What Is LIV Golf? The New Controversial Pro Golf League

Ripples in professional golf have been abundantly clear since the LIV Tour launched in 2022. The Saudi-backed golf league, led by its commissioner, two-time major champion, and former world number one, Greg Norman, has created quite a stir since first being announced in 2019.

What is LIV Golf? LIV Golf is a pro golf league started by Greg Norman in 2021 and backed by a Saudi investment fund. The events are shorter than the PGA, there are no cuts, and golfers play as a team. The league has made headlines with huge bonuses for golfers like Phil Mickelson and payouts that are twice as much as the PGA Tour.  

Any serious golf fan will want to understand how LIV Golf differs from the PGA Tour, and if you don’t read the whole article, you may miss out on important developments in the pro golf world.

In this article, you will learn about:

  • LIV Golf’s origins
  • How LIV Golf events work
  • What players have joined LIV Golf
  • LIV Golf prize money and sign-on payments
  • LIV Golf’s 2022 events
  • LIV Golf’s 2023 schedule
  • What has been the public reaction to LIV Golf?

Let’s dive in!

The Origins of LIV Golf

What does LIV Golf stand for? “LIV” refers to the Roman numerals for 54. The significance of that number in golf, and more importantly to those at LIV, is that it represents the number of holes to be played at LIV events. It has also been said that it stands for perfection in golf, meaning if a golfer made a birdie on every hole on a par-72 course, they would shoot 54.

The first LIV Golf Invitational Series event occurred in June 2022 at the Centurion Club near London. The idea, however, for this breakaway league started well before that launch.

Some golf fans may remember, but many may not, current LIV Golf League commissioner, Greg Norman, had designs of starting a breakaway league as far back as 1994. In a meeting on November 17, 1994, during Norman’s Shark Shootout, Greg gathered several big-name players to participate in the event. He planned to present his case for establishing a World Golf Tour and a breakaway from the PGA TOUR.

The following may sound familiar…

Norman asked Fox Sports executives David Hill and John Montgomery Jr. to join him as he presented his idea. What the trio presented to those in attendance was a blueprint for what sounds very similar to today’s LIV Golf Series.

  • Eight tournaments in 1995
  • 40-player fields with guaranteed money for participants
  • Winner’s share of $600,000 (adjusted in today’s dollars totals $1,195,000)
  • Players committing to the tour would receive a travel allowance and other bonuses
  • Season-ending player of the year would pocket $1 million (adjusted in today’s dollars, totals almost $2,000,000)

In the mid-’90s, the average winner’s take for PGA TOUR events was $216,000 — the most lucrative purse on TOUR, the PLAYERS Championship had a winners cut of $450,000.

Interestingly, a few days before this meeting, then PGA TOUR commissioner Tim Finchem sent a memo to players saying anyone joining a rival tour would be suspended.

Norman’s World Golf Tour never left the runway, but you have to think, with what we see today, in 2023, Greg had his sights set on eventually trying to make this work.

Read also: Who Owns The PGA Tour

How Greg Norman Launched The “Super Golf League” With Saudi Money

 

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Fast forward 25 years from that 1994 meeting, and the makings of today’s LIV Golf League would start to take shape. In late 2019, with Greg Norman announcing his idea for a league to be known as the Premier Golf League, echoes of that 1994 meeting at Sherwood Country Club could be heard.

Norman began talks with Golf Saudi, a Saudi Public Investment Fund division, about funding his Premier Golf League concept. Before negotiations with Norman, Golf Saudi had already designed to create a “Super Golf League.”

What eventually transpired was a blending of the two ideas, with Greg Norman being charged with running the new LIV Golf Investments Series. This was formally launched in October 2021.

Harking back to the events of 1994, current PGA TOUR Commissioner Jay Monahan responded to Norman’s announcement in 2019 by implying that any golfers who choose to play in a new league would be barred from PGA Tour events. Monahan would go on in 2020 to create an alliance with the PGA European Tour to strengthen what the two offered, hoping to foil Norman’s plans.

As mentioned, LIV Golf is financed by the Saudi Public Investment Fund, the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia. Many journalists, commentators, and fans have said the tour is part of ongoing efforts by the Saudis, which has been criticized for its corruption and human rights abuses, to improve its public image through sports. The term “Sports-Washing” has been coined as a result.

Check This Out: LIV Golfer Dustin Johnson WITB: What’s in the Bag?

How LIV Golf Works

 

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LIV Golf events are indeed different from traditional professional golf events. So let’s break them down…

  • 12 teams of 4 players
  • 48 players total
  • Stroke play
  • No cuts
  • Shotgun starts
  • 14 events a season

2023 marks the league’s first full season. It will take place from February through November. Players will be playing for both individual and team titles.

The competition is stroke play for the first 13 events of the 14-event schedule. The last event of the year will be the Team Championship.

Players will gain points throughout the season based on how they finish in each event. The player with the most points at the season’s end is crowned the individual season champion.

For the team competition portion, teams are ranked based on their finishing positions after each individual event. They then get seeded heading into the Team Championship in November. The top team will be ranked first, and so on, down the line. From there, teams will compete in a bracket-style, knock-out play event.

Team rosters can change, and players can get traded and moved to other teams. No spot on a squad is a guaranteed lock.

At the end of the season, the top 24 players will be guaranteed a spot for the following season. Conversely, players that finish in the bottom four of the individual standings will ultimately lose their spot on LIV.

Through the LIV International Series, which consists of 10 events worldwide, players will compete for a chance to make it to LIV in the following season.

More From Golf Span: John Daly’s Net Worth: Earnings & Endorsements

Who Has Joined LIV Golf?


The current LIV roster includes the following players on the following teams:

  • HY Flyers GC: Captain Phil Mickelson, James Piot, Brendan Steele, Cam Tringale
  • Smash GC: Captain Brooks Koepka, Chase Koepka, Matt Wolff, Jason Kokrak
  • 4 Aces GC: Captain Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed, Pat Perez, Peter Uihlein
  • RangeGoats GC: Captain Bubba Watson, Talor Gooch, Thomas Pieters, Harold Varner III
  • Crushers GC: Captain Bryson DeChambeau, Paul Casey, Anirban Lahiri, Charles Howell III
  • Torque GC: Captain Joaquin Niemann, Mito Pereira, Sebastian Munoz, David Puig
  • Majesticks GC: Captains Ian Poulter and Henrik Stenson, Lee Westwood, Sam Horsfield
  • Fire Balls GC: Captain Sergio Garcia, Abe Ancer, Carlos Ortiz, Eugenio Chacarra
  • Iron Heads GC: Captain Kevin Na, Scott Vincent, Danny Lee, Sihwan Kim
  • Ripper GC: Captain Cam Smith, Marc Leishman, Matt Jones, Jed Morgan
  • Cleeks GC: Captain Martin Kaymer, Bernd Wiesberger, Richard Bland, Graeme McDowell
  • Stinger GC: Captain Louis Oosthuizen, Branden Grace, Dean Burmester, Charl Schwartzel

LIV Golf Prize Money and Initial Player Sign-on Payments

You can check out the the partial 2023 rankings to get a sense for how much prize money the golfers are winning.

PLAYER AVG FIN 1ST 2ND 3RD TOP 10 EVENTS EARNINGS
INDIVIDUAL
EARNINGS
TEAM
EARNINGS
INDIV CHAMPION
EARNINGS
1 Talor Gooch 13 2 2 6 $9,037,983 $1,250,000 $10,287,983
2 Dustin Johnson 14.8 1 3 6 $5,713,150 $2,000,000 $7,713,150
3 Brooks Koepka 11.8 1 1 3 6 $6,834,333 $375,000 $7,209,333
4 Charles Howell III 12 1 3 6 $6,183,333 $875,000 $7,058,333
5 Peter Uihlein 10.2 1 4 6 $4,344,047 $2,000,000 $6,344,047

Check out the current rankings on LIV Golf

For a full look at the prize money for a season, check out the 2022 final season standings for LIV Golf:

PLAYER 1ST 2ND 3RD TOP 10 EVENTS EARNINGS
INDIVIDUAL
EARNINGS
TEAM
EARNINGS
INDIV CHAMPION
EARNINGS
1 Dustin Johnson 2 2 1 7 9 $11,009,017 $7,062,500 $18,000,000 $36,071,517
2 Branden Grace 1 1 3 9 $6,868,416 $2,125,000 $8,000,000 $16,993,416
3 Talor Gooch 2 6 9 $7,311,999 $7,812,500 $15,124,499
4 Peter Uihlein 2 2 4 9 $6,422,785 $3,000,000 $4,000,000 $13,422,785
5 Patrick Reed 1 1 1 4 8 $5,703,214 $7,062,500 $12,765,714
6 Brooks Koepka 1 2 4 8 $7,167,500 $2,625,000 $9,792,500
7 Sergio Garcia 1 1 6 9 $6,255,785 $2,500,000 $8,755,785
8 Charl Schwartzel 1 4 9 $6,172,000 $2,125,000 $8,297,000
9 Pat Perez 1 1 8 $1,106,667 $7,062,500 $8,169,167
10 Cameron Smith 1 1 4 6 $5,971,000 $2,062,500 $8,033,500

Reference: LIV Golf

How Big Were LIV Golf’s Signing Bonuses?

Much has been made of the massive sums of money that the Saudi-backed league has paid big names in the world of golf to sign with LIV. The following is a look at some of those big paydays.

  • Phil Mickelson: reported $200 million
  • Dustin Johnson: reported $125 million
  • Cam Smith: reported $100 million
  • Brooks Koepka: reported $100 million
  • Bryson DeChambeau: reported $100 million
  • Sergio Garcia: reported $40 million
  • Ian Poulter: reported $30 million

According to Sports Illustrated’s Alex Miceli, should a player want to get out of his LIV Golf contract, they’ll have to pay back the organization “two, three or four times” the cost of their signing bonus.

Read More From Golf Span: What Are the Four Majors in Golf? Know Your Tournaments

LIV Golf Events Calendar in 2023

The following is a look at LIV Golf’s first full season:

Dates Club Location Individual Winner Team Winner
Feb 24-26 El Camaleón Golf Club Playa Del Carmen, México Charles Howell III Crushers GC
March 17-19 The Gallery Golf Club Tucson, Ariz. Danny Lee Fireballs GC
March 31-April 2 Orange County National Orlando, Fla. Brooks Koepka Torque GC
April 21-23 The Grange Golf Club Adelaide, Australia Talor Gooch 4 Aces GC
April 28-30 Sentosa Golf Club Singapore Talor Gooch RangeGoats GC
May 12-14 Cedar Ridge Country Club Broken Arrow, Okla Dustin Johnson Stinger GC
May 26-28 Trump National Golf Club Washington, D.C.
June 30-July 2 Real Club Valderrama Sotogrande, Spain
July 7-9 Centurion Club London, England
Aug. 4-6 The Old White Course White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.
Aug. 11-13 Trump National Golf Club Bedminster, N.J.
Sept. 22-24 Rich Harvest Farms Sugar Grove, Ill.
Oct. 20-22 Trump National Doral Miami, Fla.
Nov. 3-5 Royal Greens Golf & Country Club Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

LIV Golf Events Calendar in 2022

Here is a look at LIV Golf’s inaugural season:

Dates Club Location Individual Winner Team Winner
June 9-11, 2022 Centurion Golf Club London, England Charl Schwartzel Stinger GC
July 1-3, 2022 Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club Portland, USA Branden Grace 4 Aces GC
July 29-31, 2022 Trump National Golf Club Bedminster New Jersey, USA Henrik Stenson 4 Aces GC
Sept 2-4, 2022 The International Boston, USA Dustin Johnson 4 Aces GC
Sept 16-18, 2022 Rich Harvest Farms Chicago, USA Cameron Smith 4 Aces GC
Oct 7-9, 2022 Stonehill Golf Club Bangkok, Thailand Eugenio Chacarra Fireballs GC
Oct 14-16, 2022 Royal Greens Golf Club Jeddah, Saudi Arabia Brooks Koepka Smash GC
Oct 27-30, 2022  Team Championships Trump National Doral Miami, USA N/A 4 Aces GC

Read More: Phil Mickelson’s Net Worth

What Has Been The Public Reaction To LIV Golf?

The public reaction to LIV Golf has been mixed. Some people praised the tour for its innovative format and lucrative purses, while others criticized it for its ties to Saudi Arabia.

A poll conducted by Golf Datatech in June 2022 found that 58% of respondents believe LIV Golf is a “bad” or “very bad” idea, up from 50% in a previous poll. However, most respondents (66%) agree that they “don’t like that Saudi money is funding” LIV Golf.

Here are some of the key criticisms of LIV Golf:

  • The tour is being funded by the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, which has a controversial human rights record.
  • Some players have been accused of “selling out” by joining LIV Golf.
  • The tour’s format differs from the traditional PGA Tour format, which some fans may not like.
  • The tour’s schedule is not as comprehensive as the PGA Tour schedule, which may make it difficult for fans to follow.

Despite these criticisms, LIV Golf has already signed several high-profile players, including Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, and Bryson DeChambeau. The tour has also announced plans to hold events in the United States, Europe, and Asia.

The future of LIV Golf is uncertain. The tour has been met with resistance from the PGA Tour and some fans, but it has also successfully attracted some of the world’s best golfers. It remains to be seen whether LIV Golf will be able to establish itself as a viable alternative to the PGA Tour.

What Is My Take On LIV Golf As A PGA-Certified Instructor?

 

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As a long-time golf fan, PGA-certified instructor, and someone who made golf my career some 28 years ago, I have strong opinions on LIV Golf.

First and foremost, I am a fan of the tradition of the game and seeing fresh and new ideas coming into golf. What I see great about golf is the tradition. What I see wrong about golf is also the tradition. Sometimes that tradition holds the game back.

From that respect, things like LIV bring freshness to golf. However, I must stress that “things LIKE LIV” can help make the game more appealing and enjoyable for current and new golfers.

I am not a fan of LIV Golf. The way things have transpired throughout the last two years has been far too disruptive to the game as a whole. Greg Norman has long held a grudge against the PGA TOUR, which drives his desire with LIV.

The concept of LIV is intriguing, and the fresh take on golf that it provides is something I am perfectly fine with. However, the controversy, the back and forth of lawsuits, ill-will, and negative undertones of the past few years are not at all good for the game as a whole.

There are many players in the LIV series that I am a fan of and miss on the PGA TOUR. However, part of me can not at all blame them for making the move to LIV. With life-changing money, many of us would do the same if offered in our own careers.

I do not feel that LIV Golf deserves World Golf Ranking points, as it does not align with the long-standing system of the World Golf Rankings. However, some of the best players in the world reside in the Saudi Arabian LIV Golf League. We saw that at the Masters, and we will likely see that again at the PGA Championship.

I hope that someday, there can be some kind of compromise.

Final Thoughts

What is LIV Golf? To recap, LIV Golf is a professional league backed by the Saudi Public Investment Fund that rivals the PGA Tour. It was founded in 2021 and has upset the order of professional golf.

Here are some of the key features of LIV Golf:

  • Shorter events: LIV Golf events are played over 54 holes, compared to 72 holes for most PGA Tour events.
  • Smaller fields: LIV Golf events have fields of 48 players, compared to the 156-player fields on the PGA Tour.
  • Team format: LIV Golf events feature a team format, with players competing for both individual and team prizes.
  • Lucrative purses: LIV Golf events have purse sizes of $25 million, compared to the $12 million purses on the PGA Tour.
  • Saudi backing: LIV Golf is backed by the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, which has a controversial human rights record.

The launch of LIV Golf has been met with mixed reactions. Some have praised the tour for its innovative format and its lucrative purses, while others have criticized it for its ties to Saudi Arabia. It remains to be seen whether LIV Golf will be able to establish itself as a viable alternative to the PGA Tour.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is the LIV Golf League?

The LIV Golf League is a professional league that rivals the PGA Tour. Backed by the Saudi Public Investment Fund, it has a lot of money behind it, and has caused a lot of friction in the golfing world due to the human rights violations associated with Saudi Arabia.

What Is the LIV Tour Paying Players?

The LIV Tour has attracted many professional players due to the lucrative compensation they offer. While each of the 14 seasonal events has a $25 million purse, perhaps the joining bonus is the most enticing. Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau were both reported to have earned $100 million.

How Can I Watch the Saudi LIV Golf Tour?

The Saudi LIV golf tour is available in 95 territories. If you’re from the USA or Canada, you’re one of the few countries with two streaming sources: the CW Network and LIV GOLF+. If you live elsewhere, your streaming sources will vary. The most common other sources are DirecTV, SuperSport, and Claro.

What Is Liv Golf League’s Schedule?

The LIV Golf Tour season consists of 14 events. In 2023, the schedule began on February 14th at the El Camaleón Golf Club in Mexico and will end on November 5th at the Royal Greens Golf & Country Club in Saudi Arabia. In total, the tour will span 7 countries, with 8 of the 14 events taking place in the USA.

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PGA Professional Brendon Elliott is the founder of Little Linksters, LLC, and its nonprofit arm, the Little Linksters Association for Junior Golf Development. He is the winner of 25+ prestigious industry honors, including the 2017 PGA National Youth Player Development award. Brendon is a respected coach, businessman, writer, and golf industry expert. 

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