LIV Golf is — according to LIV Golf — the most amazing, incredible golf on the planet.

I learned this because I tuned into LIV Mayakoba on Sunday, interested in seeing what I had potentially been missing. Unlike many of LIV’s critics, I have been to a LIV event, having covered the inaugural edition of LIV London at the Centurion Club, back when I wrote for ESPN. That was part of what LIV claimed was its beta season, and there is some evidence to support that is true given that South Africa’s Hennie du Plessis finished second in London, won $3 million, and is no longer even a part of the league. In London, press releases had misspelled names, Ari Fleischer had to awkwardly defend some old tweets, and there was more talk of human rights violations than birdies.

It has admittedly been a while since I have given the league a fair shake. With the PGA Tour treading water on Sunday (perhaps literally) I decided it was a good opportunity to catch the final round of LIV’s season opener, and it seems I wasn’t alone. 432,000 people also tuned in to the CW or their local affiliate stations to watch, which is a 33 percent increase from Mayakoba’s final round a year ago. Now, I could point out that three times as many people watched a replay of the 3rd round of the PGA Tour playing Pebble Beach, but I’d like to focus on the positive. And the positive is LIV’s employees are really enthusiastic about selling the LIV narrative. It is like that meme of President Obama draping a medal around the neck of President Obama, but in the form of a sports league.

Joaquin Niemann won the Mayakoba event in a playoff, making a birdie putt on the fourth hole to beat Sergio Garcia. It was legitimately a cool scene; darkness had settled in, making it difficult to see where shots were landing, or where putts were breaking. Thankfully the giant video board near the grandstands came to the rescue, lighting up the 18th green so that Niemann and Garcia could read their putts. If I had to guess, I’d say at least 300 people were gathered around the green to watch, which I appreciated because at least they could carpool home. I was also thankful for announcer Arlo White, who used to call Premier League soccer games, for helping set the scene. When Niemann made his final putt — which I had a good sense of where it was breaking thanks to the video game graphics splashed across my screen — White helped capture the magnitude of the moment.

“A STUNNING show of character from Joaquin Niemann!” White shouted, after Niemann’s final putt found the cup. “In the crucible of pressure on championship Sunday! In almost complete darkness, the Chilean shines bright, and wins his first LIV Golf title in the most dramatic circumstances possible!”

I have always enjoyed White, who was an essential part of the TV show Ted Lasso, and appreciate that he brings the same energy to LIV Golf events that he brought to a fictional show about a fake Premier League team. Listening to him, you really might be sold on the idea that LIV events are the most important golf tournaments on earth. But that narrative became harder to sustain once Niemann was interviewed by LIV’s on course reporter Dom Boulet immediately after his victory. Boulet called Niemann one of the best players in the world — a statement that is almost certainly true — but Niemann immediately blurted out the foremost thing on his mind.

“But I’m not in the majors,” Niemann said. “I want to win majors, but I gotta get in first."

That a player could win $4 million in a single tournament — twice as much as Arnold Palmer won during his entire PGA Tour career — and still be thinking primarily about the majors during the celebration is a good window into LIV’s current predicament, particularly for players like Niemann. You can inject a massive amount of money into your league, billions even, and it still doesn’t buy you fans or carry as much weight in players' minds as the legacy of chasing majors.

Niemann did play in all four majors last year, but because his world ranking has plummeted by playing primarily in LIV events — which are not awarded Official World Golf Ranking points — he would need a special exemption to play in the Masters. Whatever you think of LIV, it’s clear that its CEO, Greg Norman, promised players some things he has not been able to deliver on.

During a recent appearance on the Subpar podcast with Colt Knost, Carlos Ortiz said that LIV players were told prior to signing they should expect to receive OWGR points.

“They definitely said that we were gonna get them,” Ortiz said. “We haven’t got them. But I just feel that people have to recognize that there (are) good players here. If you’re going to have a world ranking that includes all the best players, you have to have some people included in that world ranking.”

There are, of course, solutions to LIV’s OWGR problems. They could increase their field size, create qualifying criteria, and be in compliance for a year. But for whatever reason — mainly pride — Norman doesn’t seem interested in implementing them. LIV does have some of the world’s best players, but there is no way for any big name to lose his job in a closed-loop ecosystem. When Justin Thomas struggled in 2023, he was not given a spot in the FedExCup playoffs because of past success. He had to claw his way back into the upper echelon, fighting through a gauntlet of talented players. Had he joined LIV, he would have been afforded all the time he needed to regain form. That, in essence, is why awarding LIV Golf with OWGR points is difficult, if not impossible. The way young talent flows into the PGA Tour is drastically different than how it flows into LIV. Nick Dunlap was given a sponsor’s exemption into the AmEx, and earned a spot on the Tour based on his play. Caleb Surratt signed a contract with LIV that gave him a spot in every event, regardless of his play. Both are talented players with bright futures, but only one (Dunlap) secured his spot based on his play, not his potential.

Players like Niemann and Ortiz and Talor Gooch are paying a steep price to protect veterans like Graeme McDowell, Martin Kaymer and Lee Westwood, players who are well past their primes and no longer competitive. If Norman and Yasir Al-Rumayyan wanted to allow for more turnover and admit that golf fans don’t really care that much about seeing washed-up veterans — which they do not, because if they did, LIV’s ratings wouldn’t be what they are — it would be pretty hard for OWGR to hold its current position. If I were Niemann or Gooch, I would want to know why I was being asked to sacrifice the prime of my career for someone like Kaymer, who played in 10 LIV events last year and still finished outside the Top 40 (in a 48-man field) seven times.

I would not object if the Masters decided to invite Niemann to be part of its field this year. Selfishly, I’d like to see him play Augusta National, but I also think he has the best case of LIV’s aggrieved players, particularly after winning the Australian Open in December. We ought to return to a world where the Australian Open is viewed as one of the game’s most prestigious tournaments, and it should come with certain rewards. Niemann’s win did earn him a spot in the Open Championship. It would be great to see the Masters follow suit, almost as a reward for those players who choose to play outside LIV’s tiny ecosystem.

If that doesn’t happen, I hope Niemann will try to earn his way into the U.S. Open through sectional qualifying. As one of the best players in the world, it ought to be a breeze.

When Gooch decided last year that he wasn’t going to try and qualify, it sent a message that LIV’s best player would rather pout than risk potential embarrassment. Westwood, Bubba Watson, Louis Oosthuizen, Paul Casey, Charles Howell III, Ian Poulter and Charl Schwartzel also sat out qualifying, so Gooch found company in his timidity.

I want to believe Niemann is made of tougher stuff. As Arlo White reminded me this past week, he’s already been forged in the fires of the crucible of pressure that was LIV Mayakoba, even if his mind went immediately somewhere else.

Kevin Van Valkenburg is the Editorial Director of No Laying Up.

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