LIV Golf was given an opportunity on Sunday.
The PGA Tour’s final round was pushed off due to some truly gnarly weather conditions at Pebble Beach, giving LIV’s first event of the 2024 season the full stage. And it was Jon Rahm’s first event as a LIV golfer, with Rahm in contention for the win at Mayakoba, Mexico. As much money as LIV has spent to get off the ground and fill its 54-man roster, sometimes luck still brings the greatest chances you’ll get.
So how did the 3-year-old product do? I had some thoughts.
Legion before me
Rahm did not win Sunday — he finished bogey-bogey, dropping off the shared lead and ceding the stage to Joaquin Niemann and Sergio Garcia for a four-hole playoff, dramatically won by Niemann with the only light on the course coming from the leaderboard overlooking the 18th green.
Rahm was dejected, as anyone who has ever watched Rahm play golf would imagine, and took some cajoling from the LIV broadcast team to acknowledge that his Legion XIII team had won the team competition. It’ll be interesting moving forward to see how Rahm handles that push and pull. Most of these guys are still hardwired to only care about their performance, and LIV asks for a reset of priorities.
Rahm’s LIV Golf impact
Rahm’s biggest impact on the league so far is that his presence seems to have tilted the scales for LIV regarding relevancy.
The initial roster was so full of has-beens and those who never will be that Dustin Johnson felt like a total outlier. Well, Brooks Koepka made it a bit better. So did Bryson DeChambeau. Then Cameron Smith. It still wasn’t enough to shake the feeling that every week an established star didn’t win the LIV event was a missed opportunity, and if two or three of those guys had an off-week it was easy to scoff at the leaderboard.
But Friday’s first round felt different with Rahm and Tyrrell Hatton. There were more guys that you want to watch play golf, not out of sentimentality or curiosity but because you want to watch the best of the best.
The top 10 from Mayakoba included Niemann, Garcia, Rahm, Johnson, Koepka, Hatton, Smith and Louis Oosthuizen. You’re telling on yourself if you dismiss that.
Niemann wants into Augusta
Not sure what to take from Niemann dropping in the winning putt and making much of his victory interview about his exclusion from the major championships. “I’m not in the majors,” was the first thing he said when given a mic. Is it a sign of his competitiveness that his mind immediately went to the next thing, or something else?
The 25-year-old Chilean has competed in the last 12 majors but is currently on the outside looking in for the Masters at No. 66 in the world, per Official World Golf Ranking. (He’s ranked 27th on DataGolf.com, which takes into account LIV results.)
Niemann is into the Open Championship thanks to his Australian Open win in December. Still, he’ll have to work on Asian Tour events and hope to accumulate enough points to get into the OWGR top 50 before April.
While sympathetic to his plight, we all understood the deal here. LIV has had an OWGR problem since Day 1.
LIV on TV
Let’s talk about the broadcast.
First, the positives: Most of what is put on the screen is quite good. The leaderboard is a plus, relevant stats are at the ready, and the putting line graphic helps the viewer to understand what they are watching. They also did a nice job of laying out and letting us hear the player and caddy discuss shots, and that’s the good stuff. There are also just a lot of golf shots shown, which should not feel so revolutionary, but for a public subjected to NBC’s PGA Tour broadcasts it just does.
As for everything else? It leaves a lot to be desired.
The biggest problem with an LIV Golf broadcast is that it’s constantly trying to convince us of something, instead of just letting events speak for themselves. There’s a constant barrage of Tweets, which as a storytelling mechanism feels stolen out of a 2012 game broadcast anyway — and they’re all about the same. That player is great. This is exciting. I’m watching right now. They don’t add anything, and if Arlo White isn’t reading them for us they’re scrolling along the bottom of the screen.
White is often in this position, more pitchman than broadcaster. There’s a three-man booth and two on-course reporters, and plenty of time for them to talk. But precious little insight is offered, and it often feels like they’re all just passing the baton of who is going to repeat the company line this time.
Whether that’s how they feel or just what is being asked of them, it has the same impact. When you are constantly telling me everything is awesome and normal rounds of golf are something more, then when the truly high-level moment comes along there’s no higher level to go. It’s why newspapers didn’t run the Pearl Harbor font size every day. It would stop getting your attention.
So on Friday as Niemann hunted down a 57, which would have been the lowest round ever on a major pro golf tour, the broadcast could not sufficiently rise to the moment. It had nowhere else to go.
LIV has a chance to get more eyeballs this year. The on-course product is miles better than when it started. The rest just needs to grow with it.
(Top photo of Joaquin Niemann: Manuel Velasquez / Getty Images)