LIV Golf had a chance on Sunday.
The final round of the PGA Tour was postponed due to some really poor weather conditions at Pebble Beach, giving the first event of the 2024 LIV season the full stage. And it was Jon Rahm’s first event as a LIV golfer, with Rahm in contention for the win in Mayakoba, Mexico. No matter how much money LIV has spent to get off the ground and fill its 54-man roster, sometimes luck still brings the biggest opportunities you’ll ever have.
So how did the 3 year old product fare? I had some ideas.
legion before me
Rahm did not win on Sunday: he finished bogey-bogey, losing the shared lead and ceding the stage to Joaquín Niemann and Sergio García for a four-hole playoff, won dramatically by Niemann with the only light on the field coming from qualifying. the green of 18.
Rahm was despondent, as anyone who has seen Rahm play golf could imagine, and took some coaxing from the LIV broadcast team to acknowledge that his Legion XIII team had won the team competition. It will be interesting moving forward to see how Rahm handles that back-and-forth. Most of these guys are still programmed to only care about their performance, and LIV is calling for a reset of priorities.
Rahm’s impact on LIV Golf
Rahm’s biggest impact on the league so far is that his presence seems to have tipped the scales for LIV in terms of relevance.
The initial roster was so full of has-beens and never-be-haves that Dustin Johnson felt like a total outlier. Well, Brooks Koepka made it a little better. So did Bryson DeChambeau. Then Cameron Smith. Still, it 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 a bye week it was easy to make fun of the rankings.
But Friday’s first round was different with Rahm and Tyrrell Hatton. There were more guys you want to see play golf, not out of sentimentality or curiosity, but because you want to see the best of the best.
Mayakoba’s top 10 included Niemann, García, Rahm, Johnson, Koepka, Hatton, Smith and Louis Oosthuizen. You’re telling yourself that if you dismiss that.
Niemann wants to enter Augusta
I’m not sure what to take away from Niemann sinking the winning putt and making much of his victory interview about his exclusion from major championships. “I’m not in the majors,” was the first thing he said when they gave him a microphone. Is it a sign of his competitiveness that his mind immediately moved on to the next thing, or something else?
The 25-year-old Chilean has competed in the last 12 majors, but is currently out looking for the Masters ranked 66th in the world, according to the Official World Golf Ranking. (He is ranked 27th on DataGolf.com, which takes into account LIV results.)
Niemann is in the Open Championship thanks to his victory at the Australian Open in December. Still, he will have to work on Asian Tour events and hope to accumulate enough points to break into the OWGR top 50 before April.
While we understood their plight, we all understood the deal here. LIV has had an OWGR issue since day 1.
LIV on television
Let’s talk about transmission.
First, the positives: Most of what’s on screen is pretty good. The leaderboard is a plus, the relevant statistics are ready and the putting line graph helps the viewer understand what they are seeing. They also did a good job of laying out and allowing us to hear the player and caddy discuss the shots, and that’s the good thing. There are also plenty of golf shots shown, which shouldn’t seem all that revolutionary, but for an audience beholden to NBC’s PGA Tour broadcasts, it simply is.
As for everything else? It leaves much to be desired.
The biggest problem with a LIV Golf stream is that it constantly tries to convince us of something, instead of letting the events speak for themselves. There’s a constant barrage of tweets, which as a storytelling device anyway seem stolen from a 2012 game stream, and they’re all more or less the same. That player is great. This is exciting. I’m looking right now. They don’t add anything, and if Arlo White doesn’t read them, they scroll across the bottom of the screen.
White is usually in this position, more pitcher than announcer. There is a three-person booth and two reporters on the field, and plenty of time for them to talk. But very little information is offered, and it often seems as if everyone is passing the baton for who will repeat the company line this time.
Whether they feel that way or just what is asked of them has the same impact. When you constantly tell me that everything is amazing and that normal rounds of golf are something else, then when the truly high-level moment comes, there is no higher level to reach. That’s why newspapers didn’t publish the font size of Pearl Harbor every day. I would stop getting your attention.
So on Friday, when Niemann was shooting for a 57, which would have been the lowest round ever shot on a major professional golf tour, the feed couldn’t get high enough right now. I had nowhere else to go.
LIV has a chance to attract more attention this year. The product on the field is much better than when it started. The rest just needs to grow with it.
(Top photo by Joaquín Niemann: Manuel Velásquez/Getty Images)