Bob Weeks: LIV Golf needs to switch focus to the course

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The third LIV Golf event begins Friday at the Trump Bedminster in Bedminster, NJ So far, the new golf series has grabbed plenty of headlines for the players it’s attracted and the money it’s doled out.

The organization has also turned heads with the prize money and format of the tournaments. Awarding first-prize checks of $4 million will do that. So will having no-cut, 54-hole events that include a shotgun start. The jury is still out on those parts of this new venture.

New faces will join LIV this week, with Charles Howell III, Paul Casey, Jason Kokrak and Henrik Stenson teeing it up for the first time on the circuit being funded by the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia. At the next stop, in Boston over the Labor Day weekend, Bubba Watson will make his LIV debut. There are lots of rumours of more defections from the PGA Tour as well.

That’s all fine and dandy and it grabs plenty of headlines, but what LIV has yet to accomplish is for the focus to turn to the actual play on the course rather than the adventures off it.

Stenson is a perfect example of that misdirection. He signed on to be the Ryder Cup captain in March but was quickly dumped two weeks ago after pledging allegiance to Greg Norman’s tour. He’s been replaced by Luke Donald.

Stenson’s firing made plenty of news in golf circles, with questions as to whether he could play for LIV and remain as captain, or, as some suggested, used the captain’s position to increase his value.

All that has been thrashed about by golf’s talking heads and on social media. What hasn’t been discussed, however, is how the Swede will fare this week at Bedminster. Does anyone really care if Stenson shoots 69 or 89?

This is not meant to pick on Stenson, who is ranked 171st in the Official World Golf Ranking, because the same could be said about most of the field. The storyline so far has been about who is playing, not how they’re playing.

A note in a pre-tournament release from the circuit this week was focused on the renewal of the rivalry between Phil Mickelson and Stenson. Not exactly the gripping stuff that’s likely to attract viewers, is it? Another note detailed how with Kokrak joining LIV, both members of the winning team at the QBE Shootout are in the field. For those scratching their heads, the QBE Shootout used to be known as the Shark Shootout and is hosted by Norman.

To add to the follies this week, former US president Donald Trump will be on hand to play in the pro-am and likely provide as many sound bites as there are range balls at the practice facility.

Right now, other than knowing that Charl Schwartzel won the first tournament and Brandon Grace the second, I doubt the average fan knows much more.

The team concept, which could have some legs in time, is still somewhat of a mystery to many. Was it the Crushers or the Cleeks that won last time?

Much of the problem also comes from LIV’s departure from traditional broadcast streams.

YouTube and Facebook are not the norm when a golf fan thinks about where to get his or her golf fix. There is a patchwork network of over-the-air broadcasters showing the tournaments around the world. In Canada, the final round is being broadcast on CHCH, a Hamilton, Ont.-area station. But it’s still a long way from flopping on the couch and clicking the remote to watch.

In fairness to LIV, it is just two events deep into its life, hardly a measuring stick by which to judge its long-term success. Change is never easy and that’s what LIV is trying to do – move away from the traditional format, break the mold and try to spice up a game that could certainly use more than a little tummy tuck.

Once the player signings stabilize and the interested spectators get used to where to watch, LIV might grow some roots. There are some things coming down the line that may draw more attention than curiosity. For instance, a year-end individual bonus of $18 million awaits. Imagine Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau going to the last hole at the final event of the season with that pot on the line.

But for now, until the conversation moves away from the most recent signing to the latest winner, LIV Golf will continue to be an attraction for just about everything but the actual playing of the game.

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