Augusta's answer awaits

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With leading LIV players appearing at this year Masters, the first Major of 2023 has a compelling new storyline. M James Ward examines the possible ramifications for LIV and golf in general.
Posted on
March 8, 2023
by
M. James Ward in
Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

The opening sequence of the hit television series 'Madmen'  illustrates the present LIV situation accurately. Instead of Don Draper, think of Greg Norman, in a downward free-fall.

Like the television show, the juxtaposed scenes in the background would show various images of what exists throughout the broader golf community. Building a powerful connection between client and advertising agency is the crux of the matter in Madmen. Going from the imaginary to the real. Demonstrating conclusive impactful results is the only thing that matters.

LIV remains a fledgling concept. A frame exists. Just nothing inside it. To borrow an American cowboy phrase; it's all hat and no cattle.

That paralyzing storyline can change with an answer at Augusta in just a few weeks.

Sports, of all types, are based on a few underlying conditions. The people watching have to sense something of consequence is happening. That specific titles being contested for have real meaning and permanence. A history with a glorious past and coupled to a promising future ahead.

Winning a Green Jacket matters. It's not an advertising slogan or public relations spin.

The 87th Masters will be the first major intersection in 2023 between those who bolted for LIV and those who remained on the PGA Tour.

For the better part of several months the only real tussle has been an endless slew of back-and-forth empty bromide comments from a number of the principals.

The verbal volleys between Norman and Rory McIlroy are nothing more than male testosterone on display. What's going to matter is not the verbal noise you utter but the outcome your clubs produce.

Just keep in mind this. The photograph of the champion slipping into the Green Jacket at Augusta conveys unquestionable authenticity. Nothing more needs to be said.

The folks running the show at The Masters figured out a long time ago there would be no mentioning on the telecast about the size of the purse. Having a simple emphasis is always front and centre.

The Green Jacket says it all. Like any serious ad campaign, that underlying fact is stated clearly and resonates fully. The players know what it means. So does everyone else.

The Majors in golf have always been and will continue to be the barometer by which lasting golf greatness is measured. They are the link to the past and they set the conditions for future players to judge themselves.

Money does not change the perception of who you are and what you think you have achieved. The actual hardware does. The Green Jacket, the US Open trophy, the Claret Jug and the Wannamaker Trophy are the ultimate calling cards.

Tiger Woods famously placed in his bedroom as a youngster the benchmarks Jack Nicklaus set and that later served as his motivation when coming onto the world golf scene.

Fifty-four-hole events, with no cuts and shotgun starts are 21st century vaudeville. LIV's laughable start meant not having a television contract in place before the first golf shot was played. If visibility was the desired intention, then playing the role of 'The Invisible Man' was beyond perplexing. It was a big-time fumble.

Ask any talented advertising executive and the first thing mentioned is how to capture the attention of others who have so little focus. That happens in the immediacy of the moment and not afterwards.

Lesson 101 to Greg Norman, if you're not on television, you don't exist. Rinse and repeat that.

Clifford Roberts, the co-founder of Augusta National, realised it early on when courting the key members of the media. Television did not exist when The Masters started in 1934 but getting on board the key scribes was essential. The role of chief writers of that time in Grantland Rice and OB Keeler, among others, was no less important than what Gene Sarazen did with his famed double-eagle in 1935.

Roberts shrewdly knew when television exploded into the living rooms of millions of people, he wanted coverage dovetailing with what the club wanted. He enforced that by brilliantly tying the relationship to a one-year contract, effectively providing a tight leash around the neck of CBS television network. Matters skyrocketed with the arrival of Arnold Palmer and his galvanizing springtime exploits between 1958-1964.

Rory McIlroy (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

Greg Norman and those associated with LIV went about it in the reverse direction. Only recently was a television contract finalised.

However, getting the CW network involved is the equivalent of counting the number of people the Tom Hanks character met when stranded on the island in the movie, 'Castaway'. Candidly, 'I Love Lucy' reruns draw more eyeballs than LIV.

Even the announcers, who were eventually recruited, only came on board after tournaments got started. Madmen is an apt metaphor for LIV.

LIV has only one outside sponsor to date – EasyPost, a USA-based logistics and shipping company. The bulk of the other traditional golf sponsors view LIV as radioactive, not wanting to be coupled together given the lingering concerns of human rights and how the Saudis are involved on that front. For these companies stock prices matter and so does the broader consumer base that supports them.

With all the pratfalls the storyline can change in the first week in April.

Masters Chairman Fred Ridley stated earlier this year players previously eligible for the competition would be invited. The other leaders of the three other major events followed suit.

Now it's showtime.

A LIV win at Augusta breathes new life into what has been, thus far, a colossal dinosaur. And we all know how that turned out for those mammoth beasts.

The Masters has a limited field and this fact certainly helps those on the LIV side. Competing against battle-hardened fields of 150-plus players is no easy proposition. Just ask the likes of McIlroy, Scottie Scheffler and Jon Rahm when they competed last week in Orlando at Bay Hill. That title went to a determined Kurt Kitayama, who outlasted them all.

Fifty-four-hole competitions without cuts do not sharpen the skillsets of players... 72-hole events with extremely deep, talented fields do that without question.

Phil Mickelson (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Augusta National is well known to a number of LIV players with the likes of Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Patrick Reed, Sergio Garcia, Bubba Watson and Charl Schwartzel all being past champions . There will be a total of eleven other LIV players competing.

The intersection of PGA Tour and LIV players at Augusta will make for a number of entertaining storylines. Just watching how the pairings are scheduled for the first two rounds is sure to be of immense interest given the personalities involved and past personal histories.

What if Reed and McIlroy are in the same group? Or Woods and Mickelson are paired? Pull up your chair and have your popcorn ready.

The PGA Tour had hoped the four Majors would have placed a 'stop' sign for all LIV players from competing. Looking back, the four organisations that run the Major championships made the right call.

A LIV player winning The Masters switches the conversation quickly. You can be sure if one dons The Green Jacket the public relations campaign will be immediate.

I think it might be a good idea for FanDuel to post odds on how fast Norman will opine on a LIV player winning the Masters. The over/under of 10 minutes from the time the final putt is holed is about right.

The stakes are no less high for Jay Monahan. The Commissioner of the PGA Tour was slow to get involved as LIV was developing but the recent actions taken with increased purses and designated events sent a clear message to the newest generation of players looking to make their mark in professional golf.

Monahan's focus is not on the 40-plus-years-of-age of players who left but in keeping the talented under-30-somethings from looking to exit stage right.

While there have been a few European and South American players who see LIV as a viable alternative, the base of the emerging next generation, USA-born players contemplating leaving has stopped.

Even with a LIV player taking home the Green Jacket, its future will need to build upon that singular moment. Having consistent high finishes in the Majors will be important but as Al Davis, the former long-time general partner of the then Oakland Raiders was famous in saying, "just win baby."

LIV has been scorched by an array of voices throughout the global golf community. Having one of its members claim The Masters title shifts the focus because Albert Einstein said it best, "Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

The present LIV competitive model cannot remain as constituted. Being resolute in placing one's head in the sand will only continue the hopeless pathway it is on now.

Yes, a win at Augusta from one of its players puts the LIV storyline front and centre. It adds a much-needed boost of credibility and it makes for amazing public theatre.

Think if Dustin Johnson wins and at the presentation ceremony held in Butler Cabin DJ, is awarded his second Green Jacket by defending champion Scottie Scheffler, who may be the number one ranked player by the time The Masters is played.

The image of that moment is incalculable for LIV. I am sure it's one Monahan would prefer not to see with one of his elite players in a secondary role.

Fundamentally, the brouhaha between the PGA Tour and LIV is about leveraging the future. The momentum at this moment is with the folks in Ponte Vedra. But, as we see every day, the news cycle can change in less than 24 hours.

Straight jacket or Green Jacket?

Getting free of one and into another. That's how LIV shows some signs of life.

Augusta awaits.

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About M. James Ward

A GWAA and MGWA member, the 66-year-old from the USA has covered golf in all facets since 1980, notably the major championships and other high level events. He has played over 2,000 courses globally and has competed in USGA Championships.

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