BROOKLINE, Mass. – Another story from LIV. We know, we know. But this will not be immersed in geopolitics. Nor do we speculate who might stay and who might go. Let’s instead focus on the golf ramifications of the breakaway round. Jumping ship is not, of course, the reason why Phil Mickelson, Kevin Na, Taylor Gotch, Sam Horsfield, Louis Oosthuizen or Sergio Garcia missed this week’s US Open; Only two of the fifteen golfers who played in the opening event last week are playing this weekend at The Country Club. But with an eye on the future, here’s a simple question: Is it possible that one of the best golfers in the world will still play fewer times, in a format that John Ram called “not championship golf?”
We’re talking, of course, about four main aspects of the LIV Golf’s vision: lower events, 54 holes, a rifle start and no cut. LIVers were encouraged to describe this as an “exciting new format”; PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan called the whole thing “a series of exhibition matches.” These two sides have little in common at the moment, but what’s beyond debate is that they are different. Different from the 72-hole tournament, players were given the right to play the last two rounds, which has characterized the professional game for half a century. The cut has been such an integral part of the PGA Tour world—so much so that when asked at a Hall of Fame induction ceremony what record he’s proud of, Tiger Woods didn’t hesitate: his streak was to make 142 consecutive cuts.
“You’re going to have a lot of bad days; you can get on the wrong side of the lot, where you feel not feeling well, things are not going well and bad things happen,” Woods said. “But I haven’t missed a cut for over six years. That’s something I’m really proud of.”
Matt NeSmith knows the importance of having to earn tee time on the weekends — and then do it. His last four rounds on the PGA Tour: T-31, T-51, T-57, T-37. He is currently second in the lead heading into the weekend at the US Open. This, he says, is no accident.
“Yeah, I’d never get mad about playing golf for four days,” says NeSmith. “I’m always happy to make the cuts. Obviously we want to win golf tournaments and compete, but if we play for four days, I always feel like my game is going in the right direction. I feel like you can focus on a few areas here and there and just tighten your ship.”
Obviously, NeSmith’s goal is to make the cut every week. And according to a clinical psychologist who has worked with dozens of PGA Tour players — including Phil Mickelson — achieving this goal is critical to building self-confidence.
Dr. Michael Lardon says, “When you set additional goals and achieve them, you go to bed that night and feel good. You feel like you’re welcome, you’ve accomplished it. This is how you get constant stimulation and engagement, through those positive feedback. Again and again and again.” “
In his first LIV tournament two weeks ago, Andy Ogletree had missed the cut-off in any one professional golf tournament she had. He shot 24 above par for three rounds, and received $120,000 for his efforts—plus any appearance fees he earned. This arrangement has a clear appeal to professional golfers. Unlike athletes in team sports, golfers pay their own expenses. An NBA player does not pay for accommodation, his coach, his coach, or his food. Golfers pay for it all. Losing the pieces, then, guarantees a week’s loss. The endorsement deals awarded greatly soften the blow. But no one wants to stay in the red, even if it’s only for one week.
A position at Genesis Invitational earlier this year came to mind. John Ram six feet intensively studied forensics as the sun faded from the Riviera Country Club. He read it from both sides. Check it twice, then a third time. Consult the can. He was behind the commander with 16 rounds. Why did Ram give so much attention? I need it to make the cut. (He did, his fists flowing as if he had won the championship.)
This dynamic – star (or non-star) grinding to make the cut – is not present in the LIV events. Without this dynamic, players in that round would likely risk seeing their competitive edge diminish.
“Necessity is the mother of motivation,” says Dr. Lardon. “If you grow up poor, you work hard not to be poor. I see a lot of kids in my clinic who come from wealthy families and have no motive to do anything. That is the price of privilege. Aside from golf, it is part of human nature.”
Lardon continues, “Fear is one of the most important motivators. If you can tell yourself oh, it doesn’t matter, I’m still making a net $100,000 a week, you’re not going to grind the same. I’ve had a few guys I’ve worked with and they’ve had some success and had a little bit of The money, and all of a sudden that drive that got them there is gone. There are a number of guys I helped out who never really became the player they could be.”
We see this phenomenon happen in other sports: a player gets a huge contract and then shows up to camp with an extra 10 pounds. There are, of course, a lot of athletes who get paid and continue to strive for excellence. Patrick Mahomes. Giannis Antentokumbu. Mike Trout. But they still play in the same league, with the same schedule and rules, that they played before they got back up. This is a crucial difference.
To plunge into the basket of cliches: Iron sharpens iron. Consistent, purposeful competition breeds week after week and week off out of good habits – and a knowledge of nerves that come in the big leagues. Matt Fitzpatrick has made a concerted effort this season to tackle the same thing every week on the PGA Tour. it’s working. He has seven top ten spots in 12 games on the PGA Tour in 2022, and has appeared three times with 36 holes to play at The Country Club.
“I think when you’re kind of playing in the majors, there’s always this focus from the media, too, it’s like, Wow, it’s one of the four, it’s a big deal, and it’s a big deal,” Fitzpatrick says. “It’s a huge deal for all the players. It’s what everyone wants to win. That’s what everyone’s legacy is all about.
“But you just have to do your best to make it consistent, do the same things every week, and not change anything. I wouldn’t do anything different this week trying to figure out my lines from a tee or spend more time around chopping green. Still spending same amount [of time practicing] in the eighth [green] Here as I was going to do last week’s 8th in Canada. For me, it’s just trying to be consistent with everything I do.”
By definition, it’s impossible to do the same thing every week if the round you’re playing uses a different format for its events. Dustin Johnson, for what he’s worth, doesn’t seem too concerned. When asked on Friday how attractive he expects to play only LIV events, he kept it brief: “Just like I’d play anywhere.” Brooks Koepka also did well in 2017-19, when he would go through the motions in a regular tour event and then win a major championship the following week.
We should note that we operate on the assumption that the majors are still central to the LIV golfer’s world – and that players are interested in being smarter for the Big Four. Furthermore, there is no guarantee that those who play the LIV Tour will have access to those events. The forty people who made the leap must have accepted that they might not be playing at much. Richard Bland, to choose an example, knows that his best days are over.
“Most of my career is now behind me in terms of playing at the highest level,” Bland told the BBC, explaining his decision to join Liv. “I’m 50 in six months.”
It looks like he’d like to play more big business, but it’s a sacrifice that he’s willing to make money at this point in his career. It’s a different way of calculating for younger LIVs, like Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed, who supposedly care a lot about playing in the majors. DeChambeau’s win at the 2020 US Open saw him exempt from all four categories through 2025, but Reed’s exemptions for his 2018 Masters win for the other three major tournaments expire at the end of this year.
This is where rankings are crucial. It’s hard to imagine players “banning” major leagues entirely based solely on the round they’re playing in, but if LIV doesn’t deliver rankings points soon, and the PGA Tour ban continues in court, LIV players will stumble into the ambiguity of the ratings. Reid is currently ranked 38th in the world, high enough to enter all four majors in his ranking alone. Given his suspension from the PGA Tour, his only chances of improving this year’s standings will likely be this weekend at the US Open – he made the cut and sat one for the championship – and the Open. At number 36, Gooch faces the same potential puzzle.
These are the questions that men hungry for the possibility of joining the LIV will have to ask themselves – can I continue to enter the majors? And if I get in, will I be sharp enough to compete? Finally, and perhaps most importantly: How much do I care?