LIV Golf and world ranking points – why Saudi-backed series has a case


From “dead in the water” in February to 16 golfers contesting almost £30m in a single day, LIV Golf has come a long way in a short space of time.

And after the conclusion of the start-up tour’s inaugural season, it is clear LIV and the schisms it has created will dominate golf headlines over coming weeks as it seeks to add new recruits for its second campaign.

It is up and running despite vehement opposition from the sport’s establishment. LIV now has 110 staff working out of offices in London, New York and Florida as it plans for a global 14-event season in 2023.

The product is loud and brash, presenting golf like never before.

Deafening, thumping music swept across the practice putting green moments before tee off on the final day of the concluding Team Championship here in Miami.

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The remaining 16 players in the competition were preparing to battle for Saudi Arabia-generated spoils which, that Sunday alone rivalled the total purses of the last three Masters combined.

LIV is the ‘loadsamoney’ tour. On Donald Trump’s Doral Blue Monster course it felt at home – overtly gauche and gaudy. Finding genuine sporting glory was a harder task.

Everything was tailored towards which team would walk away with $16m – $4m per player. Dosh to be stuffed in already overflowing back pockets.

When Dustin Johnson rolled in the winning putt for his 4 Aces team on Sunday, the American took his on course earnings from eight tournaments to $35.6m, including an $18m bonus for previously leading the individual standings.

Team-mate Pat Perez, individually the 49th ranked player of the 68 golfers to play LIV tournaments, competed in six of the season’s eight events, banking more than $8m. The sums involved are eye-watering and show the scale of opposition faced by the established PGA and DP World Tours.

LIV insists fans love it because they are seeing “the best players in the world”. It is an assertion of Trumpian proportions and not entirely based in fact; hype and tripe can often go hand in hand.

Open champion Cameron Smith is so far the only player to have been in the world’s top 10 when he elected to join the LIV circuit.

Arguing for LIV events to be awarded world ranking points, the organisation’s president Atul Khosla told BBC Sport: “Are you trying to tell me that DJ ends the year as not a top-five golfer in the world?

“Now he has won what he has won, it would be hard for any golf fan to believe that is accurate. It’s like saying, here are the best cities in the world but London and New York don’t get to participate in those rankings.”

Johnson, who pledged allegiance to the PGA Tour last February prompting the “dead in the water” claim, moved to LIV when he was on a relative slide, 11th in the world.

He had missed the cut at the US PGA Championship, finished 24th at the US Open and was tied sixth at The Open – a couple of decent results but hardly world beating.

As for his performances on the LIV Tour, where he posted one win and two third places, it is much harder to judge. Yes, there are a number of very good golfers on the circuit but there is a significant rump of lesser lights.

Taking the standings in June, when the start-up tour began at the Centurion Club near Hemel Hempstead, is perhaps the most accurate barometer of the circuit’s current strength. There were 13 current LIV recruits in the top 50 then.

Also factor in limited-field events played over 54 rather than 72 holes. As pure competitions, they pale compared with full field tournaments over four rounds.

Jordan Smith’s impressive win at the Portugal Masters and Seamus Power’s victory in Bermuda on Sunday, both against relatively weak fields but beating scores of players scrapping for their careers, felt more worthwhile if far less lucrative.

All that said, there is a compelling argument to give LIV the world ranking points it craves.

The fields contain some top talent, they are regulated properly (although they are opaque on the issue of drug testing) and they have become part of the professional firmament.

Weighting points according to the shorter format and shallower line-ups involved should tell us each event’s worth. Perhaps Khosla is right, perhaps Johnson is among the top-five players in the world? Let’s find out.

The LIV president, who is now a much more conspicuous spokesman than the increasingly peripheral-looking commissioner Greg Norman, says the Official World Golf Rankings, which features among others the PGA and DP World Tours on its board, is “conflicted”.

He said: “They’ve been vocally clear about their position against LIV.”

That is undoubtedly true. The PGA and DP World Tours have admitted they are facing an existential threat from the newcomers.

But for all LIV’s bravado, it is yet to cut through. The YouTube viewing figures sat around 75,000 on the final day at Doral, whereas the previous day’s Japan v New Zealand rugby union match cleared 585,000 hits on top of its traditional TV coverage.

LIV has yet to secure TV deals in key US and UK markets and may end up paying for platforms rather than receiving rights fees.

It still faces significant challenges. The momentum is self generated and financed by Saudi’s Public Investment Fund.

Those riches could secure new recruits in the coming weeks, with reports suggesting American top-10 players such as Olympic champion Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay are being targeted.

Were they to defect, that would be a serious hit to an already denuded US Ryder Cup team.

Meanwhile, arguably more significant contests will be tediously but vitally played out in courtrooms across the globe. Lawyers from all sides are readying themselves for extensive and expensive litigation that will drag into 2024.

Men’s professional golf is fractured in damaging ways and there is not the slightest indication of when or how it might be brought back together.

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