As the head golf instructor for Tell Me More Golf, let’s delve into the evolving landscape of professional golf, particularly the differences between the established PGA Tour and the nascent LIV Golf.
The PGA Tour, a century-old institution in the United States, is closely aligned with the European DP World Tour, allowing players to compete in events across both tours.
In contrast, LIV Golf, founded in 2021, represents a new, emerging tour in the golfing world. This ongoing shift and the comparison of these two tours have become a significant topic of conversation, symbolizing the dynamic and changing future of professional golf.
PGA Tour Explained
The PGA Tour operates as a non-profit 501(c)(6) which means that it is exempt from taxes as a result of its status. For additional background, other sports including the National Football League and Major League Baseball also held that status in the past.
The “not-for-profit” status of the NFL and MLB was revoked, but the NHL still operates as a non-profit (for now). In the coming year, the PGA Tour will have 36 regular season events, and 3 FedEx Cup Playoff events.
During the year, professional golfers accumulate Fedex Cup Points as well as Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) points.
Currently, PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan is in charge of the tour. However, that is likely to change with a potential merger with LIV Golf on the horizon.
More on that later. Of the 36 regular season events, there are four major championships: the PGA Championship, the US Open, The Masters, and The Open (aka British Open). Winning a non-major golf tournament will typically get players into the major events and previous winners of the majors are given long-term exemptions to play in the events.
These include household names like Phil Mickelson, Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Cameron Smith, and of course Tiger Woods.
Open events start with a field of approximately 140 players. There is then a cut after the 2nd round which reduces the field by half, and those players compete for the purse until a winner is crowned after 72 holes. Most PGA Tour players in an event hold some sort of status for the tour also known as a PGA Tour card which allows them to pick which events they would prefer to play. Many events also have qualifying events that are open to the public (provided your handicap is below a 2.0 index).
LIV Golf Explained
LIV Golf (pronounced “live”) is a professional golf tour that is funded by the government of Saudi Arabia. The Public Investment Fund (PIF) is the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia. It is among the largest sovereign wealth funds in the world with total estimated assets of $776 billion. It was created in 1971 to invest funds on behalf of the Government of Saudi Arabia.
The fund is governed by Yasir Al-Rumayyan and has invested over a billion US dollars into the upstart league. CEO Greg Norman currently runs the Saudi-backed LIV Tour.
The format of the events that LIV hosts is 54 holes with shotgun starts so that everyone starts and finishes at roughly the same time.
There are four(4) men on each team with one designated captain per squad. The golf league hosts events at various golf clubs throughout the world including some of those owned by Former President Donald Trump.
The prize money for the events is broken out for individuals and teams. The winner reportedly receives $4 million while the winning team splits a prize payout reported between $5M and $14M depending on the event.
The majority of the events are combined 54-hole stroke play, with the team championship combining match play (individual and team), as well as aggregate stroke play.
Attendance for Tournament
As a start-up golf league, it was expected that the crowds would be significantly less than that of a typical PGA Tour event. Although crowd numbers are not typically released for LIV golf events, reports state anywhere from 14,000 to 40,000 golf fans showed up to watch some of the best players in the world tee it up in the new format.
There are varying reports on this subject and because they do not release exact figures it can be challenging to speculate. There is no argument, though, that overall viewership of the PGA Tour is still significantly higher than any LIV event.
LIV Golf vs PGA Differences
There are several differences between LIV Golf and the PGA Tour. The most objective differences are:
- LIV tournaments are 54 holes (LIV in Roman numerals is 54) and PGA Tour events are 72 holes.
- There is no cut on the LIV Golf Tour while most PGA Tour events have a 36-hole cut.
- PGA Tour has a qualifying process for players while LIV Golf is more of an invitational format.
- The PGA Tour starts their tournaments with tee time pairings while LIV Golf uses a shotgun format, meaning players start at the same time on different holes.
- There is a team element to LIV Golf while the PGA Tour is only individual play
- LIV Golf does not receive world ranking points for its players while PGA Tour events assign OWGR points based on performance
LIV Golf follows rules as outlined by the USGA, whereas the PGA Tour follows the USGA rulebook but also has its own rules as needed.
- LIV uses a tee box that is 4 feet by 8 feet wide and the PGA Tour uses a 3×7 model.
- LIV Golf allows players to use rangefinders in competition while the PGA Tour allows their use only during practice rounds.
- LIV Golf allows players to wear shorts while the PGA Tour events require long pants
LIV Golf has multiple formats even during one event. In most events, there is team play and individual play. The four-man teams each compete for a purse while also competing individually for a separate purse. Some of the later events in 2024 added a match-play component to help fuel more rivalries amongst the teams by creating head-to-head battles in some cases for a tournament title.
The varying formats of LIV Golf are designed to be part of its appeal to fans. While it is still early for the start-up golf league, it is clear that they are trying to differentiate themselves from the PGA Tour, and using more match-play is part of how they are doing so.
Why is PGA against LIV?
PGA and LIV have a long-standing feud for a number of reasons. First and foremost is the source of the money that is backing LIV Golf. It is coming from the Saudi Arabia PIF or Public Investment Fund. There are alleged human rights violations that the Saudi government committed.
There was an anti-Saudi journalist who was allegedly killed by the government.
Therefore, the PGA Tour has issues with its players accepting money from the same fund that allegedly supports these practices. In addition, they have used this money to secure some of the best players in the world. And now those players are LIV Golf Players and many have fully given up their PGA Tour status.
As far as concession prices for items like beer, soda, hot dogs, and the like, LIV Golf has a more attractive offer. For example, to enjoy a beer and watch some of the best golfers at a LIV event you might expect to pay between $8-10.
Even the tour players got into the fray, with Justin Thomas commenting on X (Twitter) that the fans should not be expected to pay such steep prices to enjoy a PGA Tour event. Remember that these prices are after having to pay hundreds of dollars per ticket just to attend the event. Although this does raise a lot of eyebrows, this is in keeping with how American sports (NFL, NBA, MLB) add to their revenue streams for an event.
Can LIV players return to PGA?
According to reports on the LIV Golf contracts, there is a significant cost for a player to return to the PGA Tour.
Before the PGA Tour agreed to negotiate a merger with LIV Golf, there were reports that players would have to pay enormous sums of money to return. In addition, many golfers have chosen to give up their membership to the PGA Tour, Sergio Garcia being the most vocal about defecting from the Tour.
Now that the PGA Tour and LIV Tour are working on negotiating a merger, there appears to be a path for some players to return to the PGA Tour in the future.
Can you quit LIV Golf?
Yes, LIV golfers can technically quit playing in the LIV Golf Series, but there are some important factors to consider:
- Most LIV golfers signed multi-year contracts, some reportedly with significant signing bonuses. These contracts likely include obligations to participate in a certain number of LIV events each season.
- Breaching those obligations could result in legal consequences, such as lawsuits from LIV Golf to recoup financial losses.
- Some contracts involve hefty penalty clauses for early termination. These penalties could be multiples of the signing bonus, making it financially impossible for some players to leave.
Impact on player’s career:
- Quitting LIV Golf could mean losing access to the lucrative purses and guaranteed payouts offered by the series.
- Re-integration into the PGA Tour, while possible through the framework agreement, might not be immediate or seamless.
- Some players might negotiate an early release from their LIV contracts or potentially reach mutual agreements with LIV Golf for an exit.
- Playing on other tours, like the DP World Tour, could be an option, although competing schedules and potential restrictions might apply.
Can LIV golfers play in the Ryder Cup?
LIV golfers were allowed to play in the most recent Ryder Cup. Only one qualified on points and that was Brooks Koepka. He finished in second place in the Masters and won the PGA Championship. Through those, he was able to accumulate enough points to secure a spot on the Ryder Cup team without Captain Zach Johnson using a Captain’s pick.
There were no rules created against LIV golfers securing spots on the team and leading up to the event, there was a great deal of discussion and controversy.
Are LIV golfers allowed to play in majors?
Yes, LIV Golfers are allowed to play in majors as long as they have an exemption to play in the event.
The governing bodies that oversee the four major championships (The Masters, PGA of American, R&A, and USGA) are not policed by the PGA Tour and decided to allow exempt players to compete while the competing tours worked out their differences. In addition, the players are now allowed to compete on the DP World Tour (formerly the European Tour).