Before delving into anything, I have to acknowledge that there is a lot to “PGA vs. LIV.” So much I don’t want to talk about and frankly I try not to follow – the legal battles, money situation, player motivations for choosing one league over the other. Each league has its own motivations and challenges, just as each professional player is choosing his course (no pun intended) based on his career situation, aligned with short and long-term goals. I will leave it all at that.
Instead, I want to briefly discuss what is most relevant to me – which golf league is better to watch? My TV time is limited, so should I skip one, or are they both worthy contenders for spectator attention?
I will start with LIV Golf, as the de facto challenger. I watched nearly every 2022 event, at least for one day, even recording the overseas matches. At the most basic level, the actual golf is fine. Golf spectating, to me, is about the holes and challenges every golfer faces on each. The standings for the tournament add the competitive angle to guess who will win.
But then there is the LIV golf scoreboard on screen. It is confusing, especially with all the team logos. I appreciate the LIV team aspect, and understand it adds a greater financial incentive for the players, but it does not translate well to the living room. I have no vested interest in any of the teams, and really cannot name any captain or roster after the day’s event is passed. I doubt any boy is hanging a Four Aces poster in his bedroom. Golf is inherently about individual play, and the inherent nature of golf playing fields makes it difficult to spacially comprehend the team angle to LIV.
I watched part of the LIV championship (in Miami?) and found the playoff format difficult to follow. Like any team score or standard TV golf leader board, one should be able to immediately see the rankings, know who is first, who is trailing and by how much (are they already in the clubhouse?), without having to break out a calculus textbook.
LIV’s shotgun format is detrimental to the viewership experience. It means there are a lot of irrelevant holes being played up until the very end. For the television, it waters down the optics, as one of the strengths of classical golf broadcasts on late Sundays is how the course collapses to the holes leading up to 18. With that collapse comes the concentration of spectators to those final holes, lending to the epic finale feel of most professional events. With LIV golf, I got the impression that the on-premise fans were confused of where they should actually be with “one hole to go.”
My final criticism of LIV is the droning ba-BOOM ba-BOOM ba-BOOM always in the background. They apparently have crappy music playing near the clubhouse to attract younger fans. Maybe I am just showing my age, but that incessant noise really turned me off when they started piping it into my TV.
The PGA Tour, by default, remains the calmer alternative. I never found any true faults in the broadcasts on CBS, NBC, Golf Channel, or ESPN+ beyond the CEO sponsor interviews and time wasted on featured causes. Like any sport event, I just want to watch the athletes at their craft and none of the fluff.
The PGA Tour’s biggest issue right now is directly linked to LIV. I don’t know the percentage but it’s like they lost 60% of their top players to the other league. That is a big deal, as weekly leader boards are filled with names I do not recognize. New names and start-up rookies, pre-LIV, gradually blossomed onto the scene, whereas now it’s like September MLB with a host of AAA minor leaguers at the forefront of Major League games. It’s not a terrible situation, but it has taken some adjustment from this casual casual golf spectator to not anticipate any well-known names on the leader board come Sunday afternoon.
Ultimately, I am not sure if it matters. For the “big names” really aren’t big at all, at least not Tiger Woods big, or Tom Brady or LeBron James big. As much as I have enjoyed watching all of these guys, whether in the PGA or LIV, outside of a fading Mickelson, is anybody really drawing crowds? That’s an advantage LIV has at the moment, as fans, at least in America, will buy tickets to LIV just to see Phil Mickelson. I don’t think anyone is going to buy tickets to The Players to see Min Woo Lee, the current round 3 leader as I write this on Saturday, March 11th.
Both PGA and LIV have this problem – LIV poached the “elite” players but I question if they are true crowd draws. And the PGA Tour no longer has many of its top tier golfers. Challenge and opportunity for both leagues to address, e.g. the PGA can attempt now to groom featured stars, if that is possible, and hope they don’t get poached later by LIV.
Finally, the PGA Tour has the advantage of incumbency. The PGA is not going anywhere. It is far too connected into the ecosystem of all things golf. But LIV Golf? LIV seems to have a singular source of funding (“the Saudis” according to the TV). If that one foundational source is ever pulled for any reason, that would mean the end of LIV.
On the flip side, LIV Golf is not shackled by expectations or traditions, and, if they are willing to the commitment, can try to reshape professional golf viewing to a younger audience receptive to new ideas, in ways the venerable PGA Tour perhaps simply cannot.
For now, I will be sticking with the PGA Tour, even the LPGA and European circuit at times. I will keep an eye on LIV, but only at a distance, to see what Phil is up to.