They demanded entry into the Majors and into regular major Tour events. In other words, to go back to have the best of both worlds. That attitude was probably the most divisive aspect of this inaugural LIV Series.
More and more big names were attracted, including Dustin Johnson and Cameron Smith, and the standard of golf improved significantly. Eugenio Chacarra shot 19-under to win in Bangkok, while Johnson won with 16-under and Branden Grace and Cameron Smith both won events by shooting 13-under for the three rounds.
In doing so, the scores of those at the bottom of the money ladder improved. The $120 000 was awarded to the last-placed finisher in the field throughout with those golfers being Ogletree (24-over), Jediah Morgan (21-over), Morgan (16-over), Sikwah Kim (16-over), Marc Leishman, Hudson Swafford, Shaun Norris, Kim, Turk Pettit (all 6-over), Grace (WD) and Martin Kaymer, Kevin Na (also WDs).
So much happened in 2022 that it’s hard to know what 2023 will bring when it comes to LIV Golf.
When converting to rands, Grace earned more than R300-million for his five months of work and he will have no regrets. Mind you, nor will any of the other eight South Africans who played on the LIV ticket, including JC Ritchie who picked up $232,000 for his sole appearance, which converts to more than R4m.
However, the Saudis have upped their game and have promised to throw more money into the venture in 2023. It’s not going away. And 2023 promises to be, as the tired saying goes, ‘Moving Day’ for the LIV Series.
– This column first appeared in the December 2022 issue of Compleat Golfer magazine.