DAN BICKLEY

Golf once again at a crossroads with LIV Golf, PGA Tour still at odds

Apr 16, 2024, 8:41 AM

Rory McIlroy looks on...

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland reacts on the 18th green during the second round of the 2024 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 12, 2024 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

(Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

Golf is at a breaking point. The PGA Tour has the history and tradition and very few players who move the meter. LIV Golf has a cache of big names and a terrible product. The entire sport has been kneecapped by the Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, which is purchasing ingrates and mercenaries to hijack the game that made them famous.

Et tu, Rory?

Less than 24 hours after the Masters had concluded, there are reports that Rory McIlroy is ready to join LIV for $850 million and a stake in ownership. If true, Saudi oil money has now taken down two of the most passionate, heroic, popular players of a generation.

The lesson: When the dollar signs become enormous and outrageous, even the greatest will throw their integrity and character to the wind. They all bend the knee.

Is this even a fight anymore? Ratings for the PGA Tour are plummeting, down 20% across the board. LIV doesn’t have or care about ratings, merely loading up their side of the chessboard until the PGA Tour is cornered and forced to hand over the keys. Checkmate.

McIlroy has already paid a heavy price. He has had 16 shots at a green jacket and failed. Incredibly, both Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods have won a major tournament since McIlroy’s last big triumph nearly 10 years ago. More than anyone, he has been gutted by this LIV battle, betrayed by the PGA Tour he so staunchly defended.

There are heavy consequences to the gold rush mentality infecting the sport. While golfers are getting paid, fans are getting hosed. These warring tours have ripped the game wide open, exposing nothing but greed. The dissatisfaction with traditional golf content has opened a lane for innovation.

Golf influencers are flourishing on social media. Alternative content is working. After launching during a pandemic, the spectacular success of Good Good Golf’s YouTube channel spawned a clothing line and spurred the creators to hire their own CEO.

More proof: The Good Good Golf Desert Open was staged at Grass Clippings at Rolling Hills golf course in Tempe in early February. The tournament attracted a field that included celebrities, professional athletes, and content creators; was played under the lights at Arizona’s first fully lit golf course; and was streamed live on Peacock. The ratings were a revelation.

“At the peak of the broadcast, we had 115,000 concurrent viewers,” said Pete Wilson, co-founder and Chief Marketing Officer of Grass Clippings. “I went into the NBC truck after the event and the producer said, ‘Man, you guys don’t even realize what you just did.’ The Good Good Desert Open had six times the (streaming) viewership of LIV golf, and not one player was paid.”

Grass Clippings is continuing to push the boundaries, partnering with Bleacher Report for the world’s first prime-time, high-stakes Par 3 golf league.

“What we’re all about is providing authentic, meaningful golf,” Wilson said. “Look at what’s happening on the PGA Tour and LIV. They are pouring billions of dollars into these golfers, and no one gives a rip. With all this propaganda about growing the game, they’re actually shrinking the game. Meanwhile, the guy who won the Good Good Open was a minor influencer with 30,000 followers who now has over 250,000 followers and just signed a deal with Wilson Golf.”

As the golf world braces for another marquee defector to LIV Golf and the PGA Tour slogs its way to the next major tournament in a growing fog of apathy, we are reminded of Mark Cuban’s infamous advice to the NFL: Pigs get fat. Hogs get slaughtered.

It’s great advice. And better suited for the trough-slurping world of professional golf.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@arizonasports.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta mornings from 6–10 a.m. on Arizona Sports.

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Golf once again at a crossroads with LIV Golf, PGA Tour still at odds