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TEE TO GREEN, STEVE SCOTT: Follow that – PGA Tour’s big impact events throw a stark contrast to LIV’s 2023 launch

Jon Rahm went to World No 1 at Tiger Woods' Genesis Invitational in LA.

‘Full Swing’, Netflix’s behind-the-scenes series on the PGA Tour, is already filming it’s second season, I’m told.

Meanwhile, the second series of another golf drama begins this week in Mexico. And, undeniably, it’s already not going too well.

I’ve not sat through the entire first season of golf’s version of the successful F1 docu-drama ‘Drive to Survive’, yet. I didn’t see much in the first two episodes to have me craving for the rest, to be honest.

But there seems to be an endless stream of these things planned. There’s one being filmed right now for rugby’s Six Nations.

Hidden microphones even picked up sweary questions from Scottish journalists to Gregor Townsend (friendly ones, I should add) in the mixed zone at Twickenham the other week. Hopefully, they’ll get edited out.

You have to think that the deluge of these docu-dramas is going to wear thin, and have diminishing returns. And that’s roughly where we are with the (again renamed) LIV Golf League, which starts its second season this week at Mayakoba.

‘Enhanced events’ hit the mark

First of all, LIV has to follow two first-class, compelling events on the PGA Tour in the last fortnight. In fact the first three of the PGAT’s ‘enhanced’ events have all been uniformly excellent, especially if you’re among the already golf-converted.

The packed (largely young) crowds and febrile atmosphere at the WMO Open in Phoenix is clearly what LIV has to be aiming for if it’s to be a long-term success. But there’s no sign of anything approaching that scale of engagement in anything they’ve done so far.

Then at the weekend in LA, Tiger Woods returned to action (and remarkably successfully, in a playing sense at least).

The Genesis Invitational immediately leapt up the sports rankings on and media of all kinds across the board.

No doubt this was all carefully planned to establish a clear contrast between the serious business of Riviera with the game’s greatest star attraction (still) and the fake competition and silly names of this week.

Even the appalling, crass judgement of Tiger’s tampon ‘joke’ with Justin Thomas (what was he thinking?!?!) couldn’t detract from that impression.

Look, it shouted, we don’t need Mickelson, or Koepka, or Cam Smith. Even Tiger just six times a year makes you lot look rather pathetic.

LIV languishing in the courts as well

But it was off the course that maybe the most significant issue for LIV occurred. A federal judge denied the plea of the Saudi sovereign investment fund and it’s chief Yasir al-Rumayyan to be excused from disclosure in LIV’s civil case against the PGA Tour.

The first effect of this is that the January 2024 date for trial is now going to be some months beyond that – as Judge Beth Labson Freeman, the sitting justice, predicted at the outset.

The more telling one is that this decision – which is being appealed, to Judge Freeman – will surely shine a light on the PIF’s operations within sport and al-Rumayyan’s central and leading part in the LIV operation. The Saudis will not want their dirty washing aired in public.

There was already a curious recent move that saw another prominent Saudi with the ear of Crown Price Mohammed Bin Salman, Majed al-Sorour, step back from leading positions within Golf Saudi and LIV.

But al-Sorour remains on the board of another major PIF investment, Newcastle United.

Perhaps the PIF’s energies are going to be directed in future at more ‘accommodating’ sports.

Still no sign of any revenues for LIV

Meanwhile, the launch of the new LIV team names – largely through social media – has been greeted with widespread mirth and scorn.

One can appreciate the enthusiasm shown by some LIV players for their various Aces, Smashes and Niblicks. But I detect zero from the public.

As the initial disclosures in the civil case showed, LIV generated zero revenues in 2022. There has been no clamour for outside investment into the various teams. That was supposed to be a primary money generator.

Greg Norman last week claimed that enough revenue to self-support the entire operation would be generated from the sales of team gear. Right, of course it will.

Last year the novelty of this barnstorming new tour and the intrigue of ‘defections’ kept them prominently in the media eyeline.

Thomas Pieters and Mito Pereira are the headline new additions to LIV’s arsenal. They’re going to have to do a lot better in 2023 than simply rounding up golf’s most prominent Belgians and Chileans.

And the bottom line remains – a tiny audience, if any, is interested in LIV’s actual golf product. Compare and contrast with the live and TV audiences for Phoenix and LA this last two weeks.

Start of the endgame?

It seems to me that even the potential backdoor of access for players to DP World Tour events – no sign of the arbitration decision on that yet – won’t prevent LIV from becoming an irrelevance.

It’s not hard now to see the Saudis walking back their involvement, accepting the enormous financial losses. They’ve done that many times already in various elements of their ambitious Project 2030.

Most of the players paid got their money upfront, so they won’t go short. They may even work their way back into the ‘established’ tours in time.

We’ve seen it many times down the years, and even with Tiger Woods himself only last week. Golf tends to forgive pretty quickly.