Can LIV Golf survive without the love of the people?

John Craven

Lee Westwood in The Belfry (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

John Craven

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If it wasn’t for this line of work, the first thing I’d do is delete all of my social media accounts forever. 

In order to compete as a modern-day media outlet, there’s no escaping the likes of Twitter as a source for instant news, but no matter how fortified I filter my personal feed, acts of virtual cruelty creep by my defences, and curiosity compels me to look. 

A warped part of me used to enjoy online confrontation. I got satisfaction from winding people up, but the birth of the online troll means people are perpetually wound up already, and trying to reason with the unreasonable only makes matters worse. 

You’d think a sport as innocent as golf would be a sweet spot in the Twittersphere. A safe space to discuss a meaningful pursuit for so many, albeit relatively meaningless in the grand scheme of the world. 

Think again. 

Golf, like a lot of sports – F1, Football, WWE, Boxing – has been put under intense scrutiny for some of its questionable business links; relationships that admittedly existed long before Greg Norman attempted to infiltrate the status quo with his idea of an all-inclusive tour. 

The Saudi-backed Super League has been reimagined, unimaginatively, as LIV Golf Invitational, LIV Golf being the self-described “start-up” investment company of CEO Norman. A start-up bankrolled by the $500billion sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia. 

Now I’m no economist, but I’d give that company a fighting chance, but if it wasn’t for such stout financial backing, I’d be writing its obituary. 

Whatever about the source of the money – and if you didn’t know, it’s not good – I want to focus on what LIV Golf Invitational is bringing to the golf space. What these pioneering market disrupters will serve up to entice me over to the dark side. I’m talking innovative new formats, fierce competition, an engaging product designed for the fans… 

‘How about money?’ 

Money, ah yes. I watched the lads struggling to compete for a paltry $20million at The Players Championship and all I could think was, why can’t it be more? How can these guys be expected to live whilst fighting for the scraps from Longshanks’ table? 

Never fear, Norman’s initial eight-event series will serve up 54-hole, no-cut $25 million cash grabs, with a juicy $30 million on offer at its tour championship, and team prizes too. All-up, we’re talking $255 million. As they say in the Shark’s neck of the woods, Hooley Dooley, that’s a lot of brass razoos! Who among golf’s elite is worthy of such lavish rewards? Rahm, Morikawa, McIlroy? 

Actually no, but there is Lee Westwood. 49 years old this April, the major-less messiah’s been living unbeknownst to himself all this time as a missionary, sent by the golfing gods to spread Norman’s word and grow the game around the globe. 

Where to exactly? Well, to America, where else? The golf industry only accounts for a mere $84billion of the country’s economy. Heck, with just 9,473 golf courses and country clubs, the game’s been suffering under the repressed regime of the Stars and Stripes for years. 

OK, there are other tournaments, one in London, a couple in Saudi, one in Bangkok, Trump will host, Saddam will rise from the ashes as honorary starter and LIV Golf will reign supreme, but as well thought-out as Norman’s plan seems, I’m still struggling to see myself tuning in. 

Westwood has been one of few defending his position, confirming that he has requested permission to compete alongside the likes of Phil Mickelson and Richard Bland, and a hopeful world number 1043-ranked Robert Garrigus, who volunteered as Norman’s guinea pig when requesting the PGA Tour’s consent to play in the opening event in London. Poulter, Bubba and Na are names also reported to be wishing to participate, and all those players will have plenty of support from people who see no reason why accepting this payday is anything other than the right thing to do. 

But for all the whataboutery on Twitter – America is bad. What about China? Don’t you hate pants? – I retain a fool’s hope that the majority of people will see through this half-baked attempt at world domination and ultimately give it a miss. 

Norman’s sole hope is that superior players will have their heads turned when Jason Kokrak is sailing around on a bigger yacht than they are, but as Rory McIlroy put it, there’s only so many rooms you use in your house, no matter how rich you get. 

And as I put it, naively, there has to be more to this life of ours than money, especially when you’ve earned more than you could possibly spend in a life. 

Sport to me is about competition, and for me to feel engaged as a fan, there has to be a winner and a loser. Colossal appearance fees. No cuts. No concerns. No incentive. This is not what fans want to see.  

Then again, this has never been about the fans, and this is the only start-up on the planet that might just function without them. Everyone who signs up for the Saudi league might be financially winning, but they’re going to lose a lot of things money can’t buy. 

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