LIV Golf Invitational Series: What is it, who's playing, and why's it so controversial?

By Sports Desk June 05, 2022

After months of claim, counter-claim and controversy, the LIV Golf Invitational Series turns its focus to actual golf on Thursday.

The first event of a series previously known as the 'Super Golf League' gets under way at the Centurion Club, near London, next week.

A lucrative breakaway from the PGA Tour and DP World Tour, there will be plenty of interest in how LIV Golf fares – even if it is a largely unpopular venture.

Regardless of its wider reputation, though, the money of Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund (PIF) has still attracted some of the sport's best players.

So, what is the deal with LIV Golf? How does it work? Who will be playing? And why has it caused such uproar?

Stats Perform attempts to answer the myriad questions around this contentious competition.

What is LIV Golf?

A Saudi-backed rival to the PGA Tour has been rumoured for years, taking on various names before finally launching as the LIV Golf Invitational Series.

Greg Norman, a two-time Open champion and LIV Golf's CEO, has described this as the arrival of "free agency" in golf, with leading players skipping PGA Tour events to play in the new series.

That is exactly what the PGA Tour sought to avoid when it vowed to ban any players who joined a rival league, although that promise has not yet come to pass.

"Our mission is to modernise and supercharge the game of professional golf through expanded opportunities for both players and fans alike," reads LIV Golf's website, adding its aim to provide "a cutting-edge entertainment product".

That does not only mean a new series and new events, but also a new format...

How does it work?

Gone is the long-established structure of 72 holes across four days with the field cut after two rounds.

Regular season LIV Golf events will last only 54 holes and three days, with no cuts, meaning – organisers point out – there is no danger of eye-catching names being absent for the end of the tournament.

There are also shotgun starts, "ensuring a faster and more exciting pace of play", and smaller fields with only 48 players.

This may all be unfamiliar, but it is at least straightforward. The other changes are a little more complex.

Players will be pursuing individual glory, as at any other golf tournament, but there are also team prizes on offer, with each field broken up into 12 four-man teams.

At every event, there will be an individual winner – the traditional victor with the lowest 54-hole score – and a triumphant team, whose score will be calculated using their best two scores over the first two rounds and their best three from the third.

The first seven events of the season – four in the United States and one each in England, Thailand and Saudi Arabia – will provide a seasonal individual champion, while the year's most successful team are then identified at a further match-play knock-out tournament.

Who's playing?

With a number of big names publicly opposing the breakaway, Rory McIlroy referred to the then Super Golf League as the "not-so-Super League" back in February.

But LIV Golf claims to have received 170 applications and has been able to recruit some superstar talent – namely Dustin Johnson, whose agent said it was "in his and his family's best interest to pursue it".

"Dustin has never had an issue with the PGA Tour and is grateful for all it has given him," David Winkle added. "But in the end, [he] felt this was too compelling to pass up."

It remains to be seen how regularly Johnson will appear in the series, given the field is set to change for every event. He is on board for the London opener, though, alongside Sergio Garcia.

With the four-man teams – who will have their own logos, colours and names – to be tweaked at each tournament, captains will draft players to join them. Unlike at the Ryder Cup, these captains are also active players.

The opening London draft is set for Tuesday, but Phil Mickelson – the most notable and controversial potential LIV Golf star – will not be involved.

Given his previous interest, Mickelson is surely likely to appear at some stage, but he has not played for several months since his comments in relation to the tournament and its funding prompted an apology.

Why's it so controversial?

Any rebel league that threatened the PGA Tour was unlikely to be globally popular, but Saudi Arabia's influence has contributed significantly to the backlash.

The country's human rights record is of major concern, along with its role in the war in Yemen, so ventures such as these – and the acquisition of Premier League club Newcastle United – by its PIF are widely cited as examples of sportswashing.

Norman has suggested Saudi Arabia is "making a cultural change".

While he described the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018 as "reprehensible", the LIV Golf chief added: "Look, we've all made mistakes, and you just want to learn from those mistakes and how you can correct them going forward."

Norman was speaking last month, by which point Mickelson's own discussion of Khashoggi's death had done a great deal of harm to the league's reputation.

The six-time major champion acknowledged Saudi Arabia's "horrible record on human rights" but added he was willing to commit to LIV Golf as it was "a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour operates".

Mickelson made those comments in November last year, although they were reported earlier this year just as the series sought to launch.

Norman said the saga "definitely created negative momentum against us" and revealed "everybody got the jitters", causing some players to back out.

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    His birdies came on holes number two, six, seventeen and eighteen while the bogeys were on holes four and sixteen. His three-round scores were one under par 71, five over par 77 and 70 for a total of three over par 219.

    He was pleased with copping his first national championship after getting close on several occasions.

    “Coming into this tournament year after year and seeing the trophy and wondering when I am going to get my name on it and its just my time now," he said.

    “The course conditions were a little bit tricky out there with it being so dry but we are used to the conditions. I think I manage the game today out of all three days, pretty well. The putting was just not there this weekend but I hit a lot of greens and that helped a lot,” Roye added.

    2022 national champion Oshae Haye moved from third place on the first and second day to end the in second place, four shots behind Roye. Haye posted scores of three over par on day one and two respectively and one over par 73 on the final day for a combined score of seven over par 223.

    Junior golfer Trey Williams performed very well in the championship after taking over the lead at the end of the second round with a one under par 71 but was pegged back in the final round with four over par 76 in the third round. His total score of eight over par 224 included 77 in the first round, to be one stroke off the runner-up spot.

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    "It feels really good. I am really happy. I am very happy for the win but diving deeper more into my game I wish I have played better. I have been playing really well recently and I am not sure if it’s the combination of the conditions, it’s very dry at the moment, the greens are in the best shape so I just have to figure out how I can properly play the course because I know that everybody had a difficult time this weekend. So, I just have to analyze that and keep on progressing and keep on getting better," said a very pleased Issa. 

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    “What we saw was very good performances from all of our juniors in all of the various categories. So, it was a good week, the only disappointment for this week was the lack of sponsorship of our national event. I am hoping that next year we can get sponsorship so we can have an even bigger and better event.”

     

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    Zandre Roye and Mattea Issa both had a three-point lead over their nearest competitors at the end of the first round of the Jamaica Golf Association's National Amateur Golf Championship being played at the Caymanas Golf Club in St. Catherine.

    Roye scored even par 72 for the round to lead former national champion and club mate Oshae Haye and Jack Stein by three strokes after they both scored three over par 75.

    They were being tracked closely by young guns Rocco Lopez and Trey Williams who are just two strokes back on five over par 77.

    Roye had a good front nine and was up by two between holes six to eight after copping two birdies on holes two and six but bogeyed number eight to close on one under par 35.

    He started the back nine by dropping a shot on hole number 10 but recovered on holes 11 and 12 to be up by two shots between 12 to 15 but dropped a shot on 16 and 17, then parred 18 to close the back nine on one over par 37.

    His four birdies were cancelled out by the four bogeys which he scored in the round. That makes him the only golfer to go into day two with a clean sheet to build on.

    Junior player Mattea Issa scored nine over par 81 to take the lead over many time national champion Jodi Munn-Barrow who ended the first round on twelve over par 84. Alessandra Coe, another junior player was just two shots behind on 14 over par 86.

    Mattea Issa

    Both Roye and Issa were happy with their first round performance under hot and windy conditions on the course, while looking forward to extending their lead at the end of the second round of the three-round championship.

    The second round will get under way at 8:30 am on Saturday morning.

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