The rebel LIV Golf tour might recruit women’s golf stars from the LPGA — or even launch its own rival women’s golf tour.
That’s the latest shot fired by Greg Norman’s breakaway golf circuit, which is poised to hold its first U.S. tournament, and second overall event, in Portland from June 30-July 2.
A spokeswoman for the Saudi-backed LIV confirmed to Front Office Sports on Thursday it’s exploring possibilities ranging from signing LPGA stars and holding “mixed” tournaments to launching its own women’s golf tour.
“We are looking at and considering all opportunities at this point,” said Jane MacNeille.
LIV’s talent raids have so far focused on the 92-year-old PGA Tour.
The breakaway league has signed American stars Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed, and Phil Mickelson at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars. As well as international stars like Sergio Garcia.
These players have been ripped as greedy sellouts.
Now on the 50th anniversary of Title IX, the female golfers of the 72-year-old LPGA may soon be offered the same Faustian bargain as their male counterparts.
Should they go for the astronomical salaries and fatter purses offered by LIV? And is LIV even serious about women’s golf — or just trying to intimidate the LPGA?
With the backing of Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich Public Investment Fund, LIV is reportedly paying Mickelson $200 million and another $100 million to DeChambeau.
Or should they shun the new league due to Saudi Arabia’s history of human rights abuses — as well as its inferior treatment of women?
Beyond the moral questions, LPGA stars would have to grapple with the same business/career issues that PGA defectors are currently experiencing.
Would they still be able to play in the major tournaments? So far, the United States Golf Association (USGA) and R&A have said LIV players can participate in the U.S. Open and British Open. But that could change next year.
LPGA stars would also have to worry if their sponsors would come along with them to a new tour.
Citing its status as an official partner of the PGA Tour, Rocket Mortgage dumped DeChambeau as an endorser. Ditto for RBC with Johnson and Graeme McDowell. And UPS with Lee Westwood.
There’s sure to be female golfers who would resist Saudi Arabia’s attempt at sportswashing. On the other hand, LIV might find LPGA players an easier sell.
These athletes have been chronically underpaid vis-a-vis their male counterparts. LPGA tournaments only get a fraction of the media attention and coverage of PGA events.
LPGA veteran Christie Kerr told Golfweek almost the entire women’s tour would consider a similar jump to Mickelson & Co. “What we play for here compared to the men’s Tour, the scale is different,” she noted.
As always in pro sports, it could come down to money.
Women’s sports are seeing increased sponsorship due to important DEI messaging, said LeslieAnne Wade, co-founder of White Tee Partners consultancy. However, they remain “underserved” as far as compensation and purse sizes.
“As a PR strategy, Saudi Arabia and LIV Golf may see value in pro-women messaging. It’s up to the players to decide if that is authentic,” said Wade, who formerly headed up communications for CBS Sports.
“Does the benefit of funding illustrate genuine and historic change? Are they willing to represent that for compensation?”
On Wednesday, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan blasted LIV as an “irrational” threat to the game.
But he conceded the Tour won’t be able to compete with LIV in an “arms race” where the weapons are dollar bills.
“The PGA Tour, an American institution, can’t compete with a foreign monarchy that is spending billions of dollars in an attempt to buy the game of golf.”
The LPGA declined to comment for this story.