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LIV, Laugh, Love: He’s a 10 but employed by the Saudi sovereign wealth fund

| Friday, September 16, 2022

I read this tweet three months ago when it was penned during the height of the “He/she’s a ten” memes and the LIV/PGA tour drama that escalated this summer. The context of this tweet directly refers to the persona of Brooks Koepka, golf’s resident bad boy and four-time major winner who spurned the PGA tour in favor of the endless riches that the LIV invitational series has come to offer. Brooks’ reputation is one of a good-looking athlete who really doesn’t care much about anything, and as someone who follows the sport, I thought it was funny (sue me). The weeks that followed this initial internet hysteria saw many household names on the PGA tour defect for this newly minted rival syndicate, LIV Golf, which is bankrolled by the Saudi sovereign fund (SSF). The SSF is one of the largest such funds in the world, bursting at the seams with $620 billion assets under management. The sole purpose of the fund is to invest funds on behalf of the Saudi Arabian government, and LIV CEO and major winner Greg Norman unveiled the league’s vision as something that would change the face of golf for the better.

Well thanks a lot, Greg, because it has only made things worse. Before and after Koepka’s defection, notable tour card holders such as Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia, Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Kevin Na and Patrick Reed all came join to LIV, thrusting the golf world into a civil war. Now, as the LIV and PGA seasons have ended and the former looks for a television rights partner, I would be remiss to not argue that for the foreseeable future, the landscape of professional golf has been ruined. Crushed like the Galactic Republic. Toppled like the Berlin Wall. The PGA tour may or may not be responsible for losing a dozen of its largest names to the LIV tour, but the conflict is here for good. As the riches of the Saudi backed syndicate seep through the sport, let me explain what I think lies ahead for professional golf.

A product of the global pandemic, golf’s popularity amongst amateurs has never been higher. Amongst spectators and the purchasing public however, the game has lacked the storylines outside of the LIV/PGA drama that generate interest, revenue and increased brand value. The decline of Tiger Woods since his riveting Masters victory in 2019 has played a role in this, but people are just not consuming the game like they used to. Now factor that the most idiosyncratic personalities in the sport (Koepka, Mickelson, DeChambeau, Johnson, etc.) have packed their bags and left, the PGA tour has a talent massive issue on their hands.

But so does LIV. And yes, I could talk about how the league is funded by a country who has no care for basic human rights and is no friend of the West. But when it comes to dollars and cents, they are as flush as one can be, and this has kept LIV leadership has silent regarding these societal issues. When asked about this track record of issues, Norman simply stated, “We’ve all made mistakes”. If Norman was referring to a 12-year-old who had stolen a candy bar from a gas station, that might’ve been the appropriate response. But for a country that didn’t allow women to drive until July of 2018, actively persecutes the LGBTQ+ community and puts journalists critical of the regime to death, do you really think they view their politics as mistakes Gregory?

But along with the horrific implications that go with being bankrolled by a morally inept evil oil empire, LIV golf is simply bad product. The name LIV derives from the Roman numerals for 54, as LIV golfers only play 54 holes in a weekend tournament, with no cuts to be missed or made. Compare this to the PGA tour, where a 72-hole tournament is played Thursday through Sunday, with a cut that shrinks the field by half being determined on Friday. Currently, if you don’t make the cut in a PGA event, you don’t get paid for the weekend. In addition to this, four day events separate the best from the rest, as the grueling rounds have made for memorable TV narratives. John Daly, Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy are all names that come to mind when you think of an excellent live sports narrative. For LIV, the answer for “will anyone actually watch this thing” is a no, because nothing is at stake. No matter what, these golfers have millions in their pocket.

An interesting conversation with a friend who attended an LIV event in New Jersey saw her comment to me, “It’s great, the players are treated much better on this tour than they are on the PGA”. And after it settled with me that this might be true, as I don’t know the realities of the differing working conditions for both groups, I realize in reflection the conclusion of my point. Golf is not only a rich’s man game, but a game that takes more mental stress on the body than it does physical. Golfers get to travel the world and enjoy a game where amateurs are routinely encouraged to drink like fish and gamble like heathens while playing. They are golfers. Not coal miners, teachers, first responders or rectors in Residence Halls here at Notre Dame. Its golf. For professionals, it is a tradition that nothing is given, but everything is earned. If you don’t like it, then take a day job and join where a country club that would be happy to have you participate in their events. Yes, as a business student I know and believe that everyone is entitled to earn as money as they would like to. But when you complain about conditions making millions a year putting a ball into a hole, and then spurn your employer to be paid to do the same thing by Saudi Arabia, I really don’t think you get a say in the matter.

Now many LIV golfers have danced around the question of their defection when the subject is broached. But Harold Varner III gave a blunt answer that moved against this trend. He described his contract as “life changing money” and a “financial breakthrough”. But as these record contracts continue to be signed, I would like to point out that no amount of money ever bought another second of time. LIV athletes are going to have plenty of time in their shortened weekends to think about their adjusted contribution to the sport of golf, society, and to their new reputations as professional athletes. So, as these LIV defectors enjoy their cash in a bathtub like Scrooge McDuck, I hope they reflect on what master they serve. And as no man can serve two, I hope this reflection will lead to the collapse of the LIV tour and not to the landscape of professional golf as we know it.

Stephen Viz is a One Year MBA candidate and graduate of Holy Cross College. Hailing from Orland Park, Illinois, his columns are all trains of thoughts, and he can be found at either Decio Cafe or at Mendoza. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @StephenViz.

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