DORAL, Fla. — Greg Norman has “zero” concerns. In fact, the figurehead of LIV Golf is so confident in its future he dismisses any complications from the deal between Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund and the PGA Tour.
Phil Mickelson’s phone is blowing up from players interested in joining the Saudi-backed league. When asked whether he thinks there will be another round of defections from the PGA Tour, Mickelson didn’t hesitate: “Do I think that? No, I know that’s going to happen.”
Potential investors interested in buying Bubba Watson’s LIV team, RangeGoats GC, are lining up. He has been contacted by “anywhere from 10 to 20” candidates, meeting with some of those recently, before this weekend’s season-ending event at Doral.
Gary Davidson, acting COO of LIV Golf, is hinting toward the league adding to its current 12-team, 48-player format. Davidson said the max number of teams would be 15, and although he does not envision adding three, he did say one or two more teams is possible for 2024.
For a league that many believed was on life support four months ago and PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan was ready to pull the plug, the optimism and confidence within LIV’s headquarters is brimming.
“The main conversation from our side is business as usual,” Davidson said. “The focus is on LIV, it’s on what next year and beyond looks like.”
The storylines that came out of the framework agreement between the PIF (LIV’s financial backers), PGA Tour and DP World Tour painted a bleak picture for LIV. If it passes the U.S. Justice Department sniff test, the deal will combine commercial businesses and rights into a new for-profit company majority-owned by the PGA Tour, and Monahan making the decisions.
The presumption was one of those would be to dismantle LIV, or at least crush whatever relevancy it has now.
And that meant Norman, 68, taking his bag filled by the PIF off into retirement. At least that is how PGA Tour officials painted it during a Senate hearing on the deal.
Apparently, that memo did not make it to the LIV offices that overlook the intracoastal waterway and Atlantic Ocean in downtown West Palm Beach. LIV has showed no signed of slowing down since.
Team and league sponsorships are being signed at a steady pace. The league is finalizing its 2024 schedule. Norman, Davidson and several players continue to insist the league is in a position of strength and will be expanding.
“Everywhere we go, we grow value, we grow value, we grow in value,” said Norman, who lives in Palm Beach Gardens. “The business model works. If anybody wants to sit down and understand that business model and actually see it for what it truly is, then you’ll see the reason why we are in the position we are in today.”
So which is it? Is LIV a viable entity that will continue to grow and add players from the PGA Tour, despite an agreement to merge business interests with that league? Or is LIV the second coming of the USFL, an ironic comparison considering the last two years LIV has held four of its events, including this weekend’s, on properties owned by the man who destroyed the startup football league 37 years ago?
Or is it somewhere in the middle?
LIV needs more star players to move the needle
LIV can talk about finding more U.S. sponsors and its upcoming transfer window and a promotion event in seven weeks in Abu Dhabi, all interesting and important to the future of the league. But the one subject that moves the needle is adding players to a field that still lacks the firepower when compared to, not only the PGA Tour, but now the TGL, the virtual golf league backed by Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy to be staged in Palm Beach Gardens.
“I’m excited about who’s coming for next year and over time,” Mickelson told Golfweek on Saturday. “We’ll just keep getting better and better and getting better and better players and that’s the game plan and I love the commitment. I love that I’m a part of it.”
But we’ve heard this before. A year ago, at this same venue, we heard similar promises of more big names joining a roster that outside of Brooks Koepka, Cam Smith, Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau and Mickelson lacks star power.
That fizzled. The additions of Thomas Pieters, Mito Pereira, Sebastian Munoz and Brendan Steele fell far short of those expectations.
“Personally myself, I’m speaking to numerous players who want to come on with LIV,” Norman said. “Our players are doing a great job of articulating exactly how great our platform is and how fun it is out here. So we’re getting a lot of expressions of interest from individuals.”
Those additions, and an underwhelming television contract with the CW Network, were the highlights of an offseason between Years 1 and 2. The league will do what it can to remain in the conversation this offseason.
Trump’s golf venues likely not on 2024 LIV schedule
The schedule that will include eight international and six in U.S. events should be announced in the next few weeks. But the storyline then will be the venues not on the list … those owned by Donald Trump. LIV likely is tired of the focus on Trump, and the four-time indicted former president stealing the spotlight at his courses.
Not to mention the hefty price tag that comes with using his properties, a reported $5 million for each event.
The league will publicize its transfer window when certain players can be dropped and signed by another team, or traded; and the promotion event that will include the four players (Chase Koepka, Jed Morgan, James Piot, Sihwan Kim) relegated by LIV after this season along with several from the leading professional and amateur rankings.
Three of those will earn a spot in LIV’s fulltime field. Andy Ogletree has already claimed one spot for winning the International Series England.
“There’s still a lot of things that we’re doing for the first time because we are still so young,” Davidson said. “We’re very open-minded to what tweaking and certain aspects of the product are and to make sure that it’s as good as it possibly can be. I wouldn’t say that’s tailored necessarily to the framework agreement (with the PGA Tour) but more just towards us trying to make sure that this is good as it possibly can be.”