LIV Golf: Format, Rules & What’s It All About?

A civil war has erupted in the normally genteel world of golf after the Saudis bankrolled an ambitious breakaway league called LIV Golf.

Phil Mickelson struck the first blow when he accepted a USD$200m fee to defect to the Saudi-backed league earlier this year. Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka are among the famous names to follow in his footsteps.

Aussie superstar Cameron Smith is reportedly poised to accept a fee of USD$100 million to join them, which would represent a major blow to the PGA Tour.

What exactly is LIV Golf, why is it so controversial and how does it work? Read on to learn more about the splinter league that has upended the sport this year.


Why Has the LIV Golf Series Sparked Such Controversy?

LIV Golf was created as a direct rival to the PGA Tour. Chief executive Greg Norman insists that they can coexist peacefully, but it is hard to see how that would work. The breakaway league is wooing the PGA Tour’s best players with boatloads of cash and trying to radically overhaul the sport.

It is extremely controversial from a sporting perspective – akin to the Super League tearing rugby league apart in the 1990s and the much-maligned plans to create a European Super League for elite soccer clubs last year – but that is not the main source of controversy.

The key issue is the source of the money. Saudi “sportwashing” has become a hot topic over the past few years. The Saudis rulers have used sport to present their country in a better light, bankrolling the world’s richest horse race, snapping up Premier League soccer clubs and hosting heavyweight title bouts featuring Anthony Joshua, but it has caused even more alarm in the world of golf.


Which Players Have Joined LIV Golf?

The most famous names to join LIV Golf are Mickelson, Johnson, Koepka, DeChambeau, Sergio Garcia, Bubba Watson, Louis Oosthuizen, Henrik Stenson, Martin Kaymer, Charl Schwartzel and Patrick Reed. They are all former major winners, who have starred on the PGA Tour for many years.

Many of the defectors are veterans seeking a juicy payday before retiring. Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood were two of the first players to jump ship. However, there are also talented youngsters in the mix, such as Matthew Wolff. Highly-rated stars including Abraham Ancer, Kevin Na, Jason Kokrak and Talor Gooch have also been lured to LIV Golf. Aussies in the field include Matt Jones, Jediah Morgan, Blake Windred, Wade Ormsby and Travis Smyth.

Others have resisted overtures, including Tiger Woods, who turned down an offer north of US$700m  to join the series. However, the number of defectors continues to grow, and Smith could be the jewel in the crown if – as expected – he accepts the invite. He is fresh from winning The Open, and he would be the highest ranked player to join.


How Has the PGA Tour Reacted? Is it a Threat to the PGA Tour?

The PGA Tour has suspended all the players that agreed to compete in the LIV Golf Invitational Series. “Those players have chosen to sign multi-year lucrative contracts in a series of exhibition matches against the same players over and over again,” said PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan in a TV interview, adding that there is no way players can star in both.

LIV Golf responded by branding the decision “vindictive”. Eleven LIV Players, including Mickelson and DeChambeau, have filed an anti-trust lawsuit against the PGA Tour. Australia’s Jones, along with Gooch and Hudson Swafford, went to court to try to force their way into the FedEx St Jude Championship, but a federal judge in California upheld their suspension from the PGA Tour.

The Tour clearly takes the threat post by LIV Golf seriously. It is billed as a battle between a giant that won’t budge and a startup that won’t stop. The PGA Tour has history and prestige on its side, but LIV Golf has innovation and cold, hard cash, so this is a battle that could rage on.


Can LIV Golfers Still Play In Majors? 

Though LIV golf players are currently banned from participating in the PGA Tour, the four major championships (The Masters, PGA Championship, U.S. Open & The Open Championship) are all governed by independent bodies, and at least for now have remained open to LIV golfers, providing they meet the usual qualification requirements. 

There is also the conundrum of automatic qualification for recent former major champions to consider for the likes of Bryson de Chambeau, Patrick Reed and Brooks Koepka. 


LIV Golf Format

Most golf tournaments take place over four days, with 72 holes in total. Players that struggle during the first two days miss the cut, and they are eliminated, leaving only the golfers with the lowest scores to battle it out for glory in the latter stages of the tournament. LIV Golf dispenses with that format. Events have just 54 holes, and there is no cut.

LIV is the Roman numeral for 54, which relates to the number of holes and a player’s score if he were to birdie all of them. Its strapline is: “Golf, But Louder.”

The level of opposition also differs. The idea behind LIV Golf is that the same players compete against one another on a regular basis. Events on the PGA Tour feature a far broader pool of players, and the list of contenders typically changes from one tournament to the next.

The 2022 LIV Golf Invitational Series consists of eight 54-hole tournaments, featuring 48 players. There were 48 initial golfers at the inaugural event, but some have been shown the door to make way for high-profile arrivals such as DeChambeau, Reed and Stenson. This Invitational Series will become the LIV Golf League in 2023, and Norman announced last month that there would be a promotion and relegation system, featuring a rankings list.


LIV Golf Invitational London

The inaugural LIV Golf Invitational event took place at the Centurion Club, slightly north of London in Hemel Hempstead. Forty-three players were invited, including Mickelson, Johnson, Garcia, Na and Schwartzel. A further five qualified through the Asian Tour’s International Series to make up the numbers.

Schwartzel won the tournament, finishing with a score of -7, which left him one stroke clear of Hennie du Plessis. There was also a team element to proceedings, which the four South Africans – Schwartzel, Oosthuizen, du Plessis and Branden Grace, known as Crushers GC – won by 14 strokes. The tournament was played with a shotgun start, and the leaders started on the first hole for the final round.


LIV Golf Invitational Portland

The action switched to Oregon for the second LIV Golf Invitational event in July. It had an identical purse to the London tournament: USD$20m for the individual and US$5m for the team event. That is in addition to the large appearance fees. DeChambeau, Koepka and Reed were among the high-profile new players in this second event. All 48 players were invited.

Grace won by two strokes from Mexico’s Carlos Ortiz. An American team called 4 Aces GC, featuring Johnson, Reed, Gooch and Pat Perez, finished 13 strokes ahead of Stinger GC – formerly Crushers GC, featuring the South African players – to claim the $5m.


LIV Golf Invitational Bedminster

The third LIV Golf tournament took place in New Jersey at the Trump National Golf Club in the final days of July. Stenson caused a stir by declaring himself for the tournament. It led to him being relieved of his position as Europe’s captain for the Ryder Cup.

Yet it also proved to be a lucrative decision, as the Swede finished -11, two strokes ahead of Johnson and Wolff to win the tournament. The same group, 4 Aces GC, won the $5m team prize yet again.


Future LIV Golf Invitational Events

There will be five more LIV Golf Invitational events held this year: Boston and Chicago in September, and Bangkok, Jeddah and Miami in October. The prize money will be USD$20m for the individual event and USD$5m for the team element at all of them apart from Miami, when it increases to USD$20m for the individual and USD$50m for the team.

In 2023, it will change to the LIV Golf Invitational League. The plan is to expand to 14 tournaments, with USD$405m in prize money. The dates have not yet been announced, but LIV Golf said it “expected to expand LIV Golf’s global footprint across North and Latin Americas, Asia, Australia, the Middle East and Europe”.