Investment banks have vice-chairs. Professors reach emeritus status. And in men’s golf, top professionals go on touring into their forties, well past their prime years for winning Grand Slam tournaments. Public nostalgia for stars’ past glories ensures decent but unspectacular rewards.
That financial calculus has been upended by the upstart LIV Golf group. Its first tournament drove off at the Centurion Club near London this week.
LIV, whose public face is Greg Norman, says it is trying to offer a snazzier pro golf experience for fans. Attention has been focused on its patron, the Saudi wealth fund PIF. Critics see LIV as a flagrant attempt by the Middle East autocracy to “sportwash” its reputation.
A tournament featuring pub quiz-style team names is novel enough. The prize money is something else. The 48 players are competing for a staggering purse of $25mn, roughly twice what last year’s US Open paid to 71 golfers last year.
That pot of gold has so far failed to persuade Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, and world number one Scottie Scheffler to defect from the US PGA Tour, the world’s toughest circuit. Instead, LIV has bulked up its player list with golfing nonentities, supplementing such well-known veterans as Sergio García, Lee Westwood and Phil Mickelson. These pro golfers have been pushed from the top of world rankings by twenty-something rivals.
Purses aside, appearance fees and guaranteed payouts over several years may, according to golf industry gossip, total tens to hundreds of millions of dollars. LIV players have awkwardly and unconvincingly tried to deny their apostasy has anything to do with cash.
On Thursday, the US PGA suspended the 17 golfers who chose to play in London in violation of their contractual obligation to remain on their home circuit.
The worry for the US PGA Tour and Europe’s DP World Tour is that the sight of easy LIV money will eventually seduce top talents that until now have stayed loyal. The old guard are past their best on the course. But their influence as business role models remains strong in top-flight club houses.
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