The 7 biggest takeaways from the first ever LIV Golf event

Dustin Johnson watches his shot during the first round of the LIV Golf Invitational in London.
Dustin Johnson watches his shot during the first round of the LIV Golf Invitational in London.AP Photo/Alastair Grant
  • LIV Golf hosted its first ever event just outside of London this week.

  • The new Saudi-backed league presents a challenge to the PGA Tour as several star players make the leap to the new league.

  • While much remains to be seen of LIV Golf, their first rounds of golf proved that the upstart league has quite a bit going for it.

After months of anticipation, LIV Golf is here.

At the Centurion Club just north of London, the first round of the first ever LIV Golf event teed off on Thursday, with 48 players taking part in a shotgun start to what it is calling the future of golf.

Before the first event, there was already plenty to say about LIV Golf. The new league is backed by Saudi money and has left some players struggling to justify their presence at the event. At the same time, the amount of money behind the project has already been enticing enough for several big names on the PGA Tour to make the leap, and more potentially to follow shortly.

But this week, there was finally something for viewers to watchwithout blinking, of course.

While the larger conversation around LIV Golf isn't going away any time soon, the fact is that the first round of action on Thursday showed some promise.

Below are the seven biggest takeaways from the opening action of the LIV Golf era.

LIV Golf is here, and it's real

For the past few months, the golf world at large has known that LIV Golf was coming, but it had no idea what it would look like. Details were thin — there was a team format, no cuts, limited fields, and big money to play for, but important information like, "Where will these tournaments actually be held?" and "Who is actually going to play?" took a comically long time to answer.

Sergio Garcia smiles ahead of the first round of the LIV Golf Invitational in London.
Sergio Garcia smiles ahead of the first round of the LIV Golf Invitational in London.AP Photo/Alastair Grant

But on Thursday, a field of 48 players, including Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Ian Poulter, and Sergio Garcia, teed off, and LIV Golf was suddenly real.

While it was easy to joke about LIV before the event, given all of the above, once the golf was underway, it was clear that there is a product here. The broadcast was relatively clean, the course looked nice, and the golfers were out there hitting shots.

If it didn't feel like we're living through a significant moment in the future of golf before, it does now.

LIV Golf is clearly taking a lot of inspiration from the recent Formula 1 boom

While it might seem like a stretch to think that the slow sport of golf would have much to take from the high-octane action of Formula One, watching the inaugural LIV Golf broadcast, it was clear the project borrowed heavily from the world's biggest racing competition.

The very first shot of Thursday's broadcast was a flyover of the course aided by some scene-setting narration from broadcaster Arlo White — a strikingly similar segment to David Kroft's introductions to a Formula 1 race.

With no commercial interruptions, a team competition built on top of the individual chase for first, and a winners' podium set for Saturday, it's not hard to imagine that the brains behind LIV Golf saw the success of "Drive to Survive" and took what they could.

The inspiration didn't stop there. Throughout the broadcast, LIV Golf featured a live-updating scoreboard on the left side of the screen that showed players moving up and down the leaderboard. At the top of the scoreboard was a number indicating how many holes were left to play, looking very much like an F1 race tracking laps left to run.

While the scoring system still needs some fine-tuning, especially with regard to understanding the team aspect of the competition — are teams fixed all season? will captains remain the same if the field changes? — the broadcast took some undeniably big swings in how they chose to present the sport of golf, and a few of them were hits.

Shotgun starts will take some getting used to, but hold a lot of promise

In a traditional PGA Tour event, players begin the first round from either the first or 10th tee, and play through the course from there. The fact that every player in the field will be playing the course mostly through the same ebbs and flows makes it easier for viewers to follow how they are doing and what they have left to play.

Maybe a player is shooting low, but is about to hit a treacherous stretch of holes that has given everyone in the field trouble. Maybe a player is coming off a bogey, but heading to a par 5 that brings promise of a potential birdie. Viewers can learn the context of each players' position on the course because they see each player going through the same stretch.

Phil Mickelson plays his shot off the first tee at the LIV Golf Invitational in London.
Phil Mickelson plays his shot off the first tee at the LIV Golf Invitational in London.AP Photo/Alastair Grant

With LIV Golf's shotgun start, this was not at all the case. Because players were teeing off from every hole simultaneously, it was a struggle to follow who was playing well and who was struggling to start the first round. Further, with little knowledge of the Centurion Club course heading into the day, it was difficult to get any read on where players were on the course and what they had left ahead of them.

But despite some of the problems the shotgun start presents, there may be even more benefits to the new format. With every player on the course at the same time, viewers aren't going to miss watching their favorite golfers on the course due to the limits of a broadcast window. And for any golf fan who has struggled through watching the entirety of an all-day first round, getting a full field of action through 18 holes in a four- or five-hour window feels like a miracle. For the players, it evens the playing field since all the golfers are facing the same weather conditions.

Additionally, shotgun starts also mean shotgun finishes. While the fact that everyone is moving at once means we might not get the drama of a player on the 18th green knowing that he has one putt for all the marbles, we could instead get two players vying for the lead putting at the same time with no idea if their rival has made or missed their attempt.

The shotgun start brings a lot of change to the way fans follow golf, but there is enough upside to get excited for what it could do to the game.

Shots, shots, shots, shots shots shots

Golf fans accustomed to the pace of PGA Tour events were likely hit with a near-overload of golf shots to watch during the opening rounds of the LIV Golf event.

While Tour broadcasts are plagued by ad breaks and picture-in-picture interruptions, LIV Golf showed more golf shots than I have ever seen to start the show. If that wasn't enough, the broadcast featured a segment called "Don't Blink," which caught viewers up with even more shots shown in rapid succession.

Part of this is due to the specific circumstances of this first event. First, with the shotgun start, the course is constantly filled with players, rather than on the PGA Tour where there might only be a few dozen golfers on the course for the first hour of the round.

More importantly, LIV Golf does not yet have a television broadcast partner in the United States. Because the event is live-streamed on YouTube, Facebook, and, the usual ad breaks that chop up the action of a PGA event simply aren't there.

But even if/when LIV Golf eventually gets a broadcast partner, it's still not a guarantee that ads will become the norm. F1 has grown greatly in popularity in part because its broadcasts in America are ad-free, and given that the Saudi money backing LIV Golf isn't entirely concerned with turning a profit any time soon, it's possible that the golf-forward broadcasts could become the norm.

The team element isn't going to work until they feel like real teams

While the team structure of LIV Golf holds plenty of promise, in this first event, it's been difficult to follow.

Not only is the team element new and somewhat confusing, at least at first glance, but because we don't know how consistent the teams will be throughout this first year of action, it's tough to get attached and start cheering for a logo.

That said, it is not hard to imagine a future where the team aspect of LIV Golf is just as compelling as the individual competition. Once teams are set and we see the same players working together from event to event, it will be much easier to lock in and root for the likes of Majesticks GC and Hy Flyers GC. We're just not there yet.

The golf needs to be better, but likely will be soon

If you were tuning into the opening LIV Golf event hoping to see some stellar golf, you may have been disappointed. Fans knew going into the event that the field was relatively weak, but as some of the superstars that LIV had paid big money to lure struggled, that weakness felt especially glaring.

Still, this might not be the biggest problem. First, golf is inherently a fickle game — the best in the world can struggle and some of those lower in the world rankings can have a stellar day.

But reinforcements are on the way. LIV Golf has already reportedly snagged names like Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed for its next event, and more stars are likely to follow as the stigma of joining the new league continues to wane.

It feels nearly certain that this will be the weakest field of players that LIV Golf will ever put up. How much better the fields will get remains to be seen.

With the PGA Tour suspending players, it feels like we're stuck here for now

Just minutes after the opening shots of Thursday's first round were played, the PGA Tour came out and suspended those who had made the jump from returning to the Tour. At the same time, more and more PGA Tour players look likely to tee it up at LIV Golf's next event in Oregon.

LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman at the course ahead of the first round of the inaugural LIV Golf Invitational.
LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman at the course ahead of the first round of the inaugural LIV Golf Invitational.AP Photo/Alastair Grant

With both sides shoring up their ranks and battening down the hatches, it looks as though we're destined for the professional golfing world to be split in two for at least the immediate future. The defections will be made even more interesting as players from both sides head to the U.S. Open next week for the first major of LIV Golf era.

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