In 1994, Greg Norman made his first bid to launch an alternative professional golf circuit in the form of the World Golf Tour offering a limited series of tournaments for top-ranked players, and big prize money.
Backed by the newly-launched Fox Sports channel who committed to a $25 million war chest, Norman proposed that a select group play eight events spread between the United States, Europe, and Asia for lucrative purses alongside their PGA Tour commitment of 15 tournaments per year.
The PGA Tour, marshalled by its then head, or Commissioner, Tim Finchem, reacted swiftly and broke the back of the incipient rebellion using a combination of persuasive arguments and muscle.
Finchem fronted the legendary Arnold Palmer to speak to the players and simultaneously sent out a letter – a memo as it was then labelled –to PGA Tour members advising them against having any truck with Norman’s proposed WGT and laying out the consequences if they did do so.
It was a devastatingly effective one-two punch to Norman’s idea and the World Golf Tour never left the ground. As a template, however, it lives on as the World Golf Championship – four tournaments divided between the US, China, and Mexico – that the PGA Tour picked up and incorporated, using many of the proposals first put forward by Norman including limited fields and a fat payoff to the winner.
Today, a search for “World Golf Tour” on Google and other internet engines leads to a video game.
The abrasive Norman, winner of 89 golf titles worldwide – 20 of the on the PGA Tour – was incensed, but helpless as his fellow players had backed away from the idea. “I know there was a lot of pressure put on players behind the scenes. There were a couple of my really good friends, I thought at the time – which goes to show you, obviously, they were not – who didn’t stand up for it,” he told Sports Illustrated some years ago.
“It wouldn’t have taken much more of an effort to stand up and say, 'I’m an independent contractor, and I have the right to play golf wherever I want to go’.”
Twenty-eight later, Norman is back, better prepared this time, and with a bigger bankroll to play around with. Lessons were learned from the World Golf Tour disaster and he now has a clearer roadmap, heavyweight stars, besides two billion dollars in the kitty to make sure he gets his way. LIV Golf has now gone beyond being a concept and is an on-the-ground venture with a clear calendar and a roadmap for the future.
The new series is also rather cleverly-named incorporating the Roman numerals for 54 (LIV), which also describes the duration each tournament runs for. Traditionally, male professional golfers play four rounds of 18 holes – 72 in all – at all of their tournaments. LIV Golf events are held over three days of 18 holes each, 54 in all.
One big addition Norman made in his planning was to partner with an existing professional tour unlike in 1994 when he played a virtual lone hand. In tying up with the Asian Tour, he has given LIV Golf recruits a way out of the inevitable bans and suspensions the PGA and European (DP World) Tour have handed out. This gives LIV golfers a platform to earn critical world ranking points otherwise denied to them, which is again a step up from his WGT template.
Three tournaments have already been played on the Asian Tour as part of the International Series that acts as a feeder into the next-level Invitational series As the LIV Golf mission statement says, “In 2022, the LIV Golf Invitational Series will host eight events. There will be a seven-event regular season where players will compete as individuals and teams for both points and prize money.
“At the end of those seven events, an individual champion will be crowned based on points accumulated throughout the season. The eighth and final event will be our season-ending team championship match play event.”
For the Invitational Series, which next year is expected to transform into a full-fledged franchise system quite like the Indian Premier League, LIV Golf has roped in a host of big names including Phil Mickelson – in a way the spearhead of Norman’s efforts to prise open the PGA Tour’s grip on premium professional golf – besides the likes of Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka, and most recently world number three Cameron Smith of Australia and our very own Anirban Lahiri.
Five events on the International Series have been completed – London, Portland, Bedminster (New Jersey), Boston and Chicago – and three remain, at Bangkok, Jeddah and the finale in Miami. The reception from the establishment has expectedly been frosty, but players are still lining up to join, the first five tournaments have seen some brilliant golf, and the crowds seem to love the format, which is a good step forward for any new venture.
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