In the first few months of his career at LIV Golf, Phil Mickelson made headlines…and not much else.
The six-time major champion has struggled mightily in three starts since joining the upstart league, posting a +26 aggregate score in 144 holes played. In two starts in LIV’s 48-man uncut events, he finished no better than 34th. If his finish holds up Sunday at this weekend’s event at Trump Bedminster, Mickelson will have played just one of nine LIV rounds under par.
More than his struggles in a single event, however, Mickelson’s game seemed generally disjointed, uncomfortable and moody. Lefty looks zapped of his charisma since returning from his self-imposed hiatus from professional golf, and his golf game is much the same.
And yet, Phil insists, his on-course discomfort has nothing to do with his feelings about the new league, which is still in full swing. In fact, he’s already spotted two ways LIV “works” for professional golf, and perhaps most surprisingly, none of them have to do with money.
“The reason I’m so high on LIV Golf is that it addresses the two areas that in the 30 years I’ve played the Tour they’ve tried and struggled,” Phil told reporters earlier this week. .
Those areas, according to the $200 million man, are international growth and intergenerational growth.
On international growth, Mickelson highlighted LIV’s timeline and contract structure. Unlike the PGA Tour – in which players generally have the freedom to choose which events they wish to participate in – LIV’s contracts require players to participate in all event, ensuring a constant level of field strength each week. With the series planning to visit four countries in 2022 (and one more host in the coming years), Mickelson thinks LIV will be more successful in attracting international audiences than the efforts that preceded it.
“LIV has a chance to bring professional golf to the world,” Mickelson said. “The players here, when they sign up, we get a ton of money, and we drop our schedule and we commit to where they put on the events where we’re going to go and we’re going to be there, and then they have the capacity to move professional golf around the world. I think that’s really important as we try to grow the game of golf around the world. We may not be feeling it here in the United States, but over there. globally, I think it will have a big impact.
To that end, Mickelson is not wrong: LIV Is have broader international goals than the PGA Tour, and it also has the wherewithal to ensure its top players travel internationally. But international growth also requires an element of international interest, of which there wasn’t much in the early days of LIV. Tickets were available for as low as $1 for Friday’s opening round at Bedminster, and baskets of free tickets are readily available for most LIV events. All of this to say nothing of DP World Tour, which has invested heavily to find growth in many of the same markets currently being pursued by LIV.
Yet the goal behind expanding the frontiers of golf is clear: to raise the profile of the sport to a new audience. It’s no coincidence that the same can be said of Mickelson’s other proof-of-concept LIV, intergenerational growth.
“The other thing is that we as a game and a sport have grown in viewership five years to the average age, I believe, of 64,” Mickelson said. “We have to target the younger generation.
(Ed. Note: Updated golf audience data has not been released for several years. Mickelson refers to a 2017 study by Sports Business Journal.)
As for how LIV will buck golf’s trend toward an older audience, Mickelson offered a few arguments.
“First, it’s not a 12-hour day, having to watch golf all day. You have a four-and-a-half-hour window,” he said, referring to the league’s starting shotgun format that condenses play into a single broadcast window.
“Secondly, when I think a streaming partner comes along, I think it’s going to revolutionize the way golf is seen because you won’t have ads and you’ll have shot after shot after shot,” a- he continued. “It will capture the attention span of this younger generation. We will open up a lot of opportunities to attract the younger generation, which we have been trying to do for 30 years and it has gone the other way.
LIV notably does not have a streaming partner or major sponsors to date. His shows are currently streaming for free (and ad-free) on YouTube and Facebook. While a partnership with a subscription-based platform like Amazon Prime could allow the league to broadcast ad-free, even that seems unlikely given that ads are the primary source of revenue for many subscription-based platforms.
But a streaming partner of any genre could help LIV lower the overall age of golf’s audience, especially given the league’s focus on courting younger fans in recent months. The hardest part would seem to be finding a partner willing to do business at a level that would give the Saudi-backed league the legitimacy (and revenue) it seeks.
Ultimately, these are issues that LIV’s management, and not necessarily its players, will face on the path to long-term growth. Even though the league hasn’t convinced golf stakeholders that it’s here for the long haul, it seems to have gotten that message across to its most high-profile player – or maybe that’s just the bonus. nine-digit signature that further clouds his judgement.
Subscribe to the magazine