If you want an in-depth look at all the critical information about the LIV Golf enterprise, from origins to players to controversies to the various responses from around the golf world, Golf Digest’s Joel Beall did a bang-up job documenting that here, and we highly recommend it.
This? This is different. This is the casual version—a series of 21 questions and answers for those who are just learning about LIV Golf, or who want the basics without committing quite as much time. This is for those who might be coming in late or who have avoided the entire mess until now, and if it works as a gateway drug to further research, great. If not, also great. All answers will be confined to a single sentence, with the aid of a semicolon or an em dash here or there. Let's do this.
1. What the hell is going on?
Greg Norman teamed up with an entity called LIV Golf to start a rival to the PGA Tour that they swear isn't actually a rival, even though it is, and it's backed by money from Saudi Arabia that's being used to poach the PGA Tour's best players, with, as of now, eight events set to be staged across the world, starting this week in London.
2. Who's actually playing in this? IS TIGER LEAVING US?
Tiger's going nowhere, but the really, really big names who are either playing now or will play soon are Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Patrick Reed and Phil Mickelson, with a bunch of old Euros that are cashing in at the twilight of their glory days like Ian Poulter, Graeme McDowell and Lee Westwood, marginal PGA Tour figures like Kevin Na, up-and-comers who may have just made a really bad decision like Talor Gooch, and then a ton of guys you've never heard of from American colleges, Asia, and God knows where else, plus a few rumored future add-ons like Bubba Watson and Matt Wolff and Rickie Fowler.
3. Why are they leaving the PGA Tour?
Money, baby (plus, in some cases, allegedly being mad about video rights or something, but mostly money).
4. Isn't the PGA Tour already rich?
Sure, but not Saudi rich; their Public Investment Fund has about $600 billion in (mostly) oil profits, which means they can throw $200 million at Phil Mickelson and $125 million at Dustin Johnson and then burn $500 million more lighting cigars and never really notice.
5. So it's the sheer wealth that poses the biggest threat to the PGA Tour?
Yes, but also the fact that the Saudis don't really care about making a profit, at least not right away, which combined with bottomless pockets makes them a massive and unprecedented threat.
6. Wait … why don't they care about making a profit?
This is where we get into the concept of "sportswashing," which basically means trying to launder your image through fun beloved entertainment enterprises so that people associate you with good times rather than anything more unseemly happening in your country.
7. What's the unseemly stuff?
According to the State Department: Significant human rights issues included: unlawful killings; executions for nonviolent offenses; forced disappearances; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of prisoners and detainees by government agents; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; political prisoners or detainees; serious restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including threats of violence or unjustified arrests or prosecutions against journalists, censorship, site blocking, and engaging in harassment and intimidation against Saudi dissidents living abroad; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; severe restrictions of religious freedom; restrictions on freedom of movement; inability of citizens to choose their government peacefully through free and fair elections; violence and discrimination against women, although new women’s rights initiatives were implemented; trafficking in persons; criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual activity; and restrictions on workers’ freedom of association, including prohibition of trade unions and collective bargaining.
8. I thought you said this would be simple to read!
Fine; they treat women and gay people and dissidents abominably, they murdered a journalist they didn't like named Jamal Khashoggi at a Saudi consulate in Turkey, and they're also backing a war and blockade in Yemen that has led to disease, starvation and about 400,000 deaths.
9. Don't the players going to LIV Golf care about that kind of thing? Are they at least pretending to care for appearances?
The answers are “no” and “sort of”; they've been given permission to say things like "I think we all agree, the Khashoggi situation, that was reprehensible" (direct quote from Graeme McDowell), and they can broadly condemn human-rights violations, but beyond that it's word salad-y vague stuff like this or some version of, "hey, I'm not a politician, I'm just a golfer, what do I know?!"
10. What are the consequences for playing?
The PGA Tour just suspended them all on Thursday morning without putting a timeline on it, the PGA of America has made it pretty clear that they can't play in PGA Championships or the Ryder Cup, the U.S. Open is still letting them play this week, and no word yet from Augusta or the R&A or the Official World Golf Ranking.
11. Why does the OWGR matter?
The OWGR will determine all on its own whether LIV Golf events actually “count” for everything or if it remains an entirely self-contained entity, and if the OWGR decides to effectively blacklist these events, that also gives cover to majors to shadow-ban most LIV golfers (barring those with winning exemptions) by saying, oops, sorry, you’ve dropped out of the world ranking and thus you don’t qualify … some think that the majors may actually be waiting to see what the OWGR does before they act.
12. Will the tour's suspensions hold up in a court of law?
We think yes, and by "we," I mean much smarter people.
13. Are the game's best players holding firm with the PGA Tour?
Yes, for now; 19 of the top 20 in the World Ranking seem rock solid (DJ is 15th, the highest-ranked defector), plus Tiger Woods, but it's impossible to know how secure any of this really is until we get deeper into the process.
14. Does LIV Golf have a TV deal?
Not yet, you have to watch it on YouTube, but they do have Arlo White commentating.
15. What makes them different, beyond having worse golfers?
There are a bunch of teams with bad names, and F1-style team competition is part of the whole deal, plus they have smaller fields (48 in London this week) and shotgun starts.
16. Isn't there a nuanced debate to have about investment sources like this? Aren't the Saudis involved in the Premier League and F1, and Uber, and Boeing? Aren't they allies of the U.S. government?
We live in a global society and are compelled to participate in society in ways that bring us into contact with the very things we decry, yes, but as far as sports go, playing in a league that is explicitly run by an objectionable foreign government in the face of a thriving domestic alternative that is not run by an objectionable government strikes many (read: me) as a significantly worse moral compromise than that time I took a Boeing jet to Tulsa and Uber'ed to a hotel, or the fact that you have to pay taxes to a government that has dealings with said government, or even, on a granular level, worse than a world-class driver participating in F1 because it's where the best drivers have to go.
17. Doesn't the PGA Tour also do things that we might object to, and doesn't it serve its interests to point out the moral shortcomings of the Saudis?
Yes, but again, even in a world without perfect entities, and even in a world where morality coincides with self-interest in cases like these, we are all hopefully grown adults who can understand scale and differentiate between levels of sin, and not the kind of people who resort to dull moral equivalencies to wave it all way.
18. Is it fun to watch? Can the PGA Tour learn from this?
Very early returns on the broadcast and format itself, divorced from all other considerations, seem generally positive, which isn't terrific news for the PGA Tour.
19. What will determine whether or not LIV Golf succeeds?
The product, somewhat, but even more important than that is how long the Saudis are willing to throw hundreds of millions of dollars at this without seeing a profit, and how tight the solidarity is between the PGA Tour and its best players—i.e., can they prevent further defections?—and most important of all is whether the majors take action to ban these golfers, since that would have an incredible chilling effect on anyone who’s thinking of jumping in the future.
20. What will happen to the sport of golf if this succeeds?
Schisms are universally bad for sports, for obvious reasons, and diluting the professional game could easily diminish its popularity, cost the PGA Tour prestige and money, ruin the thriving minor league ecosystem (Korn Ferry, PGA Tour Latinoamerica, etc.), and turn golf into boxing or Indycar.
21. Can the PGA Tour do anything else to stop this?
When you can't match the financial resources of your competitor, you have to lean on history, loyalty and, failing that, threats of banishment, while simultaneously making concessions to the players (like PIP, or bigger purses) that may have been long overdue anyway, and in the end simply pray that the carrot-and-stick approach is enough, with a little luck, to stave off the hostile takeover.