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PGA Championship 2023: A LIV golfer winning a major would mean … well, what exactly?

May 18, 2023
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Asanka Ratnayake

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — As I'm writing these words, Bryson DeChambeau is leading the PGA Championship after his first round at Oak Hill, and as Joel Beall wrote, he looks—to use an old cliche—tan, rested and ready. There's a thematic similarity here to what we saw at the Masters when Brooks Koepka, who looked downtrodden and resigned for a very long time, re-emerged as a major threat and nearly won the green jacket. Other LIV players, like Phil Mickelson, also made serious runs at Augusta, and early this week the top of the leader board includes names like Thomas Pieters and Dustin Johnson.

This is no surprise—some very good players went to LIV, and it's not like simply moving to a different tour makes them any less talented. But we're still living in the hot phase of the PGA Tour vs. LIV Golf war, and because they only meet at majors now, it's incredibly tempting not just to frame golf's four biggest events as a tour-on-tour melee, but to speculate about possible results and what it would all mean. To wit: Wouldn't it be a serious coup if a player from LIV won a major? Wouldn't it give a new level of credibility to the breakaway tour, and drive more audience and attention and money and esteem? Wouldn't it level the playing field in a fight that the PGA Tour seems to be winning fairly comfortably?

But to put the debate on these terms might be ignoring a hard reality, which is that less than a year into golf's great schism, the situation may have hardened into something essentially unchangeable—a period of stasis that nothing, even a LIV major, can shake.

After a few weeks of low and declining ratings, reports indicate that LIV has stopped releasing viewership data. Whatever their reasons—and the reasons seem obvious—it doesn't seem like a great sign. The comparison that keeps coming to mind is of a renegade political candidate who generates a lot of publicity and controversy and seems to be everywhere all at once, but reaches a point where poll after poll shows the same reality: no traction. LIV got off to a sparkling start, signed a lot of good players, came up with an interesting new format and even spawned plenty of reactive changes on the PGA Tour … but the numbers never came.

The question is, what could change that? A lot of people want to believe the answer is top finishes in a major, but increasingly that feels like small-scale thinking divorced from reality. LIV golfers performed admirably at the Masters, doing everything but winning a green jacket, but it didn't change anything for their actual tour. Many viewers came away impressed with the players, but clearly not many felt the urge to actually watch LIV Golf in the aftermath. Would that have been any different if Koepka had won? Maybe for a very brief moment, but the far more likely scenario is that after a minor blip at the next LIV event, things would have settled into the exact same status quo. The reasons aren't complicated—the PGA Tour is more familiar and more established, there aren't many slices of pie when it comes to non-major golf in the first place, and for all the panic at the start of the LIV defections, the PGA Tour flexed enough muscle and adapted quickly enough to limit the damage and maintain the upper hand. (A predictable result, since it's ultimately easier to keep power than to seize it.)

It's too early to say that LIV's moment has come and gone, even if the project feels a little bit at sea, kept afloat by a war chest of money divorced from passion or viability. There are potential game changers that could appear in this script; signing a new batch of elite players at the end of the 2023 season is the most obvious that comes to mind. But it feels like we're past the point when Brooks Koepka or Bryson DeChambeau winning a major championship while flying the LIV flag will have any material effect on the desire of American viewers in particular to tune in to the latest LIV event. It would be a PR victory, but not a practical one. What we'd be left with is a result that's not particularly surprising—we all know Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka and a handful of others can win a major—and which doesn't have a long tail.

The losing side in any war can still win battles, but there is a larger momentum—perhaps "inertia" is a better word—that's harder to reverse. If LIV supporters believe that a victory for one of their own would be a kind of coup, they may be disappointed to find that upon breaking down the palace doors, the throne room is empty and the conquest is immaterial. Simply wanting a triumph to be tangible beyond the individual isn't enough, and though you can bet the victory would be shouted from the rooftops, even shouts disappear into the greater silence.

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