Fans, Donald Trump, the players and more winners and losers from LIV Golf’s second year

Ask anyone who works for LIV Golf and they’ll tell you all eyes are on 2024 and beyond now that another season is in the books.

Following its inaugural eight-event series in 2022, this year marked the debut of the rebranded LIV Golf League, which saw the upstart circuit led by Greg Norman and backed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund host 14 events around the world, from Mayakoba to Jeddah. The league didn’t quite dominate as much of the conversation in 2023 as it did last year, but still held down (and even expanded in some places) its footing in golf’s larger ecosystem.

As the league transitions into what could make for a busy offseason, let’s take a look back at the biggest winners and losers from LIV Golf’s second season.

Winners: Fans who attended events

2023 LIV Golf Chicago
Nelly performs for fans following the first round of the 2023 LIV Golf Chicago event at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, Illinois. (Photo: Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports)

LIV prides itself on offering a vastly different product from the traditional 72-hole stroke play tournaments fans see week-to-week on other tours.

It’s been true from the start: there has always been a market for the league, it just depends on what you want from professional golf. If you’re a fan who loves the game for its history and high-level competition, not all LIV events may fit your eye. But if you’re a fringe golf or general sports fan who loves festivals, food and other fanfare, you may be interested.

With 22 events in the can, LIV has proven it can host a successful show. Music is constantly playing from the second you step foot on the property. There’s even a couple of concerts at each event. If the action on the course isn’t doing it for you, there are plenty of options in the fan village: a variety of food and drink options (Greg Norman’s alcohol brand included), a kids and learning zone, golf activities ranging from putting and chipping challenges to mini golf and even video games.

At the team championship last week Bubba Watson’s RangeGoats GC had a pickleball court near the fan village and Smash GC had a hospitality stand behind the 9th tee. You almost forget you’re at a golf tournament. For some, that works – especially in Australia – but it’s also not for everyone. Fans who attend have a good time, that’s a win.

Losers: Fans who tuned in from home

LIV Golf Mayakoba
The LIV Golf broadcast team: Jerry Foltz, Troy Mullins, David Feherty, Su-Ann Heng, Dom Boulet and Arlo White at the El Camaleon Golf Course in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. (Photo: Montana Pritchard/LIV Golf)

Plenty made jokes, but in all seriousness, LIV did well to get a TV deal with the CW. The free stream on YouTube was certainly easier to find last year, but it was important, if not crucial, for LIV to begin to commercialize its product and get in as many U.S. markets as possible.

On a LIV broadcast, viewers will see plenty more golf shots compared to a PGA Tour broadcast, despite having a fraction of the field. That said, both the broadcast schedule and talent (an operative word at times) need help.

Friday’s first rounds in 2023 weren’t on television at all and could only be streamed. International events on a tape delay made for a bad look, especially when compared to live events in the same time window. With six domestic events and eight around the world planned for next year, LIV’s small following of dedicated fans in its biggest market will know the outcome hours before the event airs. The playoff in Jeddah two weeks ago between Talor Gooch and Brooks Koepka should’ve been must-see TV. For a league struggling to lock in fans on a consistent basis, that’s a loss.

Now for the talent. This reporter can be prone to hyperbole at times and knows live television isn’t easy. However, the constant over-the-top expressions to manufacture hype and drum up interest can come off as disingenuous to those watching. On Saturday during the team championship, within a matter of an hour, Jerry Foltz said Phil Mickelson was playing 39-year-old Dustin Johnson in his prime (I didn’t realize it was 2019 again) and Arlo White said the 4Aces GC and HyFlyers GC match was “box office” no less than three times. On Sunday, his overused phrase of choice was “palpable tension.”

The drone shot tracker is a fun innovation, and the “LIV MIC” on caddies is great, too, except when the announcers constantly talk over the caddies and players.

White has improved as a golf broadcaster after a successful career as the lead voice for NBC’s soccer coverage. David Feherty is David Feherty. But on-course reporters Dom Boulet, Troy Mullins and Su-Ann Heng leave something to be desired. Analysts should provide color and teach viewers something about what’s happening, and LIV’s staff lacks in that department.

Winners: Crushers, Talor Gooch and Co.

LIV Golf Team Championship
Crushers GC team captain Bryson DeChambeau and Charles Howell III celebrate winning the team championship during the final round of the LIV Golf Miami golf tournament at Trump National Doral. (Photo: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports)

It pays to play well in the LIV Golf League.

Bryson DeChambeau’s Crushers GC recently won the team championship to claim the $14 million top prize, two shots ahead of the runner-up RangeGoats ($8 million). Joaquin Niemann’s Torque GC finished third ($6 million), with last year’s defending champion 4Aces GC in fourth ($4 million).

Talor Gooch made 123 starts on the PGA Tour, picked up one win and earned $9,250,299. In 13 LIV Golf starts this season he nearly doubled that amount. The 31-year-old claimed the league’s individual title, a season-long points race similar to that of the FedEx Cup, to take home the $18 million bonus prize. Across the 13 events this season Gooch won three times and picked up five top-10 finishes worth $15,137,066 in individual earnings. For you non-mathematicians, yes, that’s $33,137,066 in one season (he’s also perched atop LIV’s all-time individual list money so far).

Working less and making more. For the LIV players who gambled and left, that’s a big win that continues to pay off.

Losers: Iron Heads and Majesticks

Kevin Na
Kevin Na of Ironheads GC reacts after missing a putt on the second hole during Day One of the LIV Golf Invitational – Tulsa at Cedar Ridge Country Club on May 12, 2023 in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. (Photo by Ian Maule/Getty Images)

If the LIV Golf League were a train, the Majesticks and Iron Heads were the caboose for the entire ride. Nobody fared worse than the two squads all season long. The Iron Heads had a rogue third-place finish in the second event of the year but never finished higher than seventh after that. The Majesticks were never better than fifth.

One of LIV’s glaring problems is its depth. Sure, some of the best players and characters joined the league, but it’s still rather top-heavy.

Winners: Martin Kaymer and Lee Westwood

Lee Westwood
Lee Westwood of England tees off from the 7th hole during day one of LIV Golf – London at The Centurion Club on July 07, 2023 in St Albans, England. (Photo by Tom Dulat/Getty Images)

Speaking of bringing up the rear, how about Martin Kaymer and Lee Westwood (one of the three Majesticks captains). Both players finished in LIV’s drop zone (Nos. 45-50 in the season-long individual standings) meaning they should be relegated. However, since they’re captains, they’re exempt for next season. In Kaymer’s slight defense, he was injured for the first three events (though after that his best finish was 28th and seven times he finished in the 40s).

LIV sees contracts as exemptions, and they want to be seen as having a relegation/promotion system with pathways for players. Captains finishing in the drop zone and automatically earning a spot, performance be damned, is a massive loss. Both players staying around for another year, however, is a win for them.

Losers: Those who were 'relegated'

LIV Golf
Sihwan Kim of Iron Heads GC reacts to his second shot on the first hole during Day Two of the LIV Golf Invitational – Tucson at The Gallery Golf Club on March 18, 2023 in Tucson, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Relegated isn’t the proper word. More like temporarily demoted.

Jediah Morgan, James Piot, Chase Koepka and Sihwan Kim are the four players to finish alongside the above captains in the drop zone, but they all have the ability to play their way back into LIV for 2024 through LIV Golf Promotions, Dec. 8-10 at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.

In the English Premier League, the bottom three teams at the end of the season are relegated to the lower division. The top three teams from the lower division earn promotion. If a relegated team wants back, they have to earn it the following year.

If LIV truly wants to have a promotion/relegation system, there need to be consequences for actions (or lack thereof) that last longer than two months. Maybe Morgan, Piot, Koepka and Kim will all fail to re-earn their positions and they won’t have a home with LIV next season after all. For a true relegation system, there shouldn’t be any doubt.

Winner: Yasir Al-Rumayyan

LIV Golf Chicago
LIV Golf Series CEO Greg Norman stands with Yasir Al-Rumayyan, Governor of Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, at the LIV Golf Series Invitational event in Chicago on Sept. 18, 2022, Rich Harvest Farms in Illinois. (Photo: Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press)

The discussions on the framework agreement between the PGA Tour, DP World Tour and PIF seem to be stalling as the Dec. 31 deadline approaches. If agreed, however, the new entity created would see the PIF’s governor, Yasir Al-Rumayyan, as chairman of the board. Known as His Excellency or H.E. in most circles (and Andrew Waterman on the DP World Tour), Al-Rumayyan has always wanted a seat at the table to further the PIF’s investment in golf. At best he’ll have one with the new entity. At worst, more doors will open for LIV and Golf Saudi now that the Tour has lost its moral high card.

LIV is expanding globally, and in 18 months we’ve seen what the power of the PIF can do. Al-Rumayyan has a chip and a chair, and the governor of the $700 billion fund doesn’t make many bad bets.

Loser: Donald Trump

LIV Golf
Fans cheer as former president Donald Trump arrives at the 1st tee box during the final round of a LIV Golf tournament at Trump National Golf Club Bedminster. (Photo: John Jones-USA TODAY Sports)

When LIV first got off the ground, it struggled to find adequate hosts for events. Former President Donald Trump’s properties hosted two of the eight events in 2022, and he was heavily featured at both stops. The Bedminster, New Jersey, event was more of a Trump rally than golf crowd during Saturday’s second round. At the team championship at Trump Doral, the former president played the pro-am with a larger following than some of the matches that would follow that weekend.

This year, LIV returned to Bedminster and Doral and even added Trump National Washington, D.C. Trump played in the pro-ams at the first two events but wasn’t seen during the actual competition as he was in Bedminster. At last week’s 2023 team championship, Trump didn’t make an appearance during the pro-am or competition for the first time. But why?

Maybe he’s avoiding LIV due to the reports that the circuit isn’t returning to a Trump property in 2024. It’s possible he’s focusing on his mounting legal issues. Regardless of the reason, Trump got a fraction of the attention he so very much craves this year compared to last with LIV. Come 2024, it could be even less.

Winner: Team golf

2023 LIV Golf Team Championship
Charles Howell III, Captain Bryson DeChambeau, Anirban Lahiri and Paul Casey of Crushers GC celebrate after winning the LIV Golf Team Championship at Trump National Doral Miami on October 22, 2023 in Doral, Florida. (Photo by Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images)

Aside from the party that was LIV Golf Adelaide, the team championship was once again LIV’s best event. The reason why: Team golf works (match play doesn’t hurt, either).

The concept still hasn’t fully caught on with fans for an entire season, but a weekend full of team golf with a mix of match and stroke play can be, and has been, compelling. Once again this year, a handful of the matches at Trump Doral were utter blowouts that pitted players against others who have no business in the league, but each day provided something worth watching (though it was a tough sell against college football and the NFL).

On Friday two matches went to extra holes in the Ripper vs. Cleeks quarterfinal. Brooks Koepka blew out Phil Mickelson in a marquee match. Come Saturday, Bryson DeChambeau and Paul Casey had a birdie-fest in the semifinals. Patrick Reed has a strong history in match play, but even he got worked by Cameron Tringale of all people. In the final round, Anirban Lahiri shot a bogey-free 7-under 65 and DeChambeau made birdie from behind a hospitality stand to lead the Crushers to the team title.

The overall product and rosters still need work, that much is clear now that the circuit has held 22 events. But there’s something to be said for the unique team championship format.

Loser: LIV players who aren't exempt for majors

Asia-Pacific Amateur
Chairman of Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters Tournament Fred Ridley speaks to members of the media during the Founding Partners Press Conference. 2023 Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship being played at the Royal Melbourne Golf Club in Melbourne, Australia on Thursday, October 26, 2023. (Photo: AAC)

LIV players and officials have been clamoring for the major championships to create exemption criteria since the OWGR’s rejection.

Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley and R&A CEO Martin Slumbers spoke on the matter at the 2023 Asia-Pacific Amateur, where the winner receives an exemption to the Masters and Open Championship.

Ridley said the criteria aren’t changing for the 2024 Masters, while Slumbers said recent conversations about exemption categories have been completely off the mark.

That’s a loss for players, however, they have a way to make it a backdoor win. The Open is, well, open. If a LIV player wants to play and isn’t exempt, go qualify. Don’t play the victim card. Earn your spot again.

Sergio Garcia, Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Patrick Reed, Charl Schwartzel and Bubba Watson will be at the 2024 Masters as past champions. Bryson DeChambeau (U.S. Open), Brooks Koepka (PGA Championship) and Cameron Smith (British Open) will be there as recent major winners. That’s nine compared to the 18 who drove down Magnolia Lane this spring.

The 2024 British Open will feature past champions Mickelson, Smith, Louis Oosthuizen and Henrik Stenson, with DeChambeau, Johnson and Koepka in tow.

Sixteen competed last year at Royal Liverpool. Next year’s Open at Royal Troon will feature just seven.

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek