How LIV Golf Impacts the WM Phoenix Open Field & Prize Money

Tom MAckinJanuary 5, 2023
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Big names and expanded prize money bolster the WM Phoenix Open amid the rise of a rival, Saudi-supported golf tour.

Which foursome of golfers would you follow at the WM Phoenix Open? Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth, or Phil Mickelson, Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau and Bubba Watson? 

If it’s the latter, you’re out of luck this year – and maybe forever. With five WM Phoenix Open titles between them, that illustrious group of veterans was part of an exodus of PGA Tour card-holding golfers who switched allegiances to the upstart LIV Golf Tour in 2022, lured by massive payouts. 

But the rise of LIV is hardly proving to be an extinction-level threat to the WM Phoenix Open. Just the opposite, actually – this year brings arguably the deepest field in the Tournament’s long history, and unarguably its richest purse. And LIV is partly the reason.

In a modern business landscape that prizes brash, disruptive start-ups, LIV has been just that. Backed by the bottomless pockets of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, LIV embarked on an unprecedented recruitment campaign in early 2022, using eight- and nine-figure contracts to flip dozens of mostly past-their-prime PGA Tour golfers. Lobbied by Greg Norman, himself a World Golf Hall of Famer and CEO of LIV, major champions like the four mentioned above, among others, took the money.

By most metrics, LIV golfers get a pretty sweet deal. Competing in 48-player Tournaments, golfers get $4 million for each win (in addition to their contract paydays) and a bit more for the overall results of their four-man team in each Tournament, a format wrinkle not found on the PGA Tour. Even last place pays $120,000, and there is no cut. Miss a cut on the PGA Tour? You get zilch.

Moreover, LIV Tournaments comprise only 54 holes each (hence, the Tour’s name) rather than the standard 72 – a patently player-friendly alternation to PGA Tour tradition, in that golfers can earn more money for less work.

Other differences? LIVers can wear shorts while competing and have a reduced playing schedule. (In 2023, there will be 14 events: the PGA Tour has 47.) Mix in rock music on the driving range – “Golf, But Louder” is an LIV slogan – plus shotgun starts and Champagne-soaked, podium-style trophy presentations, and it’s a different world entirely, like trading in strict parents for fun grandparents who are happy to spoil you rotten. 

“I think the biggest appeal is that it’s just something different,” says Sports Illustrated writer Bob Harig, who attended seven of LIV’s eight Tournaments in 2022. “The vibe [at the Tournaments] has been very good. It’s much more geared toward young people. A lot of PGA Tour events do similar stuff that’s very good, too. It’s just that LIV is trying to do some things that attract a different audience.” 

Ultimately, the PGA Tour banned players who signed with LIV from playing in its events, which is why you won’t see the aforementioned past champions or Scottsdale locals like Paul Casey and Pat Perez this year at the WM Phoenix Open. 

Counterintuitively, despite the missing players, the emergence of LIV has elevated the stature of the WM Phoenix Open as a whole. In a counterattack to LIV’s aggressive broadsides, the PGA Tour named the WMPO one of 13 “Elevated Events” for 2023, which means a major purse increase – from $8.2 million to a whopping $20 million overall. Not only will the extra prize money keep Tour loyalists happy – including WMPO regulars McIlroy, Thomas, Spieth and defending champ Scottie Scheffler – it will also help the Tournament attract more Top 20 players going forward, according to insiders.

As this issue went to press, speculation was rife that Top 20 players Rory McIlroy, Jason Day, Collin Morikawa and Shane Lowry – none of whom competed at WM Phoenix Open last year – would sign on for 2023. The official field is not confirmed until February 3. 

“Being elevated not only guarantees you top players, but all of those players with full PGA Tour status who sometimes skip Tournaments for different reasons, now they won’t miss a Tournament with a $20 million purse,” says 2023 WMPO chairman Pat Williams. “We’ll have our best field this year because of the elevated status. And it also means having the largest winner’s check [$3.5 million] in our history.”

The long-term challenge posed by LIV to the WM Phoenix Open – and to the entire PGA Tour, for that matter – is a matter of some debate in golfing circles. Skeptics note that LIV runs an incredibly costly operation and may not prove viable. (According to Sports Illustrated, the Tour’s 13 scheduled Tournaments in 2023 could cost more than $1 billion to produce.)

Compounding the high overhead, LIV doesn’t yet have a TV deal – events are streamed on – and there is ongoing debate about whether its events will earn Official World Golf Ranking points, a matter that can affect entrance into pro golf’s four major Tournaments (the Masters, the PGA Championship, the U.S. Open and the British Open).

But with big names and a slick, audience-friendly format, LIV could shoot up the leader board of spectator sports in 2023. “The fact that they got it off the ground and played eight Tournaments last year is a success [by itself],” Harig says. “[But] all LIV really has right now is that they pay out a ton of money. They’ve got to get some sort of over-the-air product. They’re not going to get legitimacy until they have that.”

Photo Illustrations by Izabella Hernandez
Photo Illustrations by Izabella Hernandez


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