LAS VEGAS — The first week of the LIV Golf season is in the books and while the league left Mexico with much to celebrate, from Joaquin Niemann’s thrilling playoff win to Jon Rahm’s new Legion XIII taking the team title, there are many questions about LIV’s continued livelihood.
World rankings points, access to the majors and an unobstructed path back to both the PGA Tour and DP World Tour are still very legitimate questions for those players who made the move.
At the same time, the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia is apparently negotiating with a PGA Tour that is now flush with cash after announcing its new deal with the Strategic Sports Group and, according to some, doesn’t need a deal with PIF going forward.
LIV is also looking for a way to jump from being renegade curiosity to serving as an actual alternative to the PGA Tour.
By happenstance, Mother Nature may have assisted LIV in its competition for golf eyeballs when the PGA Tour was forced to postpone the final round of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am on Sunday due to weather. That left the television golf landscape open for LIV, which didn’t disappoint with a four-hole playoff that ended in near-darkness.
And more fans responded, according to data provided by LIV Golf to Sports Illustrated, as ratings were up on the LIV’s YouTube channel and its CW broadcast.
For LIV Golf YouTube, compared to LIV Golf Mayakoba 2023, the three-day event had a 173.3% increase and Sunday was up 124.4%.
For the CW, last week was its highest-rated LIV Golf event. The Sunday broadcast was up 48% from last year at Mayakoba.
Also, the CW’s app had 38% higher viewership for the Mayakoba full event compared to its 2023 LIV Golf season average.
In some ways the win by Niemann over Sergio Garcia could mark the end of a very tortured beginning for LIV and a move into a new chapter.
A press conference Tuesday with the Legion XIII team of captain Jon Rahm, Tyrrell Hatton, Caleb Surratt and Kieran Vincent brought up many of the issues that still are outstanding.
For starters, should Niemann be in all of golf’s biggest events this year?
“Do I believe he deserves to be in majors? Yes. Does he have the talent to contend and possibly win majors? Yes,” Rahm said.
Niemann is in the British Open due to his Australian Open victory as that was an Open Qualifying Series event and could get into the PGA Championship if he remains in the top 100 in the world (he’s currently 74th). But he won’t get up to the top 50 for a Masters invite and would have to go through qualifying for the U.S. Open.
“It’s a little bit sad, but it’s hopefully something that we see a change in the future, encouraging players in LIV Golf to be able to qualify or maybe a change in the World Ranking, whatever it may be, because there’s definitely a lot of players here that are more than capable to contend and win majors and are not going to have the chance in the near future,” Rahm said. “I hope it changes.”
LIV lost its bid for OWGR recognition last October, and unless something changes an appeal would likely have the same result.
Another point of discussion Tuesday involved LIV players returning to play on the PGA Tour and DP World Tour, which both Hatton and Rahm expressed interest in.
For many on the PGA Tour it is a bridge too far to let LIV players back, but on the DP World Tour the desire to keep the defectors on the sidelines is not as great. However, it still would require changes to its rules.
“I have hope,” Rahm said. “I would love to, if allowed and if I can, go play the Spanish Open, and if it doesn’t conflict with LIV’s schedule, right. But a tournament that both me and Tyrrell are going to miss dearly is Wentworth. If I qualify, I’d still love to go play in Dubai, the DP World Tour Championship. There’s certainly events I would like to play.”
And the PGA Tour?
“We’ll see,” Rahm said. “If there’s ever a way back and a way where we can play, even if it’s as an invite, I will take it. Like I said, there’s certain events that are special to me that I would still love to support.”
Neither Hatton or Rahm have a legitimate path back and after just one week playing LIV Golf, may believe a path may occur.
If those interested in playing majors and events on other tours don’t push all the decision-makers as well as the PIF and LIV hierarchy to address the issues, their chances are less and less to ever get world ranking points, play in majors or find a path back for a limited schedule on the DP World or PGA Tours.
“Every other tour in the world can qualify pretty much, and if anybody thinks that the players here are not capable of or high enough quality to go out and compete in majors, I think they should come and see for themselves,” Rahm said in defense of his new home. “Because again, some of the best players in the world are still here and deserve a chance.”