Member Insights: LIV Golf needs to start learning its own lessons
By Community | July 29, 2022
David Alexander, managing director of Calculus PR, takes a look at the new LIV Tour and the public relations mistakes it continues to make.
A new golf competition backed by funding from Saudi Arabia that claims that it plans to grow the game, LIV Golf has always seemed like a money-making scheme for its players without the competition or recognition that sporting competition requires.
After the manhandling and ejection of journalists asking justifiable questions about the event and its vision, the organisers of LIV Golf should have taken a pause, re-grouped and shown a greater level of humility and engagement with both fans and stakeholders.
With suitable advisers, they could have gone into greater detail about their plans, and with the wealth of Saudi Arabia behind them, there is no reason why they could not have put together some highly ambitious global community initiatives.
They could have advised their recruited players to show humility too – rather than have them respond aggressively to journalists that they need to work hard to get onside.
But instead, they continue to create chasms that are damaging the sport they are proclaiming to support – all while accusations of sportswashing endure.
Golf legend Tiger Woods made his feelings clear ahead of The Open, saying: “I know what the PGA Tour stands for and what we have done and what the Tour has given us, the ability to chase after our careers and to earn what we get and the trophies we have been able to play for and the history that has been a part of this game.
“What is the incentive to go out there and earn it in the dirt? You’re just getting paid a lot of money up front and playing a few events and playing 54 holes. They’re playing blaring music and have all these atmospheres that are different.”
Speaking ahead of The Open, R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers also raised doubts about LIV Golf’s claims about growing the game when the structure has worked well until now.
He said: “I firmly believe that the existing golf ecosystem has successfully provided stable pathways for golfers to enter the sport and develop and realize their full potential.
“I would also like to say that in my opinion, the continued commentary that this is about growing the game is just not credible and, if anything, is harming the perception of our sport which we are working so hard to improve.”
Even during The Open, victor Cameron Smith did not rule out joining LIV Golf which can already name Major winners such as Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia, Patrick Reed, Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau on its roster.
The latest controversy has seen Henrik Stenson, who was only announced as Europe’s Ryder Cup captain in March, being stripped of the honour after links with LIV Golf.
A Ryder Cup statement read: “In light of decisions made by Henrik in relation to his personal circumstances, it has become clear that he will not be able to fulfil certain contractual obligations to Ryder Cup Europe that he had committed to prior to his announcement as Captain on Tuesday March 15, 2022, and it is therefore not possible for him to continue in the role of Captain.”
Stenson was later confirmed along with Charles Howell III and Jason Kokrak and the Swede said in a statement that he believed he should have been permitted to retain his role.
He said: “As many of you will have already seen, unfortunately my decision to play in LIV events has triggered Ryder Cup Europe to communicate that it is not possible for me to continue in my role as Ryder Cup captain.
“This is despite me making specific arrangements with LIV Golf, who has been supportive of my role as captain, to ensure I could fulfill the obligations of the captaincy. While I disagree with this decision for now it is a decision that I accept.”
Stenson’s decision could be interpreted as a way of recovering financially after he lost millions in the ponzi scheme conducted by jailed Allen Stanford.
Former European Ryder Cup captain Colin Montgomerie, who guided Europe to victory at Celtic Manor in 2010, said Stenson’s sacking was “a sad day for European golf.
“It is the greatest honour which can be bestowed on any European Tour player, captain of the Ryder Cup team. It is a shame it has even come to this position.”
European Tour pro Rob Lee said on Sky Sports: “Henrik had an agreement with the Tour that he would be their guy all the way through to the Ryder Cup next year, but if he reneges on that then he has decided his own fate.
“As an Open champion and as the Ryder Cup captain he had a great legacy going on, especially with the mixed event he promoted with Annika Sorenstam. But he’s just flushing all that down the toilet by joining LIV. Fortunately the Ryder Cup is bigger than Henrik Stenson.”
Billy Horschel, went further against the LIV players complaining about their bans from PGA and DP World Tour events.
“I’ve been really frustrated by it because there’s a lot of guys that are hypocrites, that aren’t telling the truth, that are lying about some things, and I just can’t stand to sit here anymore and be diplomatic about it as I have been in the past,” he said.
“I don’t fault anyone for going to play the LIV tour. I don’t have any ill will for anyone going to play the LIV tour. I have ill will toward comments that they’ve made, comments saying that Jay Monahan doesn’t listen, the PGA Tour doesn’t listen to us.
“I believe they made their bed. They decided to go play on a tour, and they should go play that tour. They shouldn’t be coming back over here to play the DP World Tour or the PGA Tour. To say that they wanted to also support this tour or the DP or PGA tour going forward, while playing the LIV tour, is completely asinine in my opinion. I have no ill will, but I’m just tired of hearing comments that aren’t truthful.”
Greg Norman, CEO and commissioner of LIV Golf, sees things differently.
Before the Stenson recruitment, he said: “It’s been a historic two months for LIV Golf as we’ve established a new era for the sport that delivers unique energy, camaraderie, and competition.
“In just six rounds of live action, we have created a golf environment that has captured the world’s attention and attracted young, passionate fans around the globe.
“We are excited to take another giant leap forward at the beautiful Trump National Golf Club Bedminster where our players are eager to tee off in pursuit of the third individual and team titles of the season.
But Norman, who was photographed watching a journalist being ejected from the first event in England at the same time as he denied knowledge of it, has been more than bullish about criticism coming his way.
Norman had previously messaged Golf Channel analyst, Brandel Chamblee, praising his journalism: “Keep being you and call it the way you see it. Refreshing.”
Ironically, once Chamblee was critical of Liv Golf, Norman used an interview with The Palm Beach Post in which he said: “I find it laughable. Has Brandel Chamblee ever been to Saudi Arabia? Has he ever built a golf course in a third world country?
“He’s a paid talking bobblehead. That’s all he is. He’s got my phone number. He’s never picked up a phone and asked me a question. Sadly, you’re making yourself look like a jerk. It’s like water off a duck’s back to me.”
Given Norman’s aggressive approach to criticism, is it any wonder Chamblee has not approached him and what does it say about Norman that he threw his toys out of the pram when the narrative didn’t suit him?
Woods believes disrupting the status quo has always been part of Norman’s plan and added: “I know Greg tried to do this back in the early ’90s. It didn’t work then, and he’s trying to make it work now. I still don’t see how that’s in the best interests of the game.
“What the European Tour and what the PGA Tour stands for and what they’ve done, and also all the professional – all the governing bodies of the game of golf and all the major championships, how they run it. I think they see it differently than what Greg sees it.”
The third event of the series, the LIV Golf Invitational Bedminster, will run from 29-31 July at Trump National Golf Club in New Jersey.
That itself has drawn criticism, with Brett Eagleson, whose father died in the 9/11 attacks, condemning Donald Trump’s change of heart when the financial offer became too much.
“The former President correctly speculated in 2016 that Saudi Arabia knocked down the towers and now the FBI has released the documents to prove him right,” Eagleson told CNN, “yet he is choosing money over America. So much for America First. A sad day.”
Trump typically hit back on Truth Social, his social media platform, and said: “All of those golfers that remain ‘loyal’ to the very disloyal PGA, in all of its different forms, will pay a big price when the inevitable MERGER with LIV comes, and you get nothing but a big ‘thank you’ from PGA officials who are making Millions of Dollars a year.
“If you don’t take the money now, you will get nothing after the merger takes place, and only say how smart the original signees were.”
As the BBC’s golf correspondent Iain Carter observed, Stenson is the world’s 171st-ranked player who has not posted a top-10 finish in a full field event for almost a year.
But as Ryder Cup captain, he added that “it can only be interpreted as a direct attack on the DP World Tour. It further destabilises the running of elite men’s golf.”
Given that, along with Garcia, LIV Golf has also recruited Ryder Cup stars such as Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter and Graeme McDowell, it’s hard to conclude anything else.