Golf traditionalists aren’t enjoying seeing one of the world’s most individual sports played in a team format on the rebel LIV Tour.
As wet weather delayed the final round of the PGA event at the iconic Pebble Beach course, golf fans tuned into the first LIV Golf event of the year in Mayakoba, Mexico on Monday morning Australian time.
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Joaquin Niemann won a four-hole playoff against Sergio Garcia after his wayward driver bounced fortuitously off the trees back to the edge of the fairway.
In his first tournament since joining LIV for a reported $566 million, Jon Rahm was at the top of the leaderboard but finished with two bogeys to miss out on the individual victory.
Rahm’s team Legion XIII won the overall team event, making for a bittersweet result for the reigning Masters champion.
“I’m very disappointed in myself,” Rahm said.
“Only time I hit in the hazard all week was (hole) 17, so it’s a tough pill to swallow because I played so good all week.”
The Spaniard paid tribute to his Legion XIII teammates Tyrrell Hatton, Caleb Surratt and Kieran Vincent.
“But very proud of my team,” Rahm said.
“It was very encouraging for me when I looked up and saw we had a massive lead.
“I’m so proud of them, I’m proud of everybody. This team was just assembled on Monday.
“We came in and we made an impact. I think everyone knows we’re a force to be reckoned with.”
LIV hasn’t shied away from being brash since shaking up the golf world in 2022.
There are no cuts in the three-day 54-hole format, there are par 3 party holes galore, players wear shorts and music blasts around the course so loudly you can hear it through the TV broadcast.
LIV also has a ‘shotgun start’, where players tee off at different holes around the course to begin their round.
The format sees each team’s top three scores count in rounds 1 and 2. All four players’ scores count for each team in the final round of an event.
The leaderboard on the TV broadcast shows a player’s score as well as their team’s logo in a clustered graphic on the left of screen.
It’s a sensory overload and the team format has rankled many diehard golf fans who watched the event in Mexico.
Barstool Sports’ golf commentator Dan Rapaport tweeted: “Some thoughts after watching LIV all day … They’ve obviously snagged a bunch of amazing players. It’s fun to watch back-nine battles between amazing players. And the broadcast shows a ton of golf.
“It’s not a bad watch — on mute. The music is bizarre, makes it feel less important, genuinely just annoying. That aside, I enjoyed watching it today.
“But the team thing is just a total miss for me. I don’t care. More distracting than anything. And that’s a big problem because that’s what their business model is based on — making these teams valuable and selling them.
“But LIV is at its best when it’s just … a golf tournament between really good players on a broadcast that shows a lot of shots. That’s not a novel concept. It’s an interesting situation they’re in with this team deal.”
But others defended the team format and said it was a thrilling end to an entertaining first LIV event of the year.
Cameron Smith leads LIV’s all-Australian Ripper GC team with Lucas Herbert, Matt Jones and Marc Leishman.
The establishment PGA Tour is set to merge with LIV sometime this year after extending a deadline for an agreement with Saudi Arabian investors for 2024.
PGA boss Jay Monahan recently informed players about the deadline to approve a framework agreement merging the PGA Tour, DP World Tour and Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF) that finances the upstart LIV Golf League.
Monahan said: “While we had initially set a deadline of December 31, 2023, to reach an agreement, we are working to extend our negotiations into next year based on the progress we have made to date.”
LIV chief executive Greg Norman believes more top players will join the likes of Smith, Rahm and five-time major winner Brooks Koepka and make the leap to the rebel tour.
“There will be more apples falling from the tree – no question about it, because LIV continues to develop,” he told the BBC.
“It tells you the value of what our platform is, where these PGA Tour players see the opportunity that LIV offers.
“All the guys that play on LIV are just so happy about the decision that they’ve made.
“LIV is a different platform to the DP World Tour or the PGA Tour and the players want to do both quite honestly, so we’ve created something special. It’s a franchise, it’s a team model and they have embraced it 100 per cent.”