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Thursday, March 17, 2022

I Think I Predicted This...

Back on February 2 I posted a piece called The Asian Tour Makes Things Interesting. In that post I said that LIV Golf's investment in the Asian Tour was possibly just the beginning of problems for the PGA and DP World Tours because it gave LIV a foothold in an existing tour and they could build from that.

Now the other shoe has dropped, and it appears that LIV Golf is even smarter than I expected.

Greg Norman announces the LIV Golf Invitational Series

With the announcement of the LIV Golf Invitational Series -- 8 team events with huge purses plus bonuses for the top players and teams during the season -- it's pretty clear that this is how LIV Golf decided to force the issue. And I have to say it's a brilliant move.

It's only a slight change from their original goal of a separate league of 10 team events with $25mil purses each, and this is almost exactly the rumored amount of their investment in the Asian Tour ($300mil). But why do I say it's brilliant? Because the golf community at large still doesn't understand what has happened.

Here's what GC said about the new series:

According to a release from LIV Golf, the Saudi-backed investment fund behind the super league, the schedule will feature 54-hole, no-cut events with both an individual and team component. The 48-man fields will be split into four 12-man teams. The schedule will include $250 million in purses with $20 million earmarked for each event’s individual component. An additional $5 million will be awarded amongst the top 3 teams at each event.

On the surface it gives LIV a framework for most of the events they wanted -- I suspect there are only 8 events at this point (and their championship event is without a venue yet) simply because many of the courses LIV would like to play don't want to incur the wrath of the 'big tours' and possibly lose their chances at a major or WGC. But it does much more.

Think about this. While the current line of thought is that they don't have fields for those events, they do. Just as the Rolex Series is only a portion of the DP World Tour and, while they invite pros from other leagues to participate, most of their fields come from the DP World itself.

Even if no PGA or DP World Tour players join them, the LIV Golf Invitational Series will fill its field with players from the Asian Tour because it's merely a portion of the Asian Tour now. And that's the brilliance of it all.

You see, it doesn't matter whether other pros come or not. LIV Golf has established themselves within an existing tour and needs only to put up money and find venues on which to play. Bear in mind that they have already found one venue in England and three in America, plus three other worldwide venues. One of those venues is Trump National Golf Club Bedminster, which would have hosted a PGA Championship this year except for that little incident in Washington DC last January. Trump and the PGA Tour -- and the DP World Tour for that matter -- haven't gotten along for several years, so it's no surprise to see this deal.

Just as a sidebar to this, I wouldn't be surprised if LIV Golf eventually ended up with their final event at either Trump National Los Angeles or at Trump Turnberry, both of which have been involved in spats between Trump and the tours.

At any rate, the LIV Golf Invitational Series will be played -- it's part of the regular Asian Tour schedule, after all -- with just Asian Tour players if no one else joins them. That will be okay with LIV Golf because they're playing the long game here. If they can continue to support this series for a few years, the other tours will have to deal with a couple of potential problems I didn't bring up in my original post. Now they appear inevitable.

  1. I suspect most of the top players believe they can beat most Asian Tour players any day of the week -- after all, they'd be playing the US and European Tours (for bigger purses) if they were good enough. But what happens when the biggest names in golf realize that those 'lesser players' are making far more money they are... and doing so on an easier schedule? No matter how well the 'big tours' are doing, it's going to be difficult to match those purses week after week.
  2. And then there's the issue of players from the Asian Tour who do want to play in the West. Will their tenure on a LIV Golf-supported tour be held against them? Or will the money prove too seductive and persuade them to stay where they are, perhaps depriving established tours of upcoming players like Hideki Matsuyama once was?

These are issues the tours will now have to deal with, and those choices could completely reshape the world golf scene and affect future talent.

However, I do think that Greg Norman and LIV Golf are fooling themselves if they think any court will overthrow the existing tours' right to ban players for playing elsewhere. Tour players may consider themselves 'independent contractors' but they are STILL contractors and, while they have some freedom to choose when and where they work, they can only work at these places because they have that contract. And that contract sets conditions for work to which both have agreed, which includes for whom they are allowed to work. Functionally, they are a type of employee. And to my knowledge there are NO businesses which allow their employees to work the same job for their direct competitors.

If the courts were to rule that these contracts are invalid, they would set a precedent that would ripple throughout the business world, invalidating long accepted contracts and disrupting the world's economy at a time when such an action would be an irresponsible act. I just don't see it happening.

But it's become clear that LIV Golf truly is playing the long game here. And with the world still reeling from a pandemic, with no idea what the future may hold, that game is likely to be a very uneasy one for all involved.

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